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5 Tips to Ace Your Nursing School Exams

We’ve got the best tips to help you conquer nursing school this semester

Do you have a study plan this semester? Sometimes, you can score an A by winging it, but with more intense nursing classes, you might need to get serious to tackle the subject matter. Pharmacology, nursing research, and acid-base balances aren’t for the faint of heart.

Here are five tips to help you conquer this semester of nursing school.

  1. Learn and Embrace Your Learning Style

Everyone learns a little bit differently. There are three main learning styles. You might prefer a mixture of each, or you might have a go-to method.

  1. Visual learning. You learn well from watching videos on nursing topics, seeing what the professor writes on the board, or the charts and diagrams in the textbooks.
  1. Auditory learning. You learn best from re-listening lectures, having group discussions, and explaining the concepts to others.
  1. Kinesthetic learning. You retain information well from simulation, role-playing, taking notes, and rewriting the information. 

Knowing which learning style you prefer will help you as you develop a study plan and decide where to focus your energy.

2. Use Active Learning Techniques

Have you ever realized you spent hours “studying” but feel like you didn’t learn much? You might have been using passive studying techniques. If you’re tired or bored of the material, it can be easy to slip into less effective learning methods. 

  • Passive learning. Passive learning is when you receive information without effectively using or processing it. Listening to a lecture or skimming a textbook are typical examples of passive learning.
  • Active learning. Active learning is when you are engaging with new information. This could involve case studies, group discussions, concept maps, note-taking, or teaching to others.

When you study, strategically employ active listening strategies as much as possible. If you attend a lecture, try writing Cornell-style notes. If you have a study group, try assigning each person a concept to teach the rest of the group. Using a variety of methods will make them more likely to stick. One study concludes that the amount of active strategies employed, as well as the amount of time active strategies were used, positively impacted exam performance in college students. 

3. Find Your Best Resources 

Online resources for nursing students are more abundant than ever. Some are more comprehensive than others, each with varying price points. 

Here are some of the most popular nurse study aids for both prospective RNs and LPNs:

  • UWorld. UWorld offers nearly 5,000 practice questions, along with practice NCLEX assessments that look like the actual exam. Prices range from about $139 for 30-day access to $329 for 180-day access. All the material is self-guided. 
  • Hurst. Hurt has a 3-day live or self-paced review option for 90 or 120 days. Prices are in the $300 range. If you would like to buy the 1,500-question bank by itself, that costs around $100. 
  • Saunders. By buying a new Saunders review textbook, you get complimentary access to Evolve, the Saunders question bank with over 4,000 questions. The bank also has a 75-question pre-test and post-test to help you create a personalized study plan. The book costs about $50. If you get a used book, the Evolve access will cost around $70.
  • Lecturio. Lecturio offers a monthly subscription plan, ranging from $30 per month on a month-to-month basis to $19.99 per month for 12 months of access. Lecturio has a combination of practice questions as well as self-guided study materials and lectures.
  • Etsy. Etsy is a great for an economic a la carte study option. Are you doing well in most classes but just can’t understand one specific concept? Etsy has countless options for subject-specific nurse review guides.

4. Create a Study Plan

Start by strategically working backward. If you have an upcoming exam, determine how many studying blocks you need to prepare, and then create your study plan.

You can break down studying into five parts, called the study cycle:

1. Preview: Before class, skim the material and look at graphs, tables, and charts in the textbook chapters.

2. Attend class: Try to attend every lecture and take thoughtful notes.

3. Review: Right after class, review your notes to determine key concepts.

4. Study: On your own time, create a way to review the material effectively.

5. Assessment: Determine if your study plan met your needs.

All steps in the study cycle are important. Previewing the material before class, attending labs and lectures, and then reviewing it afterward will help retain it. When creating your study plan as part of step four, you can assign specific activities to your study block.  

Activities you can fill with your study plan:

  • Attending lecture
  • Rewriting lecture notes
  • Case studies
  • Practice questions
  • Tutoring
  • Group discussions or peer teaching
  • Attending clinicals
  • Flashcards
  • Creating visual aids

With your study schedule, decide on a specific reward so you can treat yourself after the exam. Plan a special meal, a social outing with friends, or purchase a small item you need an excuse to buy.

5. Evaluate Your Progress

It wouldn’t be a nursing study guide if we didn’t follow the nursing process! Don’t forget to evaluate what methods were most effective for you. Here are some reflection questions you can ask.

Self-evaluation questions:

  • How many hours did I study for this exam?
  • What grade did I get on this exam?
  • Would putting in more hours have helped this grade? 
  • What study methods were most effective?
  • What was least effective?
  • What will I change about my study methods and time before the next exam?

You Got This!

When you understand what study methods are effective for your learning style and you have a plan to implement them, you’re bound to be successful. Don’t forget to continually evaluate and evolve your study method to fit your needs. Happy studying!

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