How to Study for Nursing School: 8 Tips to Follow

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When considering how to study for nursing school and how to pass nursing school exams, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of time management and following a set study schedule. You can also use nursing mnemonics and rely on members of your nursing cohort for support.

people studying in library

If you’re planning to attend nursing school, you may be looking forward to caring for patients and providing emotional support during difficult times. Nurses play an essential role in healthcare, and their contributions to patient care can make the difference between recovery and readmission. However, becoming a nurse is a challenging process. Nursing school is an intensive experience, particularly if you’ve enrolled in an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program or Accelerated BSN transfer program pathway, such as those at Utica University.

At Utica University, students with a prior non-nursing college education can graduate with a nursing degree in as few as 16 months. The ABSN program and Accelerated BSN transfer program pathway can help you become a registered nurse (RN) much more quickly than a traditional four-year nursing program. However, it’s vital to keep up with the rapid pace of the curriculum. You’ll need to know how to study in nursing school and how to pass nursing school exams, for example. Here are eight tips for nursing students’ first year.

How Hard Is Nursing School?

Nursing school is undoubtedly challenging, even for academically strong students. If you’ve elected to enroll in an accelerated nursing program, you can expect an especially fast pace since it’s necessary to cram all the coursework and in-person learning components into 16 months. Nursing students may find it difficult to balance their classes and experiential learning requirements with studying and personal time.

utica student studying

However, as challenging as nursing school can be, it’s definitely doable. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are more than 4.6 million active RNs in the U.S. as of 2023. That means that millions of professionals have succeeded in completing nursing degree programs and passing the licensure exam, and you can, too.

When you encounter difficulties during nursing school, it can be helpful to remember your goal and remind yourself of all the reasons you chose a nursing career. You’ll also want to adopt effective strategies for how to pass nursing school exams.

How to Study for Nursing School: Tips for Nursing Students’ First Year

There are plenty of study strategies and time management tips you can use as you progress through nursing school. It’s a good idea to try a few different study methods to find those that work best for you.

You may also want to try weekly self-reviews. At the end of each week, evaluate how well you kept up with your schedule and school-related responsibilities. Were there any problem areas? What could you do differently in the future to improve?

two Utica nursing students working in lab

It can be helpful to know what to expect in nursing school. In this blog, you can learn what nursing school is really like.

1. Establish a Study Schedule

Before you can figure out exactly how to study for nursing school, you need to establish a schedule. Following a set study schedule will be essential for maintaining good time management habits. Once you determine when you’ll be attending classes and experiential learning components, enter that information into your day planner (or a scheduling app on your phone, if you prefer).

Then, evaluate your schedule to determine which time slots are available for completing coursework and studying. Designate certain times specifically for those tasks. It’s best to establish separate times for studying and coursework, rather than allowing those two tasks to overlap. Otherwise, you may discover that you don’t have enough time for studying.

You may find it tempting to designate long chunks of time on the weekends to catch up on studying. However, it can actually be more effective to study for shorter bursts of time than during marathon study sessions. For example, you’re likely to find that you retain information better if you study for 45 minutes before class, followed by another 45 minutes after class.

2. How to Take Notes in Nursing School

Taking notes is crucial regardless of whether you’re watching recorded lectures on a laptop or attending an in-person class. It’s not a good idea to try to write down every word you read. Instead, take notes on broader concepts, key terms and other important items.

utica students studying

You may want to color-code your notes. For instance, if your instructor says that a particular concept is important and will be on an exam, write it down and highlight it in a specific color to indicate its importance.

It’s also helpful to date your notes. Before each class, write a header on a new page of your notebook indicating the date, lecture topic and exam that the notes will pertain to. (Example: September 1, Muscular System, Exam 1.) Review your notes after each class.

3. Use Your Instructors’ Rubrics

Now that you know how to take notes in nursing school, it’s time to take a closer look at rubrics. Your instructors may provide rubrics for your online coursework and in-person learning components. If so, you can use these as comparison tools.

In nursing education, rubrics are assessment guides that instructors use to evaluate students’ performance on assignments, skills labs or other activities. Your performance, as compared to the expectations outlined in the rubric, will determine your success on that assignment or activity. Referring to the rubric while you complete an assignment may help you to better organize your thoughts, avoid careless mistakes and potentially boost your grade.

4. Form a Study Group Within Your Cohort

You’ll progress through nursing school with your cohort, and you may become close with some of its members. Some nursing students may find it helpful to form a study group within their cohort. Study groups should plan to meet at regularly scheduled times in a distraction-free environment. To get the most out of a study group, try the following tips:

  • Establish a “silence your phones” rule.
  • Go into each meeting with a clear agenda of what to study that day.
  • Designate someone as a study group facilitator who will be responsible for ensuring that the group stays on track.
2 Utica nursing students smiling with their arms crossed

5. Use Nursing Mnemonics

Mnemonics are learning tools that can help you retain critical pieces of information. There are lots of nursing mnemonics available online, such as the following (capital letters correspond to the components of the acronym):

  • CATS: Convulsions, Arrhythmias, Tetany, Spasms and stridor (the symptoms of hypocalcemia)
  • HELLP: Hepatic dysfunction and hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet counts (the indicators of severe preeclampsia)
  • PISO: Potassium Inside, Sodium Outside (the locations of electrolytes in cells)
students studying together

Interested in more helpful advice? Get 9 top tips for surviving nursing school.

6. Start Your NCLEX Prep Early

Although you’ll need to know how to pass nursing school exams throughout your time in school, you won’t take the licensure exam—the NCLEX—until after graduation. However, it’s best to begin your NCLEX prep early. In fact, you can start during your first week of nursing school. Take practice exams throughout your nursing education to track your progress.

7. Know When to Ask for Help

Nursing school is challenging, but you aren’t going through it alone. You can lean on family and members of your nursing cohort for support. In addition, don’t forget that your nursing school likely offers student support resources. If you decide to attend Utica University, you’ll have access to a dedicated academic success coach throughout the program. You can talk to your coach about absolutely anything that you’re struggling with (academic or personal), and you can always ask for advice.

Multiple Utica students observing vitals in a clinical setting

8. Know When to Take a Break

As important as it is to put in long hours working toward your nursing degree, you can’t study 24/7. In fact, it is advantageous to take a break when you need one. Get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine for a while. When you return to your studies, you’re likely to find that your thoughts are clearer.

How to Get Started with Nursing School

Are you ready to tackle nursing school and prepare to pursue a meaningful career in healthcare? The admission representatives at Utica University are here to help you get started!

Contact us today to discuss our accelerated nursing program and accelerated BSN transfer program pathway to find out if either could be a good fit for you. Your admission representative will explain program requirements, discuss what you can expect and help you take the first step toward applying. At Utica University, it’s possible to earn your B.S. in Nursing in as few as 16 months!

The Ultimate Nursing School Admissions Checklist

Ready for nursing school but stressed about applying? We recommend downloading our free admissions checklist to learn the important ins and outs of applying to accelerated nursing school.

The ultimate nursing school admissions checklist