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10 Tips for Succeeding in Nursing School

As a nursing student – or soon-to-be nursing student – it feels great to know that you’re about to embark on a rewarding career as a nurse.

But first, you need to get through nursing school.

Yes, nursing school is tough, but if you use your time efficiently and prioritize your physical and mental health, you’ll experience less stress and have more energy.

To help you get started we’ve put together our top 10 tips for nursing students for succeeding (and thriving!) in nursing school.

Whether you're enrolling in a traditional 4-year nursing program, an accelerated program, or a 2-year associate degree, these nursing school tips aim to help you get organized, stay focused, and stay healthy. 

1. Place Some of Your To-Dos on Autopilot

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the rigors of nursing school. Nursing school provides teaching and training in a variety of ways, such as:

  • lectures
  • clinical rotations
  • skills and simulation labs
  • study groups

Keeping up with all of these nursing school requirements can seriously tax your brain. Here’s a nursing school tip to help relieve some of the pressure.

Save your sanity by setting some of your recurring tasks and decisions on autopilot.

Here are a few examples: 

  • Reduce the time spent deciding what to eat by making a simple meal plan. Eat the same thing for breakfast each weekday morning. Cook a large batch of oatmeal on Sunday and reheat a bowl each morning, adding fresh fruit and nuts for extra nutrients and protein. Or purchase whole grain bread, avocados, and hard-boiled eggs and make quick and easy avocado toast.
  • Eliminate the morning fuzzies by getting up and going to bed at the same time each day. A consistent sleep/wake schedule benefits your body and your mind.
  • Get to class on time by planning ahead for your day. Lay out your clothes and prepare your breakfast the night before (overnight oats, anyone?).


2. Invest in a Scheduling Tool

It doesn’t matter what tool you use. What matters is that you’ll use it and it works well for you. Using a scheduling tool is probably the number one study tip for nursing school.

Some students like a physical calendar or planner. If you prefer a paper calendar or planner, choose one small enough to tote around but make sure it has date blocks large enough to accommodate multiple entries per day. 

Other students use a calendar app. Calendar apps let you set audible and visual reminders, such as a 30-minute reminder to check your commute before you have to leave for class.

3. Use Your Scheduling Tool to Find More Time in Your Day

Efficiency means expending the least amount of effort for the maximum amount of productivity. One way to become more efficient is to have a plan for the day. Oftentimes we have good intentions but get stuck in a loop of indecision about what we should do next. Nix that time-sucking habit with a tried and true time management strategy: time blocking.

Time-blocking is scheduling time on your calendar for everything you need to do. So instead of starting your day with a generic to-do list, assign each of your activities a time block during your day.

By mapping out your day ahead of time, you take control of your schedule. For example, use time blocking to schedule picking up the kids, meals, and getting to and from work around your classes and study group sessions.  

Time-blocking can also be used to help plan out large assignments, like research papers. For example, if you have a 20-page paper to write, pencil in the deadline (to be safe, pretend you have to turn it in two days before it’s actually due - trust me, you’ll thank me later), and then assign yourself realistic deadlines for researching, outlining, drafting, and reviewing the final copy.

Don’t forget to schedule mental health breaks and time with friends. If you’ve created a realistic schedule for yourself, you’ll find time on your calendar to schedule self-care activities like a quick power nap or lunch with a friend.

4. Take Good Notes and Keep Them Organized

For many students, taking notes on paper, rather than on a laptop, helps them remember information better.

A study at the University of Tokyo showed that students had better recall when they took notes on paper compared to typing on a computer or using a digital pen. The researchers noted that the richness of the details when using paper, such as taking notes in textbook margins or doodling in a notebook, activates more brain activity in the hippocampus compared to typing notes on a blank laptop screen.

Other students find that using a laptop or digital notepad works best. In this case, the research suggests that students can gain a memory advantage by using digital sticky notes and hand-drawn pictures to add depth to their note-taking.

Don’t forget to develop a system for keeping track of class materials. Invest in a separate binder for each course, keep notes organized by topic, use highlighters and tabs, and consider digitizing your notes and class papers for easier searchability.

5. Prepare for Class (aka Do the Reading)

Preparing for class, whether that means completing the advanced reading assignment or printing out the class notes, is the most efficient way to get the most out of a lecture.

Nursing school instructors expect students to come to class prepared to dive deep into the assigned topic. If you’ve completed the assigned reading and taken a few notes in the textbook margins, you’ll be prepared to answer questions and engage in meaningful discussions.

You’ll have a better understanding of the material than someone who didn’t do the reading and is playing catch-up during class. You may also discover that you don’t need to take as many notes.

6. Make Studying a Habit

Cramming for tests won’t get you very far in nursing school. Nursing isn’t a “memorize it and forget it” profession. Your anatomy and physiology exams may ask straightforward questions, but your nursing classes won’t, and neither will the nurse licensure exam, also known as the NCLEX.

Nursing school exams will consist mainly of multiple choice questions that require you to choose the BEST answer, not necessarily the CORRECT answer. All four of the answers to a multiple-choice question could be correct, but only one will be the best answer.

Your responsibility is to understand the material and be able to apply it to clinical decision-making. Embrace the tests during nursing school as good practice for the NCLEX. You can also find NCLEX practice tests for more help when you get closer to the NCLEX exam date.

To be a successful nursing school test taker, think of this study tip for nursing school as consistent reviewing. Reviewing should be practiced almost daily. Use different methods of review to target the different ways our brains learn, such as:

  • reviewing notes and written materials
  • participating in study groups
  • writing answers to practice questions
  • drawing pictures
  • making study notecards
  • using concept mapping to help you connect the ideas of a complex topic

If you are attending a nontraditional nursing program, such as an accelerated or online school, you may have a job, family, or other obligations. If so, work with your academic advisor to find strategies to balance school, work, and family obligations, such as:

  • enrolling in fewer classes each term
  • scheduling classes and clinicals around family obligations
  • enrolling your children in daycare
  • asking friends or family to help with the little ones so that you can study for the big test

7. Use the Resources Available to You

This is one study tip for nursing school that often is overlooked. Do not try to do nursing school alone. Use all the resources at your disposal.  

Take advantage of:

  • tutoring
  • review sessions
  • study groups
  • open labs

Labouré College of Healthcare offers free academic support services to help students be successful.

8. Prioritize Your Mental Health

The next three tips for nursing students focus on health and wellness.

Nursing school is tough. You are tackling difficult subjects, having conversations about life and death, managing multiple priorities, and learning to care for fragile humans. It’s no wonder that mental health is a concern among nurses and nursing students.  

If you are feeling stressed, seek help before your stress becomes more serious. 

Learn to manage stress by being proactive:

  • Schedule emotional check-ins with a trusted friend, a family member, a pastor, or a therapist.
  • Visit your guidance counselor at regular intervals to discuss your progress and any concerns you have.
  • Practice self-care. Go out with friends, visit family on long weekends, or just pamper yourself with a home spa night.

Nursing school is a marathon. Consistent work can yield great results, but it isn’t sustainable if you don’t take time to recharge and connect with family and friends.

9. Get Adequate Sleep

If you don’t feel rested in the morning, you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you may have difficulty with problem-solving, decision-making, and managing your workload. And if you’re having difficulty with decision-making, your ability to provide safe patient care is impaired.

Sleep deficits can also affect your health. Lack of sleep has been implicated in many chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, depression, and diabetes. And you’re more susceptible to colds and other viruses if you aren’t getting enough sleep.

How much is enough sleep? Between seven and nine hours says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Here are some tips for a restful night:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Exercise! Fresh air and activity really do help you sleep better.
  • Do not drink caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime. Finish that latte by 3:00 p.m. and limit your alcohol intake to special occasions.
  • Eat lighter as the day goes on. A heavy meal near bedtime not only makes it hard to get good sleep but over time can contribute to the development of reflux.
  • Evaluate your sleep environment. Sleep more soundly by turning off bright lights in the evening, setting the thermostat lower at night, and sleeping in a dark room.

10. Eat the Right Foods

Research has shown that being deficient in certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, folate, and zinc, can lead to mental health and behavioral challenges, such as depression, difficulty focusing, and feeling tired.

To feel stronger, more alert, and better able to handle the stress of nursing school, fill your plate with a variety of whole foods and minimize the amount of processed food you consume.

If you don’t want to think about what to cook, pull out 5-6 of your favorite healthy recipes and rotate through them weekly. You can try batch-cooking on the weekends to make meal prep faster during the week.

Or, if you are feeling adventurous, purchase a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, protein, nuts, and seeds. Cook or prep one to three items from each food group on the weekend and you’ll have the basics for building a variety of meals, such as:

  • salads
  • grain bowls
  • stuffed sweet or white potatoes
  • tacos 

During the winter months, prepare a large batch of soup over the weekend for quick hot meals during the week.

Whether you're just starting out in nursing school, or have been working through semester by semester, we hope these tips for nursing students have been helpful. 

To learn more about nursing and other healthcare careers, visit laboure.edu and see how Labouré College of Healthcare can help you embark on your next step toward a rewarding career in healthcare. 

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