I think all you confused, frustrated nursing students will get a lot out of this entry.
When I first started nursing school, I realized very quickly that the way I studied for any of my previous classes just wasn’t going to work for me anymore. There was just too much information, too much to do, and not nearly enough time.
I tried doing it my old way, just reading the book, memorizing it, and hoping for the best. Yeah. That didn’t work so well.
This might sound silly but nursing textbooks are hard to read. Not like Barbie “Math is hard! Let’s go buy make up so boys like us and make us trophy wives!”-kinda hard but “I have been staring at this paragraph for the past hour and I still have no idea what it means”-kinda hard. And they are heavy too.
Okay, I'll stop whining now. ;-)
[A note about the photos in this entry: it did not occur to me earlier to take photos of my fundamentals textbook. I was reviewing cardiology and EKGs today in preparation for classes in a week and a half so I just snapped a few of the books that I had out. Try not to let them scare you too badly. And don't worry about me. I don't mind cardio too much. But then again, I get off on a little pain and agony...must be why I choose nursing as a major. ;-)]
Through a lot of trial and error, I finally figured out what worked for me. Enjoy. :-)
How I studied:
I read the learning objectives that the course organizers provided us. Basically, these were lists of concepts that, by the end of the lecture or unit, we should be able to understand and articulate back to them. These were also how we knew what we would be tested on. For example, even though we covered most of the endocrine chapter this semester, we didn’t talk about diabetes insidious or adrenal disorders because they will be covered next semester. If I had just read the whole endocrine chapter, I would have been “wasting time” on information that I didn’t need to know right then.
I read the powerpoints or notes the professor provided. Hopefully, before the lecture, the instructor posted or emailed the notes for you. These are very important because they are usually in the professor’s own words and gives you insight to what they think is important.
I skimmed the chapters that were to be covered. I looked at the headings, major points, and any charts or diagrams.
I attended the lecture and really listened. I didn’t write everything the professor said. If they notes already covered it, I didn’t bother. Instead, I tried to focus on what they were saying and, more importantly, how they were saying it. Sometimes, you could hear a subtle change in their voice. Their pitch or tone of voice might get higher or lower. They may clear their throat. They may start speaking slower than normal. When this happens, I wrote down whatever they said because usually, that was what was important and you can bet that you will see it again on the exam.
After the lecture, usually later that day or the next day. I went over the materials again, primarily the textbook chapters. Okay, here’s a dirty little secret that no one in nursing school likes to talk about. It is next to impossible to do all the required reading. Plus, it is a textbook, not a novel. Reading it word for word never made any since to me. I skimmed the text, looking for phrases that stood out to me. [note: This did not apply to the “nursing interventions” sections in my textbook. I read that shit word for freaking word.] Some of the key phrases were:
- “In summery,…”
- “Most importantly…”
- “The first sign of…”
- ‘The best…” or “The worst…”
I did the chapter questions. If I came to a question that I got incorrect [or even if I did get it correct and I just didn’t fully understand why], I reread that part of the chapter/notes more carefully to figure out where I went wrong.
Lastly, if I still didn’t understand something, I asked the professor during office hours. They are usually happy to explain it to you if they know you have taken the time outside of class to try to find the answer on your own.
Study groups. Flashcards. Reviewing notes. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Some other tips and tricks for getting the most out of your study time:
Review material: In most Medical-Surgical textbooks, they include a chapter of anatomy review before they get into the actual problems that require nursing/medical care. Did you pay attention in anatomy and physiology? Remember most of it? Good. Just glance over it and move on. Having to relearn all that crap sucks.
Connect with other students. By checking out this blog, you are already doing that. Good for you. :-) Another great place to connect to fellow nursing students is the AllNurses website. Their "Students" forum helped me tremendously my first semester (and my second....and my third...and when I was a pre-nursing student...)
Does your school or program have some kind of nursing mentor program? It doesn’t? It’s okay, neither does mine. Check out Facebook to see if your school has a nursing alumni group. Some graduate nursing students have a soft spot for the freshman at their former institutes. But you should totally start a mentoring program when you become an upperclassman.
If you are lucky enough to have one where you go, use it! Milk the upperclassman for information like some kind of nursing dairy cow. Ask about specific instructors’ teaching styles, pet peeves [like, do they freak out of you use a lap top to take notes or chew gum in class?], where they get their test questions [the main textbook, their own notes, the ‘boxes’ in the chapters].
Find study materials online.
Textbook companion websites: The Evolve Elsevier website has study material for a ton of different nursing textbooks. Even though technically you should have the textbook to access the information, it isn’t necessary. Create an account and search for “fundamentals of nursing” textbooks (or med-surg or pharmacology…whatever you are studying). Add any one that you want to your account to see what they have to offer. Even if you don’t find your specific textbook; the material will pretty much be the same and you can see the illustrations, charts, diagrams, videos and take the practice questions.
Google document search: When I first started to learn about acidotic and alkalotic disorders, I was totally lost. I couldn’t understand the textbook and things just didn’t *click* when I attended the lecture. It was so frustrating. But I had the bright idea to try to find some extra study material online. While doing some Googling, I found out that professors in other colleges provide their notes online, open to everyone. I found several awesome powerpoints and pdf files on acid-base problems that explained them so simply.
[Read the boxes in your assigned chapters. Especially in your fundamentals semester. That is where 60% of my first semester exam questions came from. But don't worry. Like I said earlier, the above photo is from my second semester.]
For the visual learners: Google image search. Best thing since automatic blood pressure cuffs.
Study groups: People have different strengths and pick up things faster than others. For example, I freaking rocked in cardiology. Don’t know why…I just understood it. But I could not understand genetics or immunology to save my life. One classmate of mine was the complete opposite, so I helped her with comprehending nursing interventions for heart failure and EKGs and she taught me about antibodies and allergic reactions.
Don’t study just for the grades. This sounds silly but study to understand the material. Shoot for the A but if you get a C, it's no big deal. Remember, a lot of the time, getting answers right or wrong on a nursing exam doesn't say much about what kind of nurse you will be. Mostly, it just indicates how well you take nursing exams.
Be adaptable. I think this is the biggest challenge to new nursing students. We all come in thinking, “Hey, I am a 4.0 student. Never made a B in my life. This ought to be a piece of cake.” These are the students that, after the first exam, crawl under the nearest desk and cry for two hours. It’s not that nursing school is hard [well, actually, it is], so much as it is a totally different experience from any of the prerequisites you took to get here. Remember how you thought anatomy, physiology, pathology, and microbiology were difficult? Remember how you studied in them to be able to pass? Well, in your nursing classes, those same study strategies might not work for you. It isn’t just memorization. The questions are all application based, meaning that not only do you need to know the information [a&p, pathology and disease processes, nursing interventions, therapeutic communication skills, nursing management] but you need to be able apply what you know. You need to be able to hear a scenario and figure out what to do first. [I say first, because did I mention that on some nursing exam questions, there will be four right answers? But you have got to pick the most right one.]
GO TO CLASS! I know this sounds simple but you have no idea how hard it can be…especially during the second and third semesters when the enthusiasm for nursing school you had during first semester has worn off. Reading the chapter word-for-word and taking great notes on your own is good and all but it is no substitute for hearing what the professor has to say on the subject. Especially since they will be making the test questions.
Good luck, my darlings. ♥ And remember, you can do this. :-)