Studying Nursing: 5 Proven Ways To Study Better in Nursing School, According To Science

Many people now are studying nursing, here are science-backed tips that will help you create successful habits in nursing school.

Studying Nursing- picture of students studying.

As a second-career nursing school student, I thought studying nursing to achieve my BSN wouldn’t be that hard. After all, I already had a bachelor’s degree in journalism and several years of medical device sales experience under my belt. I somehow figured that by working in the same vicinity as other nurses, I had absorbed some of their hard-earned knowledge.  

My learning-through-osmosis assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth. I knew within the first month that studying nursing would be a beast of its own.

I wasn’t the only one struggling with nursing school stressors and witnessed many mental breakdowns, breakups, and complete burnouts. Studying nursing has many challenges when it comes to being successful in school. Nearly everyone has some sort of responsibility to juggle along with their studies, from children to working an additional job to make ends meet.

The key to nursing school success is learning how to study as effectively as possible with the time you do have. Fortunately, there is already hard evidence that some ways of studying are better than others. Aren’t nurses all about evidence-based practice anyway? 

Studying Nursing - picture of a nurse studying in her room.









Effective tips for studying nursing, according to science 

1. Break up your nurse study guide into smaller components

One PubMed study found that students can study most effectively by “chunking” coursework into smaller, more appropriate pieces—making it easier to retain information, move between body systems, and create links between topics. This method can help with nurses studying too. Let’s use pharmacology as an example.  

Nurses studying the subject of pharmacology all at once will bombard themselves with what seems like a bottomless pit of drugs, interactions, nursing interventions, and side effects. To study nursing effectively, flashcards can be a helpful tool. Still, if you don’t break up the information into smaller, more digestible pieces, you may have difficulty understanding it all. 

Instead, break your studies into sensible parts. For example, many studying nursing divide pharmaceuticals into drug types—antidepressants, antibiotics, antihistamines, antivirals, and so on. From there, students can learn that each drug type usually has its own suffix, like generic beta-blockers having the suffix “olol.” Once you categorize medications like this, you can easily compare each medicine as a group. 

When you study nursing, you will learn to batch your work into smaller components in almost every course you take in school, from memorizing anatomy to exploring all eleven of the major body systems.

2. Study for nursing in groups

Many aspects of studying in groups are beneficial, especially for nursing students studying comprehensive medical information. Sometimes your classmates, who may have a better grasp on a particular subject, can explain something in a way that helps it stick in your mind.  

One research study examined how small group work enhanced nursing students and skill development. It concluded that if study groups remained “conflict-free” and all students had the same motivation and desire to perform well, study groups appeared to help students retain more information than just studying alone. 

When I was studying nursing, I struggled to understand the complexities of how the kidneys filtered urine. No matter how often I reread the information, I was still stuck. Finally, I met my classmate, Jana, at her house to study the night before a big test. She talked it out a few times with me, and voila, I understood it completely and nailed my test the next day.  

Many resources are available for online and socially distanced learners to help you study nursing virtually in groups, including Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. And remember to make the most of your study time! 

Here are a few tips to ensure a successful virtual study group:
  • Schedule a time. Also, consider setting a time limit so students feel they can fit the study session into their busy schedules. When possible, make it a recurring study session each week. For example, every Wednesday, the day after your Tuesday Introduction to Psychology course.
  • Limit study groups to 2-5 people. You can have more if that works for you, but you don’t want to have too many participants talking over one another. Smaller groups make it possible for students to participate more.
  • Have a game plan. You may want to have one person in charge of each study session.  That person can be responsible for setting the agenda and making sure students stay on topic.
  • Challenge each other to teach a portion of the material. Nothing will help you retain challenging medical information better than teaching others!

Studying Nursing- picture of nursing students studying in a group.









3. Nurses study in different locations

Many of those studying nursing are creatures of habit and love to go to the same coffee shop or library. But research shows that changing your study locations can help improve your test scores and ultimately increase your grade point average.

A study on environmental context and human memory found that the simple act of finding a new place to learn gives your brain an edge to retain more information than you would by studying at the same desk every time.

With the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, changing your study environment can be complicated due to social distancing, remote learning, and other public safety concerns. But if you have to study at home or in the same location, there are ways to switch things up. Try sitting in a different area, facing a new direction, or moving your desk close to a window.  

4. Have a study strategy that aligns with how you learn

Before diving headfirst, be honest about how you learn best. One of the easiest ways to do this is to determine the time of day you are the most productive learner.

Do you prefer to stay up late, or are you an early morning learner? There is no universally correct study time, as it ultimately depends on the individual and their personal preferences. If you don’t enjoy waking up at 5 a.m., then it’s probably not a good idea to study nursing at that time (you will just hit the snooze button.)

Additionally, consider using a calendar where you can block off time for every aspect of your life—including personal, professional, and educational tasks. That will give you a more honest view of when you have time to spend studying nursing. Without planning, it is easy to think you have time for studying that you don’t actually have. 

By blocking out study time during your most productive hours, you will set yourself up for success.

5. Create helpful study habits that’ll keep you focused

I could absorb my study material just about anywhere as long as I had a set of earplugs with me. 

Here are a few other helpful study habits and nursing school tips you may want to consider adding:     

  1. Turn your cell phone to “do not disturb.” Cell phone notifications can be just as distracting as texts or calls.
  2. Let roommates and family know not to interrupt you for a specific amount of time. 
  3. Stop cramming! Contrary to popular belief, studies show that spacing out your assignments is more effective than trying to remember everything at once.  
  4. Manage stress with meditation and movement. The stress hormone cortisol makes it more challenging to recall information
  5. Lavender and peppermint can be helpful study buddies. Not only do they smell great and help you relax, but they may also help you retain information and focus more clearly.

Studying Nursing- picture of student studying by herself.

More quick-hit tips for studying nursing

  • Time management/Organization

    • You may know this as a nursing student, but time management and organization are keys to success and balance. There is always something to do, an assignment pending, or studying that awaits, be sure to stay on top of your priorities to avoid feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. This will play largely into your work-life balance. 
  • Mnemonics 

    • This can be a helpful tool for nurses studying a lot of material. This study technique can be a pattern of letters or phrases that can be useful for remembering information. Think of the mnemonic acronym FAST, which represents the signs of a stroke (Face, Arms, Speech, Time). 
  • Study every day, including practice questions

    • To give yourself the best success while studying nursing, it is wise to study every day. A good suggestion is to review information after each class. Also, practice questions from past exams or nursing study guides can be effective. Nurses can benefit from studying practice questions because they allow students to apply their lessons from class. Simply said, nurses studying daily are less likely to fall behind in their courses and classwork. 
  • Give yourself a break! 

    • This is vital. Seek outlets and activities outside of school to help you decompress and maintain your mental health. Also, do not be too tough on yourself if you underperform on an assignment or exam– it is surely not the end of the world. Use your resources wisely, including your instructors, when you’ve discovered an area of study that challenges you more than others.
  • Eat and sleep well, don’t forget to breathe, and don’t skip exercising 

    • A well-balanced diet, daily exercise, and good sleep habits are crucial to sustaining your physical and mental health. Mastering these important routines could provide the energy and focus needed to perform at your best, and they could lead to decreased stress, improved mood, and keep you motivated. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions

    • Those studying nursing with the greatest chance of success understand the value of asking questions. Many students shy away from asking questions out of fear of being judged as incompetent, but asking questions will help you to understand topics better and develop stronger critical thinking skills. Plus, it shows your instructor that you are dedicated to understanding the material.
  • Use your resources

    • There are many resources available to those studying nursing. Get to know your instructors, lean on your cohort, and utilize practice exams. Speak with your advisor to seek more information about what resources your university supplies. 
  • Set realistic goals

    • This simple act can yield golden results. Setting realistic goals can help you remain focused and diligent while you’re studying nursing. A useful hint: organize your goals using the SMART method. Therefore, the path to achieving your goals is clearly defined in small, actionable steps. 
  • Build a support network

    • This is an important ingredient for a successful nursing school experience. A supportive network will allow your focus to remain on studying nursing. Friends, family, classmates, and even instructors can provide invaluable support. These people understand the journey you are undertaking, and they want to see you succeed. The best idea is to have an open dialogue with them about how they can support you. Respectfully set boundaries and adjust expectations to remain realistic, those who believe in you will honor your wishes and contribute to your success. With a supportive network, you’ll likely experience less stress and more freedom to focus on your priorities. 

Studying Nursing- picture of students studying together.









Successful nursing school habits take time. 

Learning how to study better and implementing these nursing school study tips takes practice. But nursing is a practice that you will continue to build on throughout your career.  Upon graduation, you will find that many of the habits you develop in school will make you a better nurse once you get into the real-world setting.  

Your goal in nursing school is to learn as much as you can. But don’t stop there. The best nurses never stop studying and growing within the profession. 

Aspen University can help you advance your career with our affordable online RN to BSN, MSN, and DNP degree programs. Looking to become an RN? Consider the BSN Pre-Licensure program.

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Guest author Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, SCRN is a second-career nurse, freelance writer, mother of two, and founder of Mother Nurse Love, a resource for busy mom RN’s. Her nursing specialties include emergency room, neuro/trauma, and critical care. In a rare moment of spare time, you might find Sarah practicing yoga, writing, or attending a local concert venue with her husband.

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