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How to Study for Nursing Exams in 8 Steps

You got into nursing school. Congratulations! You’ve gone to all your classes and have got the hang of it. Your professors are super intimidating and your classes have a hundred other students in them.

But you have your first exam coming up—and no one taught you how to study for them.

Or maybe this is your second or third or fourth semester of nursing school and your exam grades just aren’t as great as you were hoping.

No matter your background in nursing school, this post is for you.

Not going to lie, nursing school is HARD. It’s supposed to be, but you’ll get through it—believe it or not. It’s important that you study for exams, because this is most likely one of the only grades for the class. Fail the test, fail the class. Pass the test, pass the class. Get my notion?

Of course, everyone studies differently. Everyone learns differently and everyone succeeds differently, so don’t let my way be the only way! Here’s just what worked for me.

1. Read BEFORE class

Yes, I know—it sucks. Reading material you don’t understand. You don’t know what’s important and what won’t even be on the exam.

But this is important:

Read the chapters before you attend lecture. Don’t bother taking notes, just read. This gives you a very brief understanding of the concepts and when you actually attend lecture, these concepts will already ring a bell.

If you’re like me and can’t stay focused, highlight vocab words. Star important sections. You’ll use them eventually.

2. Print the lecture (if provided)

All of my professors so far have provided their PowerPoints either online or in person. If they post their lecture notes or PowerPoints online, PRINT THEM.

I see many students simply pull the notes up on their laptops and take notes that way. If that works for you, go for it. But research shows that you retain more knowledge if you write out notes (see more on this in point 4).

So print out the professor’s notes. If they’re using PowerPoint, I like to print six slides per page to save paper. Some of my fellow nursing students print two or four to a page, but I prefer six slides per page. Saving the earth, people.

3. Attend the lecture and take notes

This is the single-most biggest mistake students make: not going to class. Just go. This is where you’ll get the most relevant information.

Professors tend to use their notes as an outline and elaborate on their main points.

Follow along with your printed PowerPoints and write any other information your professor says. Your notes should be pretty messy—don’t worry about making them nice and appealing to the eye—you’ll fix this later. The lecture is about soaking up as much information as possible.

One major mistake I see students make is copying the PowerPoints or notes IN lecture. Sure, you’re saving time by doing this, but if you’re solely focused on copying the notes, you’re not focused on what the professor is saying. And they usually say pretty important stuff (Refer to #2, print your notes beforehand if you can.)

As you can see, my notes from lecture are pretty messy. I have to write down as much information as I can!

4. Copy your notes

Within 24 hours (I usually try for the same evening as lecture) copy your notes. You can review, organize, and study by doing this.

This is where you can make your notes all pretty and Pinterest-worthy! Use different colored pens and markers if you like. Doodle, make diagrams, whatever makes sense to you. Highlight vocab. Take as much space as you need. Sometimes I used lined paper and other times I like to use white computer paper.

The important part is that you copy the entire PowerPoint notes AND your added notes, BY HAND. Rewriting your notes within 24 hours of lecture has been shown to help you remember! I know some people prefer to type their notes, but physically writing out the information helps you learn better!

If I had to choose only one of these steps to do, it would be this one. It’s THAT important.

5. Read the textbook, again

I know what you’re thinking. There’s no possible way to read that awfully boring textbook AGAIN. A second time. No way José.

But yes, read it again. Focus on the sections that your professor spent the most time on. If they didn’t talk about the concept in class, skim over it. But if there was an entire PowerPoint slide or an entire section on a concept, pay extra close attention and take notes.

Once you’ve read again, add these details to your notes. It should be pretty darn in-depth by now.

A rule of thumb that you should read three hours a week per credit hour. If you do the math for each of your nursing classes, it’s a lot. It’s intimidating and seems impossible.

It probably is! There’s no way I could spend 24 hours every week reading a textbook (I’m in three nursing classes currently). Time doesn’t matter, y’all. Just read it and focus on the sections your professor did.

6. Review your notes

Study a few times a week. Simply rereading your notes can keep the information fresh in your mind. You can read, make Quizlets, rewrite… anything! If you’re a firm believer in flash cards, this is the time to make the flashcards. Do what works best for you.

Ideally, you should spend a short amount of time reviewing every night.

I TRY to make my notes nice and neat. Colorful pens are my favorite!

7. The few days prior to the exam: Do NOT cram

Do not cram. I repeat, do not cram.

3 or 4 (or 5 or 6) days before your big exam, study really hard! Go chapter by chapter, PowerPoint by PowerPoint. Go through all your material for that unit.

My favorite is to have a study partner. Erika and I go to the Starbucks on campus, grab a latte and go over all the notes together. You can ask each other questions, clarify things you don’t understand, and review without it being so boring. And who doesn’t want a latte?

Don’t know where to start? Go over the Student Learning Outcomes. They’re usually written out at the beginning of the chapter in the textbook or sometimes even in the PowerPoints. SLO’s (or sometimes CLO’s) are the basic concepts that are in each chapter and can give you a good idea of what’s on the exam. Go through each of them and answer them as if they were questions.

Another GREAT way to study for exams is to make your own test questions. Nursing exams are hard and the test question styles are a bit different (yes, all the choices ARE correct!) so sometimes it helps if you can mimic the questions. I make test questions on content I don’t think I know that well, and Erika does the same. Then, we switch and take each other’s practice tests! Believe it or not, sometimes our questions are on the actual exam.

And most importantly, do not cram. Don’t lose sleep over an exam—it will hurt you and your grade in the long run.

8. Take care of yourself

Seriously guys, no exam is more important than your health. No grade defines you as a person, so don’t let an exam weigh you down. Get enough sleep the night before and make sure to eat breakfast. It’s hard to focus when your stomach is growling or your eyes are shutting.

So go take your exam! If you follow these steps, you’ll be pretty darn prepared for any exam.

Do you have any other tips? What makes you successful for your nursing exams?

Be sure to comment, subscribe and share my blog if you enjoyed this blog post!

Much love,


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