How to Survive Nursing School...Beyond Studying

Posted by Camille Gray on

Have you had your first nursing test yet? Are you feeling a little overwhelmed? Are you racking your brain trying to figure the exact score you need to pass the class?

7 Study Tips to Help You Ace Nursing School

How to survive nursing school...beyond studying

I consider myself a fairly reasonable and logical person. I know that passing a test is based on your comprehension of the material and your understanding of the questions. However, by the end of nursing school, I was a nervous, superstitions mess. I had to sit in the exact same seat and wear my “testing outfit”. I did anything and everything extra I could think of to get a good grade.

Nursing tests are critical thinking questions. They are complex and tricky. Half the battle is just learning how to reason through the question. There are hundreds of tutorials on how to answer nursing questions. I’m not covering that here. This is all about the “extra” things you can do in addition to good old fashion studying.

This is not to be used in place of studying!!!!

You must keep reviewing the mountains of material you have for each class. This is just the "extras" that might help you improve your grade. It might just give you a little bit of confidence or relax you a bit so that you do better on the tests. If you know you did EVERYTHING possible to pass your test then you might be calmer and a calmer brain means better thinking power.

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The sense of smell is closely linked with memory so it’s a no-brainer to use it while studying. The molecules signal the receptors in the brain causing emotions and memories to be triggered. If you combine smells with studying you might be able to pull out the information you previously studied.

You can use anything with a strong smell like perfume or even citrus fruit. When I was studying, I used essential oils. They can help with memory as well as help keep you calm and relaxed. A stressed brain isn’t good for recalling facts and reasoning through problems.  

There are several ways to use them. You can put your favorite scent into a diffuser or dab a little oil on a cotton ball and keep it close to you. Personally, I mixed oils with a blender oil and rubbed it all over my hands. I sniffed away while studying. Before going in to take the test I rubbed more oil on my hands. Throughout the test, I would smell my hands hoping to remember the answers.

I really like both of these blends from Amazon. They smell good and I didn't have a reaction from the oil. The ArtNaturals has essential oils blended with jojoba oil so you can put it directly on your skin. 


Brain food

Your brain needs fuel to function just like a machine. If you feed it junk it will be sluggish and slow. I knew so many people that stopped to get fast food on the way to school. I can’t eat a cheeseburger without needing a nap.

Fast food is NOT brain-food!!!

Plan ahead a make sure you have healthy, filling foods before the big test. You don’t need your tummy growling as a distraction and you don’t want to be falling asleep.

I ate the same thing before every test (superstitious). I had a glass of orange juice and peanut butter toast. My theory was if you give it to a diabetic patient to raise and sustain their blood sugar then it should be good for a regular person. Eggs, avocado, salad…just consume a meal that will keep you full and power your brain.

Sleep study

Study while you sleep??? Can it really be that easy???

Actually…maybe. There have been scientific studies done on learning while sleeping. They have shown that participates are able to recall some of the information played while they were asleep. They even have shown that participates can learn a foreign language faster if they listening to it while sleeping.

Create a playlist on YouTube or download your favorite nursing podcast (Nursing Survival wink wink). This might be the easiest “extra” study method you can do.

Muscle memory

This was another one of my superstitious methods that may have some scientific backing. The theory is your muscles become accustomed to an action and then repeating the action can trigger the neural pathways. You may be able to unconsciously pull up memories by repeating the actions you took while studying.

This does not mean you should start tapping your feet or jogging while studying. You’ll get thrown out the test really fast. There are more subtle ways to use muscle memory.

I used the exact same pencil to write all my notes as I did for the test. It had a defect that caused a sharp bump where you hold it. Something about my fingers rubbing on the bump helped me focus.

You don’t have to go out hunting for defect pencils. Try these grippers that provide a nice texture to any pencil or pen.  


Sleep on it

There are always a few students bragging before the test about pulling an all-nighter. No sleep, just studying the whole night through. Why? There is no possible way that they retained even half of what they studied.

Your brain needs to rest. It needs to recharge so it can function at 100%. Staying up late to study just isn’t the best way to retain the information.

You are better off going to bed early and get a full night’s rest. Get up early and study while your brain is clear. You’ll be more focused and relaxed which can improve your ability to recall facts and answer those complex questions.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve mental health. It is a relaxation technique that helps create harmony between the mind and the body.

I was a basket-case before testing. I was frazzled and a stress-out mess. I was so fortunate to have one of the calmest instructors for my first med-surg clinical. I don’t think she raised her voice once in her entire life. She was a big believer in guided imagery and provided a short session before all of the tests. Honestly, I only went the first time because she was my clinical instructor and I wanted brownie-points. I loved it! I went into the test so relaxed and calm. My brain was clear!

I continued to practice guided imagery for the rest of nursing school. I used YouTube videos on the morning of the test. I remember sitting in my car before taking the NCLEX watching guided imagery on my cell phone. It really helped me stay calm and focused.

I hope all these extra study tips help you pass your tests. Remember that these are supposed to be used in addition to studying. Keep working hard and stay focused. You'll be graduating before you know it! 





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