Have you ever felt like the energy you put into studying isn’t reflected in the outcomes you end up with? You aren’t alone. Like any other professional skill, studying is something you need to learn how to do. It might seem counterintuitive, says Regan A. R. Gurung, PhD, but taking the time and effort to learn top study skills is going to help you through school and in your professional life.
“There are two reasons why students need to learn to study,” says Gurung. “First, many of them do not know how to study. Second, many of the ways used to study are not effective. For example, most students believe that if they have time to study they should reread their notes (and data shows this is what they say they do and actually do). This is one of the least effective ways to study.”
Frequently, the study habits that let top students sail through high school will not work in college. And some graduate students find the same–their study skills developed as an undergrad aren’t working in their advanced degree courses.
Gurung says that different types of studying will lead to different outcomes. Students should understand that if they are struggling in a course, it’s not because they are a bad student. “Cramming the night before may help you do well on a test the NEXT day, but you will not remember the material well a week later or a month later,” he says. That’s a particularly important point for nursing students who will face the comprehensive NCLEX exams for licensure. “That learning takes work and can be challenging,” he says.
There are many myths about what good study skills look like, he says, and even some research offers conflicting advice. The most effective study habits will likely include a mix of several approaches so that you cover the bases and begin to think about the material in a different way.
Some top habits include dedicating time and space to studying so that you aren’t trying to do everything in marathon stretches. And this isn’t just a drop-it-in-the-calendar activity. Set aside study time and then protect it relentlessly so that something else doesn’t take priority. What you then do during that time will help you study smarter so that you can actually learn and retain more with less overall effort. It’s not taking the easy way out at all. Developing good study habits and sticking to them is the same as how athletes prepare for big events. You can’t expect to run a hilly race if you’ve only trained on flat ground; you might have been running all the time, but the preparation needs to match the race.
Investigate good study habits to see how they are different and how you can implement them. For example, although rereading material, even with multicolored highlighters in hand, seems like it should work, a better method is using practice tests or even making your own tests and taking them to assess your actual understanding.
As you begin trying new study methods, keep in mind that your old habits are hard to change, and that you’ll need to adapt your new habits to different situations. “One size such as retrieval practice, works for a lot of things,” Gurung says, “but different classes can need different types of approaches.”
As a nursing student, remember that the study skills developed in nursing school are going to be the foundation for your professional approach to learning on the job. “The techniques used to study better also help us understand and retain all kinds of knowledge in all the things we do,” says Gurung. “Especially when professional skills need a lot of different steps or knowing info, the same key study techniques can come in handy.”
If there’s one question that I frequently get asked by nursing students, it is how to properly study to pass nursing tests and exams and make it out of nursing school alive. During nursing school I tried different ways to study and it took trial and error for me to finally find what worked best for me. Here are my top study habits to help you get those A’s and tackle nursing school exams.
Best Study Habits:
1. What type of learner are you?
First and foremost, determine what your learning style is. It’s imperative that you’re honest with yourself about the type of learner you are to get the best results from studying. Learning styles typically fall into 3 categories: visual, auditory or tactile/kinesthetic learning. Each learning style retains and processes information differently. So before signing up to be a part of that study group session find out if it works for you. Some students are able to study in only quiet places while others can concentrate around loud noise. Here are two educational websites that offer free learning assessments to help you determine which learning style fits you the best: https://www.how-to-study.com/learning-style-assessment/ and http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/learning-styles-quiz.shtml
2. Be organized.
Before you begin studying collect all of your essential tools such as notecards, pens, highlighters, coffee, and wine (just kidding). There’s nothing worse than being in your groove when studying and you realize that you’ve forgotten your favorite pen or highlighter. Have a plan of what you want to study for each session and a realistic expectation of how long it will take to go over the material. Give yourself adequate time to review each subject and include break times for each study session. According to a study recently done by Microsoft the average adult has a concentration span of only 8 seconds. That is less than that of a goldfish! So studying straight for hours without any breaks will not help you retain the information more.
3. Set goals.
You had a goal to get into nursing school and you have a goal to graduate, so why not set goals when studying? If there is a particular topic that is a weak area for you take out your planner and set a goal for when you want to fully master that material. Create a study outline with exact dates, time and even the location for when you will study each material. This will help you avoid having to cram for exams. Your class syllabus should have dates for when exams and texts will take place so don’t wait until you’re two weeks into the class to begin setting your study goals.
4. Less is more.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when studying in nursing school is using too many books or resources at once. Determine which resources are necessary for each exam and study that content. Professors typically outline which books or resources are appropriate to use for each course so use that as a guide on what to use when studying. If not you may run the risk of studying information that contradicts what you were taught in the classroom. Seek guidance from your professor when choosing to use other resources aside from what is required.
Nursing school is probably one of the most stressful and rewarding things you’ll ever go through in life. Help make things easier for yourself with the four study tactics I listed above to help you prepare for every test and ace those exams. Always remain positive and remember to relax before an exam. You’ve got this!
Stay connected with other nurses just like you! Facebook: Fierce Expression and Instagram: @fierceexpression.
Some of the smartest nursing students are the ones who get help to study better than they can on their own. They might hire a tutor, visit the school’s academic resource center, ask for help from a professor or teaching assistant, or from another student. Whatever they do, the top students don’t just hope for the best.
Here are some ways you can get help and be the best nursing student possible.
Visit Your School’s Academic Resource Center
These centers are on campus to help students – it’s what they do all the time. They have loads of resources to help you. You can be paired up with a peer tutor, those who have successfully taken the class or subject you are struggling in, who can help explain the topic to you. But there are also people who can show you how to study more effectively and how to take better notes in class. Strengthening those skills alone can help eliminate a lot of academic troubles.
Visit Your Professor
Professors have office hours so students can come to them for help or guidance. Students need questions answered or they need extra help understanding a topic or a subject, so professors set aside specific time to help them out. Take advantage of your professors’ office hours to help you get a handle on your topic. The atmosphere is typically more laid back than in a classroom and you can delve deeply into the topic.
Ask the Class Teaching Assistant
TAs also are great resources for information or even for specific requirements that the professor wants. A TA can help you interpret the class requirements for a lab or a paper and get you moving in the right direction.
If your roommate’s soccer teammate aced the class you are taking, it can’t hurt to ask if they can help you. They might not be trained at actual tutoring, so this isn’t as dependable as trained peer tutors, but it can’t hurt to ask.
Join or Start a Study Group
People study together for a reason – it helps them do better in class. Groups talk about issues, solve problems together, and introduce new approaches to a problem that you might not be familiar with. And studying with a regularly scheduled group is great if you are someone who procrastinates. A regular group holds you accountable – it means you are more likely to show up and get the work done. No study groups for your class? Invite people to meet and start one yourself!
Ask a Student Nursing Association for Help
Are you cramming for the NCLEX? Join others who are having the same panic about the test. You can find them through a local student nursing association or check the National Student Nurses’ Association. Check local chapters for seminars on NCLEX study- and test-taking tips.
Every student can learn from others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if you earn top grades, you might be amazed at how much you learn if you get help to study smarter.
See Our Champions of Nursing Diversity
Sign up now to get your free digital subscription to Minority Nurse