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Student-to-Student Study Tips: College of Nursing

Disclaimer: All students study differently and the ideas below may not work for you. They are simply offered as possible approaches.


(from nursing students Anne, Natasha, and Sheon)

Before You Begin

Natasha:It really helps if you have some hospital experience before you enroll. Also, take some time to review anatomy and physiology before classes begin. Finally, pay attention to any low scores you may receive on subject areas of the HESI and be sure to beef up on those areas. (I found that my scores on the HESI were right on target.)
Sheon:Know ahead of time that you’ll feel overwhelmed during the first month of school and will wonder whether you can do it all. You can!

Time Management

Anne: “Big picture” Planning: I used a monthly calendar (the kind you might hang on a wall, although I carried it with me). On this calendar I wrote in exams, papers, and major assignments. I didn’t clutter the calendar with anything else because I wanted to be able to easily see what was coming up so I wouldn’t forget anything.
Weekly Plans: Every Sunday night I would sit down with my monthly calendar and plan my upcoming week (I also looked ahead to the week after that). Using a weekly calendar like the UIC Daily, I would write what I planned to do each day (such as write up summary of Mon. lecture, write 2 pages of ____ paper, etc.).
Daily: I studied the hardest subjects (or ones I didn’t like) early in the day. My mind is freshest during the day, and I knew I would neglect the courses I didn’t like if I didn’t get to them right away. During the day, I like to do things like reviewing my notes and reading. In the evening I tried to do something more active, like doing calculations or finding answers for assignments (this way I didn’t nod off).
Falling Behind: If I got seriously behind, I would get up early to study – at 4:00 or 5:00.
Benefits of Routine: I came to campus at 8:00 or 8:30 every day, even when classes started later. I would then use the time before class to study.
Weekends: On Saturdays, I usually studied at a library near where I live. I would get out of the house right away because I knew if I didn’t, I would probably see something that needed to be cleaned … and one thing would lead to the next. I would stay at the library to study for 2 to 4 hours. I usually took the rest of the weekend off, except for Sunday night when I would sit down to plan my upcoming week and to do some homework.
Homework: I liked to read the assignment sheet and start planning what I would do the same day the assignment was given, while the information was still fresh in my mind. If it was a short assignment, I might even complete it that day.
Kids: I have two kids, aged 2 and 5, who attended daycare while I was in school. I would leave campus right after class each day so I could avoid the traffic. Then I would go to a library near the daycare center and do some studying before I got my kids at the 6:00 pick–up time. This way I didn’t have to worry about being late for pick–up and I could also squeeze in a little more studying. Once I picked up my kids, I gave them my full attention. When we got home we followed a set routine, which they liked. I would start dinner and play with them, then I would shower them and have them put on their pajamas, then we would eat, and then I would read stories to them before they went to bed at 8:00. It seemed to work best if we just followed this same routine, even when school wasn’t in session. (They knew what to expect in the evening and didn’t fight it.) After the kids were in bed I would shower and do a few chores and then get in a couple of hours of studying. On Saturday morning I would have a family member watch the kids and I would go off to the library to study. Saturday afternoon I would try to take the kids somewhere fun, if only to the park. (They liked to have something fun to tell their friends about when they went back to daycare on Monday.)

Prioritize: Keep focused on your ultimate goal and eliminate any stuff that’s not helping you toward your goal. Don’t work while in nursing school if you’re in the two-year program! Keep your distance from bad relationships or friends who like to go out all the time. You can’t stay out partying really late and then expect to be able to study well the next day.
Start early: Start studying for your classes from day one – or even before your classes start. Look over your orientation information and anything that’s posted on Blackboard.
Don’t go home: Be honest with yourself if you’re someone like me who doesn’t study well at home. (Too many distractions!) If you commute to school, stay on campus after class rather than driving home during rush hour. Tell yourself that this way you’ll get in a couple of extra hours of studying (say from 4:30 to 6:30) and then you’ll have a nice short commute. For me, it took an hour to drive home during rush hour but only 20 minutes if I waited until after 6:30 or 7:00.
Places to study: The Goldberg Building (with the computer lab) can be a quiet place to study. Some of the CON lounges can be good places to study – or even an empty classroom.
Weekends: Make studying like a job. Decide ahead of time when you’ll start studying and where you’ll go (a nearby library or a coffee shop can work). Here’s a possible schedule for a Saturday: study from 10:00 to 12:00, take a break from 12:00 to 12:30, study from 12:30 to 2:30.
Write a schedule on Excel: I made up a standard weekly schedule on Excel (with a separate cell for each hour of each day, Mon. to Sun., and all of my classes and other regular obligations typed in). Then, each Sunday night I would sit down at my computer to make up a detailed schedule for the upcoming week, adding particular homework, meetings, etc. to the times that were open. I printed this off and carried it with me all week. I also made a note at the bottom of the schedule about the number of hours I had available to study each day.

Lecture Notes & Reading

Routine: Before lecture, I downloaded the professor’s lecture notes and I also tried to scan the textbook on that topic, looking at the pictures, diagrams, bold terms, and headings. During class, I wrote my notes onto the professor’s lecture notes. That night or the next day I would take out my lecture notes and open my text to the same topic. I would read through my notes and if I didn’t understand a concept I would read about it in the text. I tried to understand the how and why of things. For example, when learning that hypertension can cause heart disease, I tried to understand how – the whole cascade of events.
Summary Sheets: As I went over my lecture notes, I wrote up a summary sheet in my own words, with lots of abbreviations and headings (causes, S & S, etc). To do this, I tried to think of what the possible test questions might be from the lecture. I wrote my summaries on pieces of paper folded lengthwise, with questions in one column and the answers in the other. I tried to really condense the material, summarizing maybe 4 pages of lecture notes into one column of my notes. Some students would highlight their lecture notes, but I preferred my method. Writing things out in my own words helped me remember it. Also, my notes were very portable and they were just about the only thing I studied when it was time for an exam. This whole process – of reading over the lecture notes, consulting the textbook when I needed to, and writing my summaries – took maybe 1 to 2 hours for a 2–hour lecture.

Lectures: Attend all of your classes! Before class, I always got the packet of information from Blackboard and tried to either skim the assigned chapter or read about the topic in a review/outline book. After the lecture (within a day or 2), I would go over the lecture packet and on the reverse side of each page I would write a clear explanation in my own words of the most important concepts. I would also highlight key points in the lecture notes, and I always looked for common themes. All of these things helped the information stick in my head. If I was confused about something I would read about it in my textbook. If I was still confused, I would ask another student or the professor for help.
Textbooks: When reading, I liked to focus on the pictures, charts, graphs, and diagrams. When highlighting terms, I used two colors – yellow for the term and pink for the definition. For Nursing 210 and Nursing 225 (lecture), it is very important to read the book.

Studying for Exams: Strategies & Resources

Sheon: Don’t just memorize the material. Even if this was how you got through your prerequisite courses, it won’t work here! You have to focus on understanding concepts. Also, tell yourself to “learn it the first time.” Don’t just file information into your short-term memory for the next exam; learn it well because it will return in another course or on the NCLEX.

Review Books: It can be helpful to consult your old textbooks from prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology. Also, there are plenty of good review books that present the material in a simplified version and it can be helpful to read this before your lecture or if you’re confused. Just go to the UIC bookstore or Borders and look around. I liked the Incredibly Easy series, especially for pharm. There are also some good online resources. has some great visuals and videos of surgery, birth, etc.
Summary Sheets & Charts: I wrote up summary sheets for each lecture (see above section on lecture & reading), and I used these to study for exams. I also used study charts from textbooks and from Blackboard. Sometimes I retyped the charts because that helped me learn the info. Other times I cut and pasted info from Blackboard and then reformatted it.
Practice Tests: It’s really important to practice your skills with multiple choice questions. Use the questions on the CD’s that come with your textbooks and use questions from review books and NCLEX prep books.

Study Partners

Natasha: Be sure to get phone numbers of some fellow students in each class. That way, if you get confused while you’re home studying you can call someone for an explanation. (Also, get phone numbers of students who are ahead of you in the CON to get study tips.) For tough courses, it can be nice to have a study group that meets at a regular time every week. For Health Assessment, you can also arrive a couple of hours before your scheduled assessment so you have time to observe and practice with other students in the nursing lounge.
Anne: Group study can consume a lot time, but it helps with recall (during a test you will always remember that somebody talked about a particular topic). Get to know other students right away by talking to them before and after class. That way, you’ll find out who you might be able to study with.
You should only study with a group after you’ve gone through the content by yourself. Also, be sure to keep your group small so you won’t waste time talking. I usually met with 3 other students; a couple of days before an exam we would get together to study for about 4 hours. We would go around and ask each other to explain various concepts. For example, we might ask one student to tell us about the stages of labor. We would tell the student if she forgot a stage and ask the student to try to remember (that way it would stay in her memory). We talked about how we would remember difficult stuff and sometimes we would tie a concept/disease to a person we knew or a past experience. We also shared mnemonics we knew about.


During the test: When I first got the test, I might jot down a formula or memory device so I wouldn’t forget it. Also, I tried to start with memory type questions and skip some of the questions that involved critical thinking (I would star them and return later). This helped me build up my confidence and reduced my stress at the start of the test. Later on, if I was confused by a question, I would reread it in a kind of whisper and try to paraphrase the stem of the question.
After the test: Right after the exam I would take out my notes and highlight anything that I remembered was a test question (I also wrote Exam! next to it). This really helped for courses that had cumulative exams. Also, if I wasn’t happy with my grade on the test, I made an appointment with the professor and she went over the questions and helped me understand the thinking behind the answers. For example, I might tell her why I chose an answer and then she would say, “That’s right, but remember this is a two-year-old.” This really helped me improve my reasoning!

Natasha: If there’s a review with the professor to go over the answers after the exam, be sure to attend. Also, it can be helpful to make an appointment with the professor to go over any questions you missed.
Sheon: After each exam I would immediately write as many questions and answers as I could recall from the exam. (You’ll be surprised by how much you remember. Once, I recalled 35 of the 40 questions.) The finals are cumulative, so with this strategy I was able to mainly study my questions and answers when preparing for finals.

Stress Management

Natasha: First of all, you need to analyze what’s causing the problem and then figure out how to change it. For example, when I realized that I was falling behind with school work because studying at home had too many distractions, I changed my study environment and I now study more on campus. Also, there’s a great course on stress management offered by the Dept. of Movement Sciences. Tell yourself that it’s not self-indulgent to take a course like that because it can really help with your energy and stress. (You might be able to take the course during the summer.) Another option if you’re feeling too stressed is to go on the 3-year program. This program can be great because it allows you to take other helpful courses in addition to the required ones. Finally, I found that working out really helped with stress.
Anne: My summary notes helped me to not feel so overwhelmed by the amount of material we studied. Also, it helped to talk with other students – maybe just to commiserate and realize that I wasn’t the only one who was having to read something for the third time to remember it. It’s also really important to give yourself some time off from studying to do something that makes you happy. This helps keep up your stamina and gives you strength. I liked to exercise or go out at night or spend time with friends who weren’t in nursing. It’s also important to reward yourself when you set a goal and achieve it (maybe by going out for lunch or buying something for yourself). I would also focus on role models and keep telling myself, “If she can do it, I can do it.”

Maintaining Your Confidence

Natasha: If you’re discouraged, tell yourself that you need to stay at UIC because it’s one of the top ten schools in the country and even if your grades aren’t the highest, you will still have a diploma from a top school. Also, remind yourself that the Admissions people aren’t stupid; they know you can make it or they wouldn’t have admitted you.
Anne: Even if your first semester courses are hard for you, don’t give up. You will get courses you like better later on. Also, realize that what’s hard for you might be easy for another student and vice versa. Each person has different talents and you’ll probably find that a student who go an A on one exam might get a C on an exam in another course. Getting a C or even a D on a test doesn’t mean that you’re stupid! (If you tell other students about a bad grade you got, you’ll probably be surprised to find out that they had a few bad grades too.)