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Nursing programs are not easy — because nurses need to be adequately prepared for the difficulty of their future careers. Many courses required in a BSN degree require dozens of hours of intensive study per week, and even after graduation, nurses need to devote months toward preparing for the nursing exam to ensure that they receive the credentials they need to work in the real world.
Fortunately, research into human behavior and the human mind has uncovered several tried-and-true ways to boost information retention. Nurses in the midst of their BSN programs can radically improve their study sessions with the following useful tips and tricks:
Study Small Amounts Every Day
As much as every nursing student wishes there were an easy hack to learning information fast, research shows that the most effective way to learn is to continuously read, review and practice course materials. Engaging with information only during lectures is not enough time for the brain to form new neural pathways; students need to set aside time every day to ensure that the most important information is easily and accurately recalled. Fortunately, not every daily study session needs to last for hours. Nursing students can devote a few minutes to flipping through flashcards during downtime to meet their daily study quota.
Focus on Material Covered in Class
Some instructors assign so many readings that it is nearly impossible for nursing students to consume so much text every week. While it might be tempting to read and commit to memory every word, the truth is that instructors will cover the important information during class time. Thus, nursing students might review all assigned texts, but they should focus on understanding and memorizing the materials highlighted during lectures.
Skim Readings Before Studying
Before devoting hours to reading and digesting an assigned text, nursing students should spend a few minutes skimming over the material. Skimming is an active process that involves reading key information to better understand the content of the text; students should review headings and subheadings, highlighted terms and chapter summaries. After skimming, students can determine whether a text is worth devoting more time to, or whether they can move onto another reading.
Prioritize Actions Over Theory
The nursing profession is not restricted to the realm of theory; most nurses will practice what they learn, which means it is much more important that they understand what actions they must take to keep their patients informed, comfortable and healthy. Instead of memorizing theories, such as the physiological processes occurring in patients with different conditions, nursing students should focus on how that information can help them improve care for their patients. Not only will this shift in focus make information easier to remember, but it will help nurses function more effectively in the field.
Take Advantage of Study Guides
Many instructors provide study guides to help students understand which materials will dominate upcoming assignments, quizzes and tests. Yet, despite the availability of these valuable study tools, many nursing students neglect to use them to their full advantage. Any material that is not mentioned in a study guide can almost certainly be ignored, as learning it will not contribute to a nurse’s grade or their professional competency.
Form a Nursing Study Group
Healthcare is a group sport. No nurse operates completely independently; every nurse has a team of fellow healthcare providers, to include other nurses as well as physicians, lab technicians and more. It might be wise for nursing students to become familiar with working with fellow nurses early by forming a nursing study group. Research shows that studying with peers radically improves information retention, and developing deeper relationships with other nurses can provide network connections that may prove valuable during their career.
Take Breaks and Invest in Your Health
Studying is essential for success in nursing school and beyond — but studying is dramatically more difficult if a nursing student is feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Not every waking moment during nursing school needs to be devoted to learning material. In fact, studies show that taking breaks during study sessions can improve a student’s energy, productivity and ability to focus. In addition to scheduling study breaks, students should generally prioritize their health and wellbeing throughout their nursing program, being sure to eat whole foods, exercise and find time to sleep. Nursing programs are difficult because so much knowledge and skill is required to function in the nursing career. Fortunately, with the right study tactics and habits, any student can learn the information they need to excel.