My Most Effective Study Tool

If I could only tell you one study technique for nursing school, it would be to create your own tables and use them to study for exams. It is one of the tools I wish I knew about before starting nursing school (if you haven’t started school yet…you’re welcome). Instead, it took a failed test and a humble visit to the NCLEX guru to find this treasure. Totally worth it.


This is it! Pretty breathtaking, right?

Here is the gist of how I create the study tool that helped me achieve A’s on my nursing exams:

The process begins after I read the content in the textbook, listen to lecture, and re-listen to lecture via my recording. I gather my notes and create an outline of the table.

For the majority of my theory content, I organize the tables by body system and compare medical conditions within that body system. For example, the table on pediatric neurological conditions compares traumatic brain injury, shaken baby syndrome, seizures, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and hydrocephalus.  I usually make a column for the condition, a description of the condition, clinical manifestations, diagnostic methods, treatment, and nursing considerations.


The first row describes traumatic brain injury, and the second row describes shaken baby syndrome.

For pharmacology concepts, I usually make a table to compare the different classes of medications. To develop a table for antibiotic medications, add a column for each class including penicillins, cephalosporins, tetracyclines, macrolides, aminoglycosides, fluoroquinolones, and sulfonamides. Include examples of common drugs within each class, administration routes, mechanisms of action, indications, adverse effects, and nursing considerations.


I then take the main points from the PowerPoint and my notes and insert them into the table outline.


A ton of words. It is not easy to condense this, but somehow I make it work! Take the crucial information and abbreviate. Size 9 font helps, too!

After I insert all of the content from the PowerPoint and notes, I go back to the textbook and peruse the boxes, tables, and care plans for information that either helps me understand the topic (makes things click in my brain) or information that I think the instructors may include on the test. Do not skip this step! I find that the textbook answers the “why” questions. And when I know the reason why, I can usually work through an exam question even if I know nothing about the specific condition that the question addresses.


Even if you do not know anything about neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), you probably know that there are other neurological disorders that manifest with rigidity, tremors, and altered consciousness. So you can safely assume that a very high temperature is unique to NMS.

There are times when a table is not the best way to outline the information from the lecture and textbook. If something does not work in a table, figure out a way to include the important information in a concise manner that will aid in your studying.

For example, I could not find a way to put level of consciousness descriptors and the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale into a table. I knew that questions about these topics could very well show up on an exam, so instead of just throwing them out because I could not fit them into a table, I just listed the information on a separate page. Nothing wrong with that. This is your study tool. Make it work for you.


Now that you know how to make an effective table, it is time to make one for yourself! Make it. Use it. A lot. I find it helpful to bring these to study sessions with classmates, and I’ll add things that my classmates picked up on that I missed while studying.

What is your must-have study tool?


9 Comments, RSS

  1. snootus0722 July 26, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

    Great stuff here….I plan to refer to this faithfully until I get it down pat. Thanks for submitting, it was very thoughtful of you and I was searching for something just like this. 🙂

    • becomingrn July 26, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

      Awww, thank you! Good luck in your studying endeavors!

  2. dorkyxana July 28, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

    Thank you for sharing such useful tips on how to stay on top of the material! I’m in the process of applying to nursing school now, and this definitely would be helpful in my future studies! 🙂

    • becomingrn July 29, 2014 @ 9:06 am

      You are very welcome! Good luck to you on your nursing journey!

  3. Kimberly Zalewski August 11, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    In the past, my must-have study tool was to create flashcards. However, as the content becomes more concept-oriented and less memorization, I am finding flashcards to be less effective than they were during 1st semester. I knew you used tables but didn’t know until now how you made them work. Sometime next semester, could we make a table together to help me get the hang of it? I think tables may be my next must-have study tool!’

    • becomingrn August 13, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

      Of course! We could definitely do that together!

  4. Ashton College June 5, 2015 @ 7:02 pm

    Great idea to create your own method to review nursing info! Thank you for sharing.

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