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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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I am smack dab in the middle of my summer break, but you wouldn’t know it by the weather here (68 degrees in July? Seriously?).

I was in Memphis for the past two weeks, so the studying has been very minimal. But I am back and ready to hunker down with my books and get in the NCLEX groove!

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Grant, me, Mom, and Julia at the Levitt Band Shell in Memphis, TN.

My third semester instructors sent out the calendar and clinical assignments last week, which made me realize that school will be starting up way too soon! But don’t fret if you’re in the same boat; you have at least another month to study and prepare for Fall Semester.

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Here are my tips to make the most of July and August (this is as much advice for you as it is for me).

If you have been in nursing school for any length of time, you know how important it is to practice NCLEX questions. I would like to add that the method you choose to study those questions will make or break your ability to follow through. It is not difficult to take the huge NCLEX book off of your shelf when you plan to study at home, but a book is probably not helpful if you are on the move a lot.

If you find yourself running from your job to school to the grocery store to picking up the kids (or if you’re on vacation), I would recommend something a bit more portable, like an NCLEX app for your phone or tablet. Some have free trial versions so you can see if you like the format before purchasing.

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NLEX Mastery App

If you don’t have a fancy smart phone or tablet, I would recommend an NCLEX pocket book so that you can carry it in your purse or pocket.

A couple classmates and I started a weekly NCLEX party during the summer months to stay in touch with each other and to stay in touch with all of the content we learned in the past year. I was worried about losing a lot of the knowledge from the first two semesters during my three month break, so this has been a great way to ease those worries.

We each bring an NCLEX book, and we select different sections to ask questions from. We go around the circle and ask a question, read the rationale, and try to stay on task (which is kind of difficult with such a great group of girls).

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I go to YouTube for inspiration, motivation, and to find help with difficult content. Simple Nursing is my favorite spot to check out when I need help. Michael Linares is the man behind this YouTube channel, and he totally saved me when it came to learning about hepatitis and cirrhosis…no joke! The other vlogs I enjoy are Robin’s Nursing Journey and Maryam Moradi. And who doesn’t love Nurse Mendoza? Please share your favorite channels in the comment section!

My college offers a summer simulation class once a week to all nursing students. My classmates and I receive some information regarding our patient(s) prior to the simulation (e.g., vitals, diagnoses, pertinent medical history, medications, and other MD orders). There is always something our instructor wants us to achieve during the simulation such as adequately responding to an emergency, prioritizing appropriately, or giving the discharge teaching.

Simulation allows me to brush up on my skills, too. Let’s face it, most students are not able to use all of the nursing skills during their clinical experiences (peritoneal dialysis during clinicals? Yeah right!). Simulation is a way to practice those skills in a safe environment so that when we do have an opportunity in clinical or real life, we can carry out those skills effectively.

I am definitely not a perfect study-er, so please tell me what you are doing this summer to stay ahead of the game! If you are not in school any more, what study habits worked for you during your school breaks?

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Here is a glimpse inside the dark corners of my nursing school existence:

A backpack is a must! I see many of my fellow nursing students hauling around their schoolwork in very cute, very fashionable hand bags, but please be kind to your back (you’re going to need it later when you become a full-fledged RN), and get a good backpack. Thank you. 😉 Mine was free (i.e., it was included in my tuition) from my previous university.

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The small zippered area at the bottom of my bag is where I stash all of my pens, pencils, highlighters, my calculator, keys, and my phone (which I use to record class).

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Moving on up to the smallest pouch, located near the top of the bag. This is where I carry my emergency items:  my epi pens (I’m allergic to the cold…yes, it’s a real thing), my Diva Cup (something every menstruating woman should be aware of…yep, I just went there), and ibuprofen (because you just never know when you’ll need some)!

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In the smaller of the two large compartments, I store my lab/clinical bag. I keep it in a separate bag so that I can easily transfer it depending on where I’m going. It includes the most basic clinical supplies: stethoscope, pen light, watch, and student ID. If I were heading to clinicals, I would add my handbook for med/surg nursing, some cash for lunch, a water bottle, clinical prep sheets, and my chapstick (cannot live without my chapstick).

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Last but not least, the main compartment. It usually only contains a couple things:  the binder for the class I have that day and a snack (usually apples, pretzels, granola bars, or peanuts). I don’t usually bring any books to class unless the instructor tells us to ahead of time. Again, I’m trying to save my back here, and it is just not necessary to carry all of that around!

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Now that you know my must have items, what are your necessary gadgets and gizmos?

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Credit goes out to my friend and classmate, Kim, for the idea behind this post.

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Rocio, me, and Kim before our first lab practicum (Fall 2013).

Here are my top ten pieces of advice to my pre-nursing school self (knowing what I know now):

10. You will do and say stupid things in class, lab, simulation, and clinicals. Get used to it. Embrace it. Learn from it.

9. Do not work out the night before an exam. If you do end up going to the gym, don’t over do it on the water. You’ll end up paying for it by spending half of the night in the bathroom emptying your bladder. For some reason it took me a few times to figure this one out. You need to bring your A game to every exam, and a restless night is just not going to cut it. So forget about alcohol, too. Sorry.

8. Print as many PowerPoints as you can at the beginning of the semester. This is the optimal time because you probably do not have anything due for a while, and your first exam is a couple weeks out. You will feel like you’re really on top of things, too, which is a great feeling to have in nursing school (it doesn’t happen all too often). The next step is to organize all of the papers you printed.

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7. On that note, I will also add that you should take advantage of your school’s printing lab (if they have one). Those printers are super fast, which is great for you because you probably do not have a ton of free time lying around. Your school might even put money on your account at the beginning of each semester, and if you don’t use it you will lose it!

6. Reserve one day or night a week for a date night or a friends night. Everyone deserves a break. Not only did you earn it, but your brain needs it in order to stay focused the rest of the week. Be kind to yourself and to your loved ones, and have a little fun!

A night out with my Stouties!

A night out with my favorite Stouties!

5. Study the care plan sections of your textbooks. Most of my textbooks (Maternity, Pediatrics, Med/Surg, and Psych) contain a section that gives an example of a nursing care plan. Each book is a little bit different, but most include nursing diagnoses, goals, outcomes, and interventions. Study these for your exams. I have noticed that this information usually shows up somewhere on the exam.

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4. Study all of the related NCLEX questions AND rationales prior to each test. If you are really on top of things, you might even decide to study 10 questions a day. Practicing NCLEX questions gets you in the test-taking mood. I even think that it reduces my test anxiety because of how much time I spend answering questions outside of the intimidating exam room.

3. If you fail a test, it is not the end of the world. Find a close friend to receive some sympathy and encouragement, get yourself an ice cream cone, and then figure out how you can tackle the next one.

2. Make a table for each chapter or topic that is covered in lecture. After I failed the first test of my second semester, I decided to seek help from the NCLEX guru at college. She said that tables are a great study tool because you can compare and contrast the different concepts you are learning. I got A’s on the remainder of my tests that semester, and I think it was largely due to this study technique! More on how I create my tables in a future post!

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1. And the last piece of advice I have for my pre-nursing self is to ask for help when you need it! Whether it is with a nursing concept that you are really struggling to understand or it is with the laundry that is piling up, ask for help and do it now before it gets worse! Your friends, significant other, and classmates care about you and will probably be more than happy to help!

What advice would you give to your younger self knowing what you know now about life, relationships, school, or work? Leave your advice in the comment section!

 

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With all of the other things nursing students have going on (e.g., kids, significant others, work, volunteering, cooking, cleaning, shopping, appointments…I think you get the picture), we do not have a lot of time to deal with a mess of handouts and notes.

Before I started my first semester of nursing school, I found Maryam Moradi on YouTube, and she totally revamped my study zone. There was one video in particular that was helpful regarding binder organization. I added my own mind-blowing touches to her technique that will amaze you. Prepare yourself!

First of all, I purchased two separate binders (with sleeves) for lecture and lab each semester. I quickly discovered that 1 1/2″ binders would simply not cover the pile of notes I would accumulate during the semester, so I recommend getting the 2 or 2 1/2″ binders right from the start (eek, I know).

At the beginning of the semester, you will receive a course calendar outlining all of the juicy details that will be your life for the next four months. Keep this. If possible, ask for a digital version so that you can edit it if needed. Last semester I took the regular theory class along with pathophysiology and pharmacology, so I combined the schedules into one document. Just rotate the pages as the semester progresses, and you’ll be on top of it all!

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Each day outlines where I need to be, what I am there for, and what topic I need to study beforehand. I suggest highlighting exams and due dates so you can see them coming and there are no surprises!

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The back sleeve of my binder is where I place my monthly calendars. The only information I include on these calendars is exam dates and times, due dates for projects and papers, and simulation days. This allows me to see the crucial stuff at a glance and further in advance than the more detailed schedule at the front of my binder.

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I separate the content with 16 tabs, one for each week of the semester. You could divide it by exam content, but I find it easier to locate each lecture’s content if it is separated by the week.

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In my program, we receive a lecture outline that includes the assigned readings, learning objectives, and any online content to view prior to the lecture. I put this sheet in my binder before the PowerPoint printout.

Our instructors post all of the PowerPoints or lecture outlines online for us to download. I print them out (duplex style) with two slides per page (see picture below). I do this because I like being able to actually read the words (it’s kind of difficult when you print 4 slides/page!), and I also like to take A LOT of notes! Setting your printer to print two slides per page can be a little tricky the first time, so I wrote instructions for you! Props go out to my classmate, Gina, for enlightening me on this process!

Select “Print” > Select “Properties” > Select the drop down box next to “Multiple Page” or “Pages per Sheet” (depending on your printer program) > Select “2 in 1” or “2” (depending on your printer program) > Select “Duplex” > Select “Ok” > Select “Ok” again to print.

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If I receive any additional content from my instructors such as articles, tables, or study guides, I place them behind the PowerPoint printout.

If there is content on the class’s website that I cannot print, I will put a sticky note on the front of the divider to remind myself to view the online content.

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Well that is it, peeps! I hope this helps. Share your tips in the comment area!

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I am not one of those individuals that knew they wanted to be a nurse since they were in diapers. In fact, when deciding which career path to take, I completely ruled out nursing (mostly because of the blood factor…eww, right?). Well, I have gotten over my fear of blood, and I will be starting my second year in the nursing program this fall.

My path to nursing started in high school, when I had an interest in health and nutrition. I met with a Registered Dietitian after struggling to gain weight, and I immediately fell in love with her job. I thought being an RD would be the perfect health care career for me because I could make a positive impact on my patients’ lives and never come close to blood and guts. So that’s when I decided to pack my bags and put my pencil to the grind as a student at the University of Wisconsin – Stout. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics in 2010!

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My best friend, Ashlea, and me after our graduation ceremony.

It was towards the end of my career at Stout that I had to make a decision regarding an internship. In dietetics, one must complete a 6-12 month internship prior to sitting for boards and becoming a Registered Dietitian. I had a few friends in the dietetics program that decided to go to nursing school after graduation instead of completing an internship, and I began picking their brains. It was then that I began to see the nurse’s role more clearly.

A nurse is not someone who just pushes meds. A nurse’s main purpose is to look out for the patient’s well being. As a nurse, I will be the one spending the most time with a patient, and I am in the best position to advocate for my patient’s needs. It did not take me long to realize I found my passion, my art, and my purpose.

The application process was fairly simple for me because dietetics and nursing are closely related. All of the prerequisites that my nursing school required were transferred successfully from Stout, which made me a very happy camper. Who really wants to take organic chemistry, microbiology, or anatomy and physiology over again?! Not this girl!

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My clinical group from Spring 2014.

I will be entering my third semester of nursing school in the fall, and I am beyond ecstatic about the future! I would love to hear how you stumbled upon nursing (or any other career for that matter). Please share your journey in the comment section below!

 

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