Back to Basics: Study Strategies for Nursing Students

By Nursing Student Caitlin Webb

The middle of the semester is upon us. I don’t know about you, but midterms have me wanting to crawl under the covers and not come back up until they’re over. It is easy to get distracted during the semester and sometimes you lose the organization you promised yourself you’d stick to (I’ll admit my planner has not been getting as much use as it should be) and these exams may seem to have snuck up on you. One day you go all “treat yo self” on a day full of Netflix binging to only to realize you have an exam in three days on material you haven’t even reviewed yet.

No fear though, as a junior in college I have gained several different study strategies that have helped me through the multiple choice exam for the easy ‘A’ gen-ed all the way to the three exams for your hardest classes on the same day scenario.

For the love of God, get some sleep! 

This may seem like the most obvious study strategy that really isn’t a study strategy, but it is possibly the most important. With stress hormones raging through our bodies and the constant anxiety of not knowing all the information for your exam, it may be difficult to fall asleep and the all too well known all-nighter may seem like a great idea but alas, that is incorrect. Not sleeping is one of the most crippling things you can do to yourself before an exam.

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Sleep not only recharges our brains and gets us ready for the challenges in the day ahead but actually helps us retain the information of what learned that day. Scientists have found that during REM sleep our brains are processing and organizing information from the day, trying to determine what is important to remember and what can be discarded. If we do not allow our brains to do this, then the possibility of confusing information rises exponentially. If you can’t get a full 8 hours, make sure you sleep for at least 90 minutes so your body can get through one full REM cycle.

Study with others 

You may have heard the saying that “two heads is better than one”, and not in every case is that correct but when you begin study, it is. There is a reason your professor tells you to start a study group or join one, because some things you may not understand someone else in your class might and vice versa. Another way to help you understand information more clearly is to teach it to someone else. This really tests how well you know the information/concept at hand. While I don’t recommended you do this the entire time you study for an exam, it is definitely a great place to start.

Test Yourself 

The best way to prepare yourself for an exam or quiz, is to practice taking it. This could involve taking your professor’s practice exam or creating your own. This allows you to see what information you do and don’t know. There are also several practice quizzes and exams online that you can access for free! For my anatomy and physiology lab practical I had to know the names and locations of bones and muscles. I found several different websites that had interactive quizzes. This allowed myself to see if I actually knew the information I had been studying for a week. If your exam is timed and you are worried that you won’t be able to complete the test, take the opportunity to test yourself with a timer. Take the practice exam your teacher has provided or practice problems and see how quickly you can get through them. This is the time to work out the kinks that may be slowing you down or confusing you when you take an exam.


Throughout my high school career my teachers always recommended flashcards and I would brush them off as if that was a thing I only did for my vocabulary tests (that I never had much interest in anyway). Believe me when I tell you that flash-cards are everything. I did not know the wonders of them until I began taking Biology. I understand that they may not be for everyone, but I recommend heavily that you try them out for your next quiz or exam. Flash cards involve not only you re-writing the information that you have already taken notes on, but allow you to test yourself on a regular basis. The other great thing about them is that they are small and portable. I take my flashcards everywhere with me; I study on my way to class, when I’m riding the bus, and even when I am at work and standing around. There is no need to lug around a large notebook or laptop when you have note cards that fit in the palm of your hand. is a website that allows you create virtual note cards which can be accessed via your laptop or the app that can be downloaded right onto your smartphone. I like to use Quizlet when I have lab practicals because you can not only type the information needed, but add pictures. This was useful during biology during the section of histology and I needed to be able to identify slides of different skin and muscle tissues.

I am convinced that writing notes cards by hand and using Quizlet for my lab practicals is what allowed me to succeed to Biology. And as a side note, I write all my flashcards in blue ink as one recent study found that if we write with blue ink, our memory recall for what we have written increases.

Read your notes every day 

My first semester freshman year my biology teacher gave me what I believe is the greatest and simplest study strategy out there. Every night before you go to bed, set about 20 minutes or so aside to read your notes. There is no practice problems involved in this strategy or note taking; it is as simple as reading a bed time story. This connects back to the idea that while you sleep, your brain is processing the information that has bombarded your mind and tossing out what you don’t need and keeping what you do. If you continually read your notes every night, you brain will realize that it is seeing this information repeatedly and it is probably important to remember. I have found this strategy extremely useful when I have several exams on the same day because by the time sit down to test myself on the information I realize that I know most of it and all it took was taking 20 minutes out of my day. This also may help get yourself to sleep rather than looking at your phone.

These study strategies will help guide you into academic success. While the majority of them may seem basic and things you have heard numerous times throughout your academic career, I believe that they are the most important. They are simple and can be done every day. So, have no fear and crawl back out from the covers because midterms are here and you’re ready to conquer them.


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