What Are You Struggling With?

How to Slay Nursing School: Forget Study Tips, Go for Strategy! (struggling student)


 My concern is that there is so much information to remember, how do you keep it straight in your head? I am currently studying for my Med Surg Hesi and when I answer a question incorrectly, I ask myself, how would I have remembered that?


Ask anyone who has been to nursing school and they would most likely agree that studying to become a nurse is a seesaw of trying to get enough sleep versus trying to not get too overwhelmed with the mind-numbing bulk of study materials that they’re EXPECTED to master.

Doesn’t it sometimes seem like the present nursing curriculum is designed to be some sort of mental torture ala hunger games? With challenges (aka exams) every step of the way?

To make things worse, most of us have had that one classmate who would always be just chilling before a big test and still end up getting good grades while you, who’ve spend all waking hours studying, reading, and memorizing end up just barely passing. What is the secret? Why is nursing school so hard for some and so much easier for others?

Staying Sane Through It All

Okay, sucky instructors aside (the type who’d just read from slides), you have to understand that a huge part of acing nursing school is all about ditching the non-productive study habits you may have and gearing up with a new proactive studying strategy.  I’ve learned (the hard way) that staying sharp with new tools is how you can keep everything straight in your head, no kidding!

With the above said, the studying strategies discussed below are certainly not new although you may only be hearing some of them today. They’re not comprehensive either, but you can simply pick out which ones would work for you depending on your learning style. Each strategy stands by itself or you can pair them up with each other!

Ready? Okay, let’s start with:

Don’t Volunteer To Be a ‘Tribute’

When you approach becoming a nurse as having to ‘remember’ a ton of information and having to memorize every answer to all possible exam questions, you’re setting yourself up for failure. In fact, this might be the number one reason why a lot of students are feeling overwhelmed in nursing school.

How so?

We can think of what’s described above as having a case of victim mentality; sort of like volunteering yourself to be a sacrificial lamb to the current state of nursing education. Hey, that’s not the right approach if you want to pass your exams and be a nurse!

You see, nursing school is not meant to be a passive experience and is definitely not for the faint-hearted. You have to have a battle plan right from the very beginning and know what studying habits to keep and what to ditch. The same goes for information.

Cut the Clutter

This is obviously easier said than done, but the thing is, it can be done!

Do you know what percentage of what you were forced to read in school ever makes it to your final exam? I’m bet not a lot; and don’t get me started on the percentage that applies to real life nursing either!

Clearly, there’s a lot of unnecessary information you shouldn’t be wasting your time on because you’ve been ‘programmed’ to think that everything is new and should be processed by you. Here’s how you can cut out the clutter – Just SSIIP!

  • Scan and Sift: Don’t be suckered in into committing information overdose. Haven’t you noticed that about half of the information in books are just regurgitated material from previous chapters? Scan what you have to study and skip the redundant content and then sift through what remains to get to the juicy parts.
  • Import in Intervals: Even the best thanksgiving dinner can be made better and appreciated more if you sample smaller portions of each dish first versus trying to stuff your face with everything at once. The same goes for studying. You have to first let what you’ve read sink in before going for second helpings (or the next chapters).
  • Pin It: Now, after you’ve understood what you’ve read, it’s time to further scan, sift, and import in intervals. Whatever is retained (or whatever you can remember) is more likely to stay with you because you’ve taught your neurons that those are important bits of information. A mental pin board is a lot neater and easier to manage than pages after pages of the same thing.

Once you’ve learned how to SSIIP, studying piles of textbooks won’t be so daunting anymore, it will be as easy as pie! Ahem,

Make It As Easy as ADPIE!

Yeah right, there’s a new alphabet in town and it’s not the ABCs. ADPIE is the acronym we use for the nursing process and it stands for:

A -ssess

D -iagnose

P -lan

I -mplement

E –valuate

I’m pretty sure that you already know that, but what you may not realize is how it fits in when you’re still in nursing school and have to read 1,561,948 pages of material for an overnight reading assignment!

Blatant exaggeration aside, understanding nursing concepts does start with knowing how to merge this fundamental nursing skill with your study routine. You have to know how to:

  • Assess the relevance of the material.
  • Diagnose any possible weaknesses you may have in comprehending the concepts.
  • Plan a mode of action on how you will overcome the pitfalls or weaknesses on your part.
  • Implement your plan and re-assess, re-diagnose, and re-plan your approach as you go through the material. And lastly,
  • Evaluate how much you’ve retained.

A great way of seeing if this works is to study something as though you’ll have to teach it to a friend later. It takes the stress factor off and makes you more confident as well.

I know this strategy sounds just like the first one but if you’d take a closer look, this is geared for the extroverted learner while the first one is for the introverted student.

To Be or Not To Be: Memorization Vs Comprehension

Next time you catch yourself having a ton of material that you need to go through and memorize, STOP! Ask yourself, should you be ‘memorizing’ or ‘comprehending’?

Too many nursing students fail to grasp that acing nursing school is about having razor sharp critical thinking skills ( and common sense) and not about going for all-nighters spent on ‘studying’ or memorizing whole books.

I mean, come on, take a quick look at your books and you’ll soon realize that it’s near impossible to remember everything that is in there unless you’re lucky enough to have photographic memory. Puny humans (like you and me) would surely panic at the thought of having to remember an entire book by the end of the semester – and you’d surely use more than one textbook per semester, right?

Remember, Memorizing is Out, Understanding is In!

The key to survive nursing school is to understand and comprehend your study material as you are reading it. That’s the foundation you need for developing those critical thinking skills that all professors swear is all you’ll need to dissect nursing questions and pass your exams.

Quality over quantity is the name of the game. Once you get the hang of understanding concepts, you’ll soon see patterns emerge and you’d easily get how things are interrelated. The next step is knowing how to put that knowledge to good use, but that’s a topic for another blog.

To Conclude…

At the end of the day (or on your exam day!) what matters is not how much study material you’ve read but how much you’ve retained and knowing how to use that retained knowledge to answer exam questions.

Developing a nurses’ mind may not come easy for most. It takes some serious strategy to develop that magical nursing mind that remembers everything and keeps tab of everything! Oh. And you know that nurses have superpowers, right?


Date Published - Dec 19, 2015
Date Modified - Jun 13, 2019

Jon Haws RN

Written by Jon Haws RN

Jon Haws RN began his nursing career at a Level I Trauma ICU in DFW working as a code team nurse, charge nurse, and preceptor. Frustrated with the nursing education process, Jon started NRSNG in 2014 with a desire to provide tools and confidence to nursing students around the globe. When he's not busting out content for NRSNG, Jon enjoys spending time with his two kids and wife.


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    Great article! We are linking to this particularly great content on our site.
    Keep up the good writing.

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    I am currently in the RN program and I’m so used to memorizing, how do I stop myself from memorizing and start learning how to apply?

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    I graduated in general studies, i failed the first semester in nursing 4years ago but still interested in nursing. Any suggestion in completing ADN or BSN online? Please help!!

    • Avatar

      NRSNG Support

      BSN online programs are now widely available, allowing nursing students to earn a BSN and RN license in just one program, and in less time. Actually, there are a lot of nursing programs available and we don’t what to recommend this and that, instead we want you to check what is best suited for you with this guiding principle:
      do the programs provide the ability to attend the same instructor-taught courses online as you would at a local campus?
      does it give you the ability to advance your education in a less costly and time-consuming manner than traditional nursing programs?
      does it provide the flexibility to balance work and family obligations, while mastering the skills and knowledge needed to perform at a more advanced level? and other factors to consider that you can think of…

      • Avatar


        I am an LVN ( in my 50’s ) and I am hoping to get into an RN program this year. I am currently studying for 2 separate HESI exams that are required. I have looked everywhere for an online ( totally online, except for clinical….. of course ) RN program. I’ve yet to find one. I live in Texas….can you help?

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        NRSNG Support

        Hey Kimi-
        We’d love to help anyway we can, if you can shoot us an email at [email protected]g.com

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    Robert Bristow

    A lot of people say that it is about comprehension and not memorization. How can you comprehend what you can’t remember? Does it apply to learning peoples names? If the material was covered in order AND I remembered everything that we already covered maybe you would be right.

    I scored above the 90 percentile on both the HESI fundamentals and pharm tests and have a BS in math (made bad grades way back then also) and about 4 years of BS courses from community colleges. (the other kind of bs. LOL) And my test avererage in LVN school is in the high seventies not counting the calculation tests.

    ANy usuable suggestions? Can anyone spell it out for me?

    thank you.

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    Sheree Shipman

    Great information! However, I’m in my third semester of nursing school and not doing so well. Do you have any tips about passing Community and Mental Health?

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    Rapheal Foster

    Hello my i am in the LPN program and i am a lot of trouble with a and p so i failed the first term. can you give some advise on i how i can pass a and p?

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    Loved this input. I completed my first year of nursing school and found these strategies SO helpful. I had to transform my mind from my past University studies of memorize! Comprehending and being able to apply which process is most important for my patient at that specific time is something that took me some time to learn and I am still learning. Thanks for this article!

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    Very informative and inspiring! Thank you

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    I have just learned that I am a “global” learner as well as kinetic. Any suggestions on studying effectively?

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    Thank you so much for those information 🙂