15 Study Tips for Mastering Nursing School Finals

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Strong study skills are important in nursing school. These study tips will help throughout your program and especially during nursing finals.
    Featured ImageCredit: Getty Images

    Nursing finals are tough. That’s why it’s crucial to study smarter, not harder. Good study skills can make the difference between understanding the content and failing the final. Some of these same habits will raise your potential for career advancement after graduation, too.

    Studying for nursing finals can be daunting, especially when they’re cumulative or a large percentage of your final grade. On this page, discover 15 top study tips that can help you retain more information and study smarter, helping you ace your nursing exams every time.

    15 Tips for Mastering Finals as a Nursing Student

    These study tips are designed so you get the most out of your study time, especially for some of your hardest nursing school classes. Tests are challenging. Yet, they are the foundation of your knowledge as you prepare to work in healthcare, where others have placed their lives in your hands. Being fully prepared for your nursing finals also helps you to be fully prepared as you enter healthcare.

    newspaperGet Organized

    Getting and staying organized is a significant advantage when you’re studying at nursing school. Spend time organizing your class materials before sitting down to pour over your notes. Prepping might take a little extra time, but in the end, it pays off.

    Find a system that works best for you. Some people find it easier to use binders and sticky notes, while others prefer digital organization tools. Use sticky notes to mark important places in your textbook; consider flashcards for information you can review throughout the day.

    clipboard-listFocus on the Main Topics of Each Section

    In nursing school, you’re taking more than one science course at a time, making it extremely difficult to cram at the end of the semester. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the amount of material you have to review for the final, focusing on the main topics can help identify where to start.

    Review the topics covered each week since the start of the term. If the exam isn’t cumulative, you can review the topics covered in class after your midterm. Remind yourself of the main ideas, and don’t get too bogged down in the minute details yet. Prioritize the main ideas you’re foggier on while studying.

    clockDelegate Your Time Wisely

    Once you’ve organized all your study materials and identified which topics need more reviewing, it’s time to make a study plan.

    Use time management tips for nursing students to divide your time equitably across all topics, giving extra time to subjects you are having a tough time with.

    You can use a calendar and time blocking strategy to organize your study hours. Time blocking helps you schedule every part of your day, so you break the tasks into bite-size time slots.

    question-mark-circleAnswer Practice Questions

    One of the best ways to study is using practice tests and quizzes to improve your test scores. Many books will have practice questions at the end of chapters or in the back of the book.

    Practice tests help reinforce your learning, so it’s easier to retrieve the same information later. A review of 10 learning techniques in 2013 showed that practice testing was one of the most effective ways to boost your ability to recall information. If your book does not have practice tests available, consider looking online.

    homeDesignate a Work Space and a Break Space

    It is important to designate different areas of your living space for different functions. Sleep experts advise that you never use your bed for anything other than rest and relaxation. This helps to improve your sleep quality.

    Similarly, you can improve your study quality by designating a work space for yourself. Sitting in your work space prepares your brain to study and learn.

    The same is true for when you want to take a break, but be sure to use your break wisely. Instead of scrolling on social media, get up and move to a different space and sit quietly so your brain can relax. Once you are recharged or even bored, move back to your work space and start studying again.

    mapIdentify the Most Important Pathologies and Create a Concept Map for Each

    As you’re studying different pathologies, it’s helpful to create a concept map to show the relationship among concepts. Concept maps allow you to see the big picture, break off chunks of information, and help organize and structure knowledge. Your concept map can be in the form of a chart, table, time line, Venn diagram, or anything else you might find useful.

    To do this, define some of the important pathologies you’re studying. Put your book aside and make a concept map of the related information as best you can without looking at your notes. Then, after identifying your gaps in concept knowledge, use your textbook to fill in the details. Once completed, you can use the concept map as a study guide or create another to test your memory.

    heartRemember to Practice Self-care

    Self-care for nurses is one of the most important things you can do to improve your results on your nursing finals. Your brain operates on the nutrients and sleep you provide it. Steer clear of processed foods, trans fats, and seed oils. These all increase free radical production in your body, which increases oxidative stress. This reduces the brain’s productivity. Instead, eat whole foods and drink lots of water.

    Sleep is another foundational need for maintaining your health and improving your ability to study. The effects of sleep deprivation are serious. It increases your risk of accidents, slows your reaction time, and increases mood changes.

    While studying is important, getting at least seven hours of sleep each night is just as important. Remember, you have worked hard to get where you’re at. Take care of yourself so you can continue on your nursing career path!

    speakerphoneSpeaking Out Loud While You Study Helps With Retention

    Studies have found that you’re more likely to remember what you’ve read when you read out loud. It helps get the information into your long-term memory.

    Obviously, this study tip can’t be done in the library! You’ll need a private study space where you can read aloud without bothering others.

    annotationUse the A.D.P.I.E. Technique to Find the Right Answer

    Whether on practice tests or the actual exam, figure out the right answer by using the A.D.P.I.E. technique. A.D.P.I.E. stands for assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. These are the steps in the nursing process that you will follow throughout your career.

    Many nursing exam questions will ask you to choose an answer that’s part of the nursing process. When you’re asked about your priorities in a specific situation, remember the steps:

    • (A) assessment comes first
    • (D) diagnosis is second
    • (P) making a plan is next
    • (I) implementing an intervention is fourth
    • (E) evaluating the results is last

    One common mistake while taking nursing finals is to skip ahead in the nursing process without considering what comes first.

    collectionMake Flashcards and Quiz Yourself

    Quizzing yourself is an essential part of retaining information and improving your memory. You can make flashcards or find flashcards made by past students on Quizlet.

    Flashcards provide a convenient way to test your knowledge and prepare for upcoming exams. You can use them between classes, on the bus, at lunch, or even while taking a break from studying for another class.

    As you work through the cards, it’s helpful to sort them into “I know” and “I don’t know” piles, giving extra attention to the ones you often miss.

    light-bulbIf You Can Teach It, You Know It

    Playing the role of a teacher is a little like studying out loud. When you can teach someone the concepts you’re trying to understand, it drives the knowledge deeper. A great place to practice teaching is with your roommates or other nursing students. Even teaching to an imaginary classroom or your sleeping dog will work.

    All it takes is speaking out loud and teaching someone else the information you’re learning. This helps identify areas where you might be confused or need more information. Explaining the material and using examples helps you make connections among concepts.

    thumb-upRemember Your “Why”

    It can be challenging to stay motivated when you’re studying for several finals. Remembering the reason “why” you chose a nursing program or the classes you’re taking can help remind you of the purpose behind your efforts.

    Some people refer to their “why” as their calling, conviction, motivation, or the reason for their life’s work. Whatever you call it, it is what will help focus your attention and motivate your actions when you feel overwhelmed or anxious. It will ground you in the purpose behind retaining all the information you’re studying.

    templateBreak Up Studying Into Small Chunks

    By breaking up work time into smaller chunks, you can become more productive and focused. One strategy is to use the Pomodoro Technique. It can strategize your time management and helps to cut down on interruptions. This way you can become more effective in a shorter amount of time — the goal of most study tips!

    You can begin using the strategy by defining your work time in 25-minute increments. After 25 minutes of studying, take a five-minute break. After working for four 25-minute increments, take a longer 15-20-minute break.

    Many nursing students swear by this method for focus and effective time management. It can help increase your productivity, promote creativity, and extend your motivation. You can find an online timer at Tomato Timer or download a Pomodoro app on your phone.

    switch-horizontalSwitch Between Different Study Methods

    You’ll be more productive and have more fun if you switch between different study methods as you focus on your nursing finals. For example, while studying a chapter in physiology, you might take notes on the information, create flashcards, quiz yourself, and maybe give a lecture to your roommate. Or, if videos are your preferred learning method, try the Level Up RN YouTube channel for videos about all aspects of nursing care.

    pauseTake Frequent Breaks

    Taking breaks helps you to process and retain the information you just learned. It changes the state of your brain, which helps you solve more complex problems. Frequent breaks can also help you cultivate healthier habits that are better for your overall health.

    During short breaks, integrate physical movements to improve your mental wellness. This means, get up, move around, and stretch!

    Feature Image: FatCamera / Getty Images