Many nursing students pursue a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which usually takes full-time students four years to complete. With science courses, laboratory requirements, and supervised clinical rotations, earning a BSN degree can seem daunting. Many students struggle with the difficult coursework, such as advanced scientific concepts.
We asked nursing professionals to weigh in on what they consider to be some of the most challenging classes and offer helpful tips for earning a passing grade.
Hardest Prerequisite Courses
Prerequisite courses lay the foundation for more advanced topics in nursing students’ education. However, “prerequisite” does not necessarily mean “easy.”
Every nursing program requires students to complete the two courses below. These courses cover complex scientific concepts aspiring nurses need to know before covering illnesses, prescription drugs, and other nursing-specific topics. In fact, these courses may determine if nursing majors can handle the more challenging courses later on.
Hardest Nursing School Classes
Once students pass their prerequisite classes, they begin advanced coursework that requires them to recall material from previous courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry, and involves a substantial amount of memorization and writing. Below are some of the hardest nursing school classes, according to nurses we spoke to.
Tips on Acing Nursing School’s Hardest Classes
These classes may seem intimidating at first, but learners can earn a passing grade with the proper study tools and methods.
Break it down
Pace yourself rather than trying to learn everything at once –especially with classes requiring a high level of memorization. Instead, break down material into chunks.
“No one can learn 100 drugs in two days,” Lynch says. “But they can learn 10 drugs a day for two weeks.”
Look at your syllabus and physically break down the curriculum into daily sections. Focus on one bite-sized section each day while reviewing material from previous days.
“Make lots and lots of flashcards and memorize the heck out of the different bodily systems and their processes,” Ross says about pathophysiology, although her advice applies to all classes.
Flashcards help you remember concepts when you study, and writing out definitions can aid in memorization. Additionally, using flashcards allows you to study with your classmates.
Learn prefixes and suffixes
Many medical words — from anatomy to medicines — come from Latin, meaning words with similar definitions often share the same prefixes. This knowledge helps learners when memorizing prescription drugs in a pharmacology class.
“Many drug classes can be chunked together with telltale beginnings or endings, such as ‘cycline’ or ‘caine,'” Lynch says. “These drugs are very similar, thus have many of the same side effects and nursing considerations.”
“Make your studying memorable by adding drawings, fun names, or [mnemonic] devices,” Lynch advises.
Mnemonic devices are memory tricks and techniques that allow you to recall concepts through association; Lynch offers this example: “Motrin (Ibuprofen) helps me painlessly write papers, I-B-proofing.”
Or, for instance, think about the word ACHES when considering the side effects of contraception:
Severe leg pains
Additionally, you can take advantage of the Picmonic website and mobile application that uses picture mnemonic devices for medical and nursing students.
Consider the “why”
The previous tips help you memorize facts for exams, but you should also consider the meaning behind each vocabulary word, biological process, and anatomical concept.
Classes like pharmacology involve more memorization. “Try to understand the “why” behind how medications work in certain scenarios and not in others,” Ross says. “Having a deeper understanding of the information behind the numbers will help you crush this class.”
Prep before class
Beaver recommends students review materials before class begins. Professors give students class curriculum plans so they know what to expect; use that to your advantage. Read ahead, make notes, and prepare any questions you have before the lecture.
Master time management
Manage your time. This is vital for anyone balancing school and work, but especially for nursing students.
Lynch brings up the concept of “chunking” again. “Learn to chunk,” she says. “Chunk drug classes, study time, and the overwhelming amount of material.”
If you struggle to manage your time, Fero advises you to pull through with perseverance and remind yourself why you want to become a nurse. “Students have to be motivated to search, read, synthesize, and apply their new knowledge,” she says. “It may feel overwhelming at times, but trust what you have learned and be confident in holding the best standards of care for those you serve.”
Meet Our Contributors
Nicole Beaver, MSN, RN
Nicole Beaver, MSN, RN, is an instructor at Hunt School of Nursing at Gardner-Webb University.
Megan Lynch, RN, MSN, CWON, is an instructor at Pima Community College, ADN nursing.
Alaina Ross, RN, BSN, has 10 years of experience as a pre-op and PACU nurse. Ross is also an expert contributor for Test Prep Insight, a test prep company that helps nursing students prepare for exams like the TEAS and NCLEX.