Study Tips and Resources for Surviving Nursing Finals

NurseJournal Staff
Updated April 27, 2022
Nursing finals can be an extremely stressful time for students. These expert tips from Dr. Audrey Auer can help you minimize your stress and study more efficiently.
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The high stakes of nursing school finals can be stressful, especially for the more challenging courses. Because nursing calls for so many different skills and kinds of knowledge, from anatomy to communications, everybody will find at least one course or topic is out of their natural comfort zone. During clinical hours, nursing school can also be physically demanding, which can be a distraction from studying.

As you prepare for your nursing school final exams, these tips from Dr. Audrey Auer, director of nursing education services at Nightingale College, can help you to succeed.

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Top Study Tips for Nursing Finals from Dr. Audrey Auer

Auer provides practical tips for studying for your nursing finals and managing your stress during finals. One important tip: Start planning early. The first day of classes isn’t too soon to start thinking about how to succeed in the finals.

1. Create a Visual Study Outline

Create a study outline to help you prepare for examinations. Seeing all the topics written down in one place gives you an overview of what you need to study and helps you identify any areas where you need to study more.

Humans are visual thinkers and learners. Auer suggests putting a pile of shells or rocks to one side of your desk, one for each major topic. As you finish reviewing each topic, put one of the rocks or shells at the other side of your desk, so you can see your progress. Mind maps or other visual tools, like charts or diagrams, can help you organize topics and see how they interconnect. The more time you spend thinking about material, including the time you spend organizing it visually, the better you’ll remember it.

2. Keep Up on the Assigned Reading Materials

Auer emphasizes the importance of keeping up with readings during the course. This way, “you won’t be overwhelmed with trying to complete them while also studying for the upcoming exam.” This also makes sure that if you have questions or anything confuses you, you can ask the instructor early on. This is especially important for foundational concepts, since if you’re confused at the start, you’ll find it difficult to learn the more advanced materials.

If you read mindfully, you’ll retain much more of what you read and not have to reread it as often. As you read, write down important concepts. Writing by hand, rather than by typing, can help you remember, as can rewriting it as though you were explaining it to a child. As the saying goes, “If you don’t understand it enough to explain it very simply, you don’t understand it.” This will help you identify anything that you don’t grasp entirely as well as help you remember it.

3. Be Mindful of Your Own Biological Needs

It’s tempting to give up on any activity that isn’t directly related to studying, like eating healthy foods, exercise, and sleeping. However, neglecting any of these can actually worsen your performance during finals. Aside from being physically necessary, exercise and sleep give your brain time to process information and make connections. If you find that stress is keeping you from sleeping, try meditation or mindfulness to help you to sleep. Avoid using electronic devices right before bed or use a blue shade program to reduce the blue lights that signal to your body that it’s daytime and time to be awake.

Auer advises students, “Get plenty of rest the night before the exam and make sure of sufficient intake of food and drink up to an hour before the exam. Be mindful that in online exams, bathroom breaks are not allowed, so remember to use the restroom prior to the start time of the exam.”

4. Attend Study Sessions With Professors and Teaching Assistants

An optional study session or review session can be an invaluable opportunity to find out exactly what questions you can expect on your upcoming exam. Your professor or teaching assistant may lead these study sessions and structure them around actual topics covered in the final. This information can help you focus your study efforts to save time and study more efficiently.

To plan for these study sessions, make sure to clear space in your schedule. Attending with other students as part of a study group may help you review the materials after. You should also arrive prepared with any questions you intend to ask before the final. Review sessions may be your last chance to ask your professor questions about concepts you may feel weak in.

5. If You Are Feeling Overwhelmed, You Are Not Alone

While every student experiences nursing school differently, you’ll always find some course or topic that’s a challenge, as well as ones that are easier for you to learn. It’s natural to feel stressed and even discouraged at times. You’re not the first one to be discouraged, you won’t be the last one, and you certainly aren’t alone.

Your academic advisor, another instructor, or the school’s student services are valuable resources. It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling, either with a topic or with motivation. In fact, it’s smarter to recognize that you’re having difficulties and ask for advice than to struggle through without support.

On Reddit’s r/StudentNurse, several nursing students and nurses shared their insights on motivation and managing stress. User MyOwnGuitarHero advises students who are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed, “Every stage is going to come with its own learning curve, but that’s okay! That’s part of the journey. This is like being on a roller-coaster. Sometimes you get banged up and jostled; sometimes it’s scary; sometimes you don’t know why you even got on the ride in the first place. But ultimately it’s good.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed with your studies, consider finding or forming a study group with your peers. Not only do study groups allow you to practice challenging concepts with other students, but they can also provide an excellent support system when you may be feeling overwhelmed or demotivated.

Popular Study Resources for Nursing Finals

There are multiple online study tools nursing students can use. Some help you memorize and quickly remember facts and figures, while others help you to process the materials. The right tool will depend on the topic as well as your learning style and software interface preferences.

Flash Cards

Flash cards help you to memorize and remember facts. These are best for quick facts and figures and questions that have one right answer. Creating your own cards can help you memorize the information, but you can also use cards others have created.

  • check-circleQuizlet: Quizlet is a set of pre-prepared online flashcards for all kinds of academic topics, including nursing. Many of the flashcards are free and were prepared by other students, but you can also subscribe to Quizlet Plus for flashcards prepared and verified by experts.
  • check-circleAnki: Anki is a free and open-source tool that allows you to create your own flashcards and optimize them for what you most need to learn. You can also use flashcards that other learners have created and uploaded.
  • check-circleChegg: Chegg combines features of Quizlet and Anki, since you can create your own cards or use cards that other users have created.

Mind Maps

Mind mapping software lets you draw diagrams of related concepts, such as a particular condition and the applicable treatments. Mind maps help you to learn visually and to see connections among different ideas, so are helpful for learning and understanding interrelated ideas.

  • check-circleLucidchart: Lucidchart was designed for process mapping, but it also applies to mind mapping. You can use it to draw many types of diagrams, depending on the topic. There’s a free trial and a paid version.
  • check-circleGitMind: GitMind is a free software designed for mind mapping and brainstorming. You can use different types of diagrams, each based on a central theme, topics, and subtopics.
  • check-circleMindMup: MindMup is also free, though it has a paid subscription with more storage options. You can convert MindMup mind maps to other programs, including PowerPoint and PDF.

Note Taking

Note taking is vital to your success in nursing school, no matter what the topic is or how you learn. Regardless of what software you use, it’s important to review your notes regularly, so that you don’t forget what a particular note was referring to and can add new ideas. This also helps keep ideas fresh in your memory.

  • check-circleNotability: Notability combines text, drawings, and photos, so you might find it especially valuable for subjects like biology and anatomy. It is only available on Apple devices.
  • check-circleOneNote: Microsoft OneNote integrates closely with other Microsoft products, but you can use it as a standalone program. Like Notability, it easily combines visuals and text. It offers easy ways to organize notes.
  • check-circleGoogle Docs: Google Docs integrates smoothly with other Google offerings, as you’d expect. One benefit is that you can invite other users to edit and share documents, and you can even see edits and comments in real time. This lets you crowdsource note taking and studying together.


While nursing finals are stressful, you can find ways to manage stress and excel in your finals. Remember to take care of your physical and mental health to ensure that you’ll be at your best and take time to find the study tools that work best for your style of learning. Also, keeping up with your assigned reading and reading mindfully will help you retain what you learn. Perhaps most importantly, ask for help when you need it, whether in your studies or managing stress.

As finals approach, build a concrete mental image of yourself as calm, ready, and using stress for energy during your finals. Get used to this idea and get into that frame of mind during finals. This will help you take advantage of all of your preparation.

Good luck!

Meet Our Contributor

Portrait of Dr. Audrey Auer

Dr. Audrey Auer

Dr. Audrey Auer (Ph.D., Nursing; MS.N., RN) is the director of nursing education services at Nightingale College. She has an extensive background teaching in nursing education and provided leadership launching and leading pre-licensure and master’s level nursing programs.

Dr. Auer’s clinical background is in infusion therapy, critical care, kidney, pancreas, and liver transplantation, and rural hospice and home health care. Dr. Auer currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners here.

Page last reviewed November 3, 2021

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