I Survived Nursing School Because of This


“I survived nursing school because of this”, a recent graduate told a group of underclassmen on campus one day. The graduate nurse went on to discuss her challenges as a first-year nursing student and what she called her turning point, or ‘ah-ha’ moment. She began,

“I thought I could just memorize everything and do well. I’d take so many notes while reading, but I was just rewriting things I didn’t fully understand. I tried to memorize answers to quiz questions and hope I’d see them again on a test. I failed my first major nursing exam. Then I came close to failing my first nursing course. I thought, what was I doing wrong?”

By this time, the graduate nurse had the students’ full attention. She captivated them in a way I only strive to achieve as an educator. They were interested because the story was familiar. They listened with anticipation because they wanted to do well.

The graduate continued,

“I spoke with my instructor, and she asked how many hours a week I spent studying, what my study space was like, and if I completed all the course material. Apparently my answers were all good ones. My instructor looked slightly stumped – but only for a moment. Then we had a long talk about critical thinking and active reading. That was my turning point.”

A student in the group interrupted, “I do that. I watch videos on NCLEX strategies and tutorials on how to study. It doesn’t help.”

The others sympathized.

“But you must practice,” the graduate nurse said. She explained, 

“It’s one thing to learn about critical thinking, but another to use it every time you study and on every NCLEX-style question. I stopped taking copious notes and started drawing what I read. Really! I started drawing diagrams and pictures and creating concept maps. Instead of memorizing answers to practice questions, I focused on strategies used to figure out questions. That’s how I survived nursing school.”

I’m sure the group of students learned something that day, and so did I. In witnessing this interaction, I saw engagement by the students. I watched active learning.

The beginning of the graduate nurse’s story was familiar, relatable. Familiarity grabs our attention and lets our minds build on it. There was a burning question – the graduate’s thought, ‘what am I doing wrong?’ This keeps us listening for the answer. 

That’s how students should study: Start with something familiar and build new information on that foundation; ask burning questions and seek to answer them. Organize your thoughts with pictures and concept maps, or teach a friend a topic you just learned.

Finally, never give up – but do reassess your studying and testing strategies. Ask for help or advice if needed. When nursing school gets tough, take ACTion!

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