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What is Nursing School Like? Study Tips to Help You Succeed

5 min readApril, 28 2023

Welcome to nursing school! You'll be challenged each day when you study nursing, but the result is a job in a rewarding profession.

If you're feeling anxious, you're not alone. Most new students worry about how to prepare for nursing school.

Read on for nursing school tips and a primer on how to survive nursing school.

What Is Nursing School?

Depending on your professional goals, a nursing school may entail a diploma program or an , bachelor's, or graduate-level degree. Whatever course you take, your education will be rigorous, but success is achievable if you come in knowing what to expect in nursing school.

Assignments for nursing school may include care plans, case studies, research projects, group presentations, and clinical (and plenty of textbook reading, of course). The nursing curriculum includes:

  • Didactic coursework presented online or in-person
  • Laboratory skills, including simulations of skills performed in clinical
  • Hands-on clinical care at a hospital, nursing home, or other health care facility

Nursing school isn't meant to be a passive experience. Success requires a different learning mindset. The content learned in the classroom will be applied later in the laboratory and clinical settings. Rather than memorizing information, you must ensure that you understand the content. Then you use critical thinking skills to implement these skills when caring for patients and to pass the National Council Licensing Exam (NCLEX).

Learn more about nursing clinicals and what students should expect.

How to Prepare for Nursing School

Most nursing programs offer an orientation to review the curriculum and expectations. You'll have a different orientation once you begin the program's clinical portion.

The nursing curriculum is firmly grounded in science and math courses. When preparing for nursing school, think about your previous or existing schoolwork in those areas and decide if you'll benefit from additional tutoring. Many nursing schools require a specific grade or grade point average before acceptance. Some nursing programs may also require pre-nursing courses or an entrance exam.

What Classes Do You Take in Nursing School?

In addition to supporting courses, the most common classes taken in nursing school include:

  • Fundamentals
  • Pharmacology
  • Adult Health
  • Pediatrics
  • Women's Health
  • Mental Health
  • Nursing Research
  • Health Assessment
  • Leadership
  • Public Health

9 Tips for How to Be a Better Nursing Student

A nursing student in green scrub.

  1. Determine your learning style. You may identify with one or several of the four primary learning types (visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic). For example, one nursing student may learn better by reading textbook content and reviewing lecture notes, whereas another may absorb information by hearing the lecture. To confirm your learning style, complete a Vark questionnaire
  3. Schedule study time like it's a job. Setting regular study sessions will promote retention of content versus cramming the night before an exam. Remember that memorization isn't the key to success in nursing. Instead, focus on how you'll implement the content in nursing practice. Make it a point to review notes after each lecture while the content is fresh.
  5. Join a study group. A study group can help you understand class content since other students may have more comprehensive notes or an easier way to remember information. Studying with your nursing peers may provide a support system to keep you accountable and stay motivated.
  7. Hire a nursing tutor. If you're struggling in one specific nursing class, consider hiring someone to work with you one-on-one to help you understand the content. Be sure to ask for help. Even once you've completed a class, each nursing course builds upon the other, so the content may come up later or on the NCLEX.
  9. Take breaks. Most people can only look at the same content for so long before they lose focus. Practice self-care and take breaks. Knowing how to get through nursing school is about creating a balance between your studies and your personal life. Develop good self-care habits now to prevent burnout later.
  11. Try different study formats to see what works best for you. Textbook reading and reviewing lecture notes are a foundation, but don't stop there. Make study guides, learn mnemonics, rewrite lecture notes, make flashcards, and watch informational videos. Once you've created a system, save and organize this information so you can refer to it later when studying for the NCLEX.
  13. Take practice NCLEX tests. NCLEX-style questions require critical thinking. Many nursing exams use these types of questions to help you prepare for the licensing exam. Become familiar with this style of questions and take practice tests to hone your critical thinking skills.
  15. Get to know your nursing instructors. Classes provide time to ask questions, take additional notes on the nursing content, and build relationships with peers and nursing instructors. Take advantage of this access to knowledge and expertise. Ask questions, seek advice on the NCLEX, and learn from others' experiences as nurses. Remember that your nursing professor may also be a resource for future internships and letters of recommendation.
  17. Review the Code of Ethics for Nurses. The NCLEX contains a section on ethical practice for nurses. The Code of Ethics for Nurses was developed by ANA and is available for students to view.

Final Thoughts

Time management is an essential skill for nursing students. A good study habit for nursing students is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) that help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. These may include your study time and duration, test score goals, or plans to join a nursing organization.

These tips will help set yourself up for success as you study nursing and pass nursing school. As the largest entity in health care and the most trusted profession, nursing programs aim to prepare nurses to be their very best. Expect to be challenged, but keep in mind the vast rewards nursing school delivers.  

Find additional resources for nursing students and discover the benefits of being an ANA Student Subscriber.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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