6 Nursing School Hacks (Demolish Nursing School in 6 Easy to Implement Steps)

tips for nursing school

Do you ever get the feeling that you are drowning in nursing school?

Like there is too much to do, not enough time?

So did I . . .

Prior to attending nursing school I had a degree in Business and a total of 120 college credits.  I had already attended 3 universities and sampled a wide range of majors and subjects.

Despite all of this nursing school was still a challenge for me . . . at first (in fact I even withdrew at one point). . .


That’s when I found these 6 nursing school hacks.

I was able to graduate an Accelerated BSN program with a 3. 8 GPA and aced the NCLEX 2 weeks after graduation in just 75 questions.   I am now a charge nurse in a Level I Trauma ICU.

I’m not bragging . .  TRUST ME!  I’m the first to admit I had to work my butt off to graduate. .  . BUT!

With the 6 nursing school hacks that I am going to share with you, you too will be able to surprise yourself with the level of success you are able to achieve.  Our goal at NURSING.com is to give you the peace of mind you deserve as a nursing student.

That’s exactly why we created the NURSING.com (so you could stop stressing).

You can do it too!

Tip #1: Meet Your Hardest Professor Face to Face on their TURF

Every nursing program has one . . . the professor who seems to think their entire goal in life is to fail every student. They seem tired of students, they want to prove how smart they are, they think you have no idea what it means to think critically.

Use this to your advantage . . . Most students will hate this professor so much that they will avoid them like the plague.

That’s great!

That means that their office hours will be wide open for you to meet with them.

These teachers are usually the toughest graders and teach the most important courses (Adult Med Surg, Pharm).  So you really need to ACE their course in order to set yourself up for grad school, to understand the most important material needed to be a nurse, and to graduate with a decent GPA.

After the first exam is returned to you from this teacher and you realize that the answer you selected isn’t the MOST correct answer on nearly every option ; ) . . . I promise you that every other student will throw their hand in the air and try to argue with this professor  for 1 extra point.

This might get you an extra point on this exam but it doesn’t make a difference in the big scope of things.  And this really isn’t a good way to learn and improve yourself.

While this is going on just sit back and let every other student grade grub . . . once class is over walk right up to the teacher and ask her if you can make an appointment to meet in her office and talk about your performance in the course . . . notice how I didn’t say “how you did on the test”.  Your goal is to show the teacher that you are interested in grasping the MATERIAL  . . . not that you want one extra point on the specific test.

When you meet with her bring your exam with you . . .

Here’s what you say:

“I feel like I studied really hard for this test, I read all the assigned reading (because you did), I took the practice tests, I felt like I understood the material in class . . . but my grade on this test has me a bit discouraged . . . I’ve always been a good student . . . what can I do to better prepare for your exams.”

That’s it . . .

You proved to her that you have some balls and courage to approach her personally, you showed that you get the material or at least attempted to understand it, then you put the ball in their court by saying . . . what should I be doing . . . FROM HER PERSPECTIVE to better prepare.

nursing school success

This method works wonders . . .

  • It shows them that you actually care about learning the material!
  • You aren’t arguing with them like every other nursing student in the history of the world!
  • It allows you to step inside their mind and understand how they write their tests!
  • The professor WILL give you tips for passing their tests!

Remember . . . you will need references from your teachers . . . being friends with the tough ones is a HUGE advantage.

Relationships . . .

Nursing is all about relationships and mutual respect.

I followed this method with my toughest professors and to this day . . . years after graduation . . . I am still in contact with those same professors that many other students couldn’t stand.

I actually have their personal email addresses and have kept them updated on my career and used them as references multiple times.


You CAN do this!  Nursing is HARD . . . nursing school is IMPOSSIBLE if you don’t learn how to develop a system that works for you!  Basic communication and conflict resolution are skills that you must acquire to work effectively as a nurse.

There are going to be patients that no one on your floor wants to take care of because they are too difficult to work with.

Start now, while you are in school to learn how to talk with people that are more difficult to communicate with.  Having differences of opinion does not mean you have to hate the other person.  Confrontation does not have to be a negative word.  In nursing, so much of what we do is confrontational and invasive to our patients.  Learn communication methods that allow people to respect you despite these difficult conversations and interactions.  Talking face to face with difficult professors is a good place to start.

You can do amazingly well . . . and amaze yourself with what you are capable of . . . trust me . . . I did it!

 Tip #2: Write Yourself Questions

This tip is going to be a bit more focused on something you can actually do in your studies to learn and retain the information you are learning.

I even answer the question of when is it okay to play Trivia Crack (yes, I do enjoy the game)!

Tip #2: Write Yourself Questions

Reading though the chapters and textbooks required in your classes can become overwhelming . . . to say the least.   There were nights in nursing school when I had over 200 pages of reading from nursing text books to complete.   Retaining that amount of information is all but impossible.

One tip that I picked up from a buddy who was in Medical School at the same time that I was in Nursing School was to write yourself questions . . . and to create your own study guides.

That’s right . . .

I know it sounds simple but this is how it works.

As you read through the chapter search for the most important information.

This is an example of the Pareto Principle . . . more commonly known as the 80/20 rule which states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes.

In our case it means that 80% of what you need to know on any given topic or disease will come from just 20% of the information in the text.  This is generally true with all nursing classes and professors.  There are certain things that we just really do not need to know.  Learning how to extract the most important information and focusing on learning that will save your headaches.

So, as you are reading try to find that 20%, and as you do write yourself questions on those topics only.

Basically, you are creating yourself your own study guide as you read.

Examples of Questions:

We aren’t looking for professionally crafted questions or NCLEX style questions here.  All you really need to do is to create questions that help you review the material and recall information in a way that helps you understand the material.

  1. Outline the conduction system of the heart.
  2. What are the causes for premature ventricular contraction?
  3. What post-op care will be given to a pt following CABG?

You see . . . the point of this sheet is to condense the content of the chapter into a digestible study guide that you can then base your studies on.  This study guide contains about 120 questions from two chapters over the cardiovascular system.  This was the only information that I chose to focus on in my studies for this section of Med Surg.

Got The Questions  . . .  Now What?

Okay, so now that you have the questions written out from reading through the chapter one time the next step is to start working on your study guide.

To do this I would print myself a few copies of my study guide.

This way you can fill it out multiple times.

  • On the first pass you will want to have your book open and skim through the chapter as you fill out the study guide.
  • On the second pass you will have your book available as a reference but attempt to fill the guide out primarily without using the book.
  • On the third pass you will fill the guide out entirely WITHOUT the book.  Once you complete the guide you can use the book to complete those questions you were unable to fill in and to confirm answers to questions you are unsure about.

Now . . . Forget the Book!

Now that you have worked through your study guide three times you should have a clear picture of what information you are strongest on and what areas you need to review more.

You should spend an afternoon really studying those questions that are the hardest for you to complete.

Once you have done that you should spend the remainder of your time between your completed study guide and a blank one that requires you to recall the information from memory.

I know this method sounds simple, but once I discovered this technique I saw an immediate improvement in not only my grades but also in my retention levels.

This is the technique I used to:

  • ACE nursing school
  • Pass the NCLEX
  • Pass the CCRN

And I continue to use it in many areas of my life when I need to learn something new.

Making your own study guides takes some effort but your ability to learn, extract the important information, and retain is greatly increased over simply reading or using someone else’s guide.

Remember to Take Breaks

During the first semester I usually see two types of nursing students . . . those who are scared to death and spend ALL their time studying and those who are not scared at all and spend NO time studying.

Both study habits can lead to burn out and failing!

Let me share with you a better way . . .

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that aims to improve mental agility.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Decide on the task to be done, chapter to study, practice test to take
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings
  4. Take a short break (3–5 minutes)
  5. After four pomodori cycles, take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

By dividing up your study sessions up this way you are able to maintain extreme focus while you are studying.

You know you have a break coming soon so you can avoid the temptation to play one more game of Trivia Crack or check Facebook  during a study session.  Once the buzzer sounds you can do whatever you want until the break is over.

The breaks allow you to relax for a minute and make study sessions pass by more quickly.

TIP #3: Tools That Make Nursing School a Breeze

I want to share with you a few tools that I used during nursing school that helped me keep organized and stay on top of the assignments as well as communicate with my classmates.

If you use these tools right you will suddenly have so much more time to focus on what really matters: learning and patient care.

Tool #1: Facebook Groups

No doubt you have used Facebook groups in the past, but I want to show you how Facebook groups can help with nursing school.

You can use a private Facebook Group for the following things:

  • Create the group with the students from your cohort to communicate on assignment due dates.
  • Only invite those individuals from your cohort.
  • Make the group private so other students and instructors are not able to access your private messages.
  • Private chat with members regarding your frustrations.
  • Share tips and study guides with other members.

The private FB group I had with the students in my cohort saved me HOURS and HOURS of headaches regarding assignments.

It also allowed me to vent some of my frustrations about tests, teachers, assignments, clinical, etc. . . you get the picture.

How do I create a private FB Group?

On the left panel of your FB home page there is a tab for all the groups you are in.  Click on the “MORE” button.

On the next screen click on the “+Create Group” button.

Fill in the information about your group.

Keep the group private. Either Closed or Secret is best for this.

You will need to be friends with the people in your cohort that you want to add to the group.

From there it is like a normal FB Page where you can add posts, pics, etc . . . to keep members up to date.

Tool #2: Dropbox

Dropbox is a lifesaver for me.

What Dropbox does is allow you to save documents to the “Cloud” meaning that you can access them from anywhere in the world.

You can also install Dropbox on your computer, laptop, or phone.  By doing this, anytime you edit a document on any computer anywhere in the world . . . not only does it update online, but it also automatically updates the file on those devices that have Dropbox installed.

I first started using Dropbox after a fiasco of losing a clinical write up during nursing school.

After getting over the devastation of losing my hard work I was introduced to Dropbox and my life has changed forever.

Oh . . . and the best part?

Dropbox is free to use at first.

Tool #3: Google Drive

Yep, I think it is important to use both Google Drive and Dropbox during nursing school.

Google Drive works in a similar way to Dropbox in that it allows you to have access to your files on the cloud.

This basically means you have access from anywhere you have an internet connection.

The reason I suggest Google Drive is that it allows for live editing of documents in real time.

This is incredibly useful when you have to work on a group paper.

Rather than having everyone in the group meet in person you can each meet in remote locations and work on the document together or when you have the time to work on it.

Drive also has a chat function and a notes function so you can make notes on changes.

How I Used Drive in Nursing School

  • Group study guides. Each member had a different text color to answer questions on the study guide.
  • Group papers. Each team member could add to the paper as needed.
  • I kept a live calendar of each weeks task.

Here is a nice video that explains what Google Drive is and how to use it.

Tip #4: Take Every Practice Question You Can Find

In a 2012 study printed in the Journal of Experimental Education it was found that  “a large percentage of students who took the practice tests indicated that they were a beneficial review strategy”.

Practice tests and practice questions are even more beneficial for nursing students because nursing exams differ greatly from traditional exams we are used to taking prior to entering nursing school.

Another article published by Cornell University indicated that “retrieval practice (as occurs during testing) often produces greater learning and long term retention than studying.”

Retrieval practice refers to testing your ability to recall information ie practice questions.  This has a huge benefit in your ability to recall and learn new information over simply reading chapters for a couple of reasons.

  • It illustrates to you what information you are unfamiliar with.
  • It forces you to recall the information you have studied.

Basically, you need to take EVERY practice question you can find to maximize the amount of time you spend in retrieval practice prior to taking an exam.

Here are the Top 8 Places to Take Practice Questions that I have found:

Click Here to View them ONLINE

  1. Don’t just search online for practice questions.  This can lead you to false information that might deter from your learning.  Some might be good but you don’t want to waste time sifting through the crap!
  1. The NPQ by NRSNG and SIMCLEX

This is our collection of 500 practice questions divided into the 8 categories tested on the actual NCLEX.

I wrote this book as an easy to use guide available on mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computers so that you can study at any time no matter where you are.

  1. End of chapter quizzes. These practice questions are here for a reason . . . use them.  To be honest I noticed more than a couple times that my professors would pull some of their quiz questions directly from here.  So few students use them that many never even noticed.

I went as far as grabbing other Med Surg books from my schools library to take the end of chapter quizzes from them as well.

  1. NCLEX 3500: This is a great tool put together by Salt Lake Community College.  It is a database of 3500 questions and rationales. This is a FREE resource provide by the SLCC nursing program and is completely available online without any sort of registration.
  1. Lippincotts Q&A  . . . listen, this book worked wonders for me.  It is loaded with questions covering every topic needed to know to pass the NCLEX. This is strictly a question book with no real content review at all. If you are looking for a ton of questions, this is a great book.
  1. Saunders Q&A: I used this book almost exclusively during my first semester of nursing school.  Not only is it full of questions but also has a good amount of content review at a fairly basic and condensed level.
  1. Prioritization, Delegation, and Assignment: I actually didn’t discover this book until my last semester, but it was one of my favorite NCLEX prep books.  We all know that the NCLEX puts a large amount of emphasis on the new grads ability to prioritize, delegate and assign . . . this book takes it to a whole new level by focusing entirely on these items.
  1. Test Success: this little gem is one of the best kept secrets in the nursing world.  Its not really a study guide as much as it’s a strategy book that helps you learn HOW to take nursing school exams.

Look, if you want to ACE nursing exams you really need to be taking every practice question you can find.

I know this sounds like a simple tactic but there is no better way of knowing how well you grasp the content than to actually test yourself.

Not only will it take the question out of whether or not you understand the content but it will also take the anxiety away on test day.

You can do this!  The NCLEX and nursing school are tough . . . they need to be to insure that we are prepared to provide the best patient care possible.  But you can pass and have a brilliant future as a nurse!

Tip #5: Drawing Pictures Improves Learning and Memory

When I was in college the first time I randomly enrolled in an Anatomy and Physiology course.

At the time I was a Health Science major.  My goal was to teach and coach or maybe work with the Red Cross.

This was back in 2003 . . . and I can honestly say that the thought of becoming a nurse had never crossed my mind . . . not even once!

I had never considered myself great at science.  I signed up for the Anatomy course simply because I loved learning about the body and this seemed “fun”.

Obviously, I didn’t realize at the time that A&P is one of the most difficult courses you will take in college.

I quickly learned that this was going to be a HARD class.

But something happened . . . . I LOVED the content and despite it being hard I actually enjoyed studying.

What I learned was that prior to this course no other subject had truly sparked my interest.  With this motivation came a search for ways to learn the material.

Memorization was not going to work for me . . . I had tried that before.

And  . . .

Memorization only works until . . . you forget!

I needed to find tricks that allowed me to learn the material for good and to burn it into my brain.

Here’s what I learned.

Drawing pictures allowed me to understand complex information and recall concepts much longer than any other method.

This concept is called picture superiority effect and states that:

“concepts are much more likely to be remembered if they are presented as pictures rather than words”

So much of learning science and health care is reading, reading, reading . . . there is so much to learn in order to provide the best care for our patients.

As a student one of the best things you can do to learn those concepts is to translate the text you are reading into pictures  . . .

Here are some pictures from my personal notes that I took when I recently studied for the CCRN and a few of these images are from when I took the NCLEX.

Not only do the pictures help you to remember, but the actual process of creating the pictures FORCES you to learn the material well enough to create the picture in the first place.

There is an incredible study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers that states:

“people who had high scores on spatial tests (visual learning/drawing pictures) . . . where much more likely to major in [science] disciplines . . . .”

Not only that, but they found that developing your ability to think spatially will improve your performance in science.

One last quote . . .

“Spatial training has been found to improve educational outcome . . . ”

Tips to Help you Draw Pictures to Learn

So it’s obvious that drawing can aid in learning, especially in a science based curriculum like nursing but how should you draw?

  1. Practice: ultimately you need to find what types of images work for you. Do you remember diagrams best, mind maps, illustrations of process, what works for you? Start today with multiple types of drawings and see what you remember best.
  2. Color: keep a pack of colored pencils, markers, or dry erase markers in your back pack. Use the color to give depth to your drawings and highlight key information.
  3. Mind maps: yes, there is a reason your teachers are trying to force you to make mind maps . . . they CAN work. I say “can” because they may not work for everyone, but they might work for you. Here are some places you can create mind maps.
  • Pen and paper: simply draw your mind maps out on paper this is a fast way to create mind maps without constraints.
  • Lucid Chart: I really like Lucid Chart for clean mind maps but it does take longer to create.  You can start making charts for free but if you want to have multiple charts you will need an account for a couple bucks a month.
  • PowerPoint: this is an easy way to make free charts and illustrations and you can save your presentation as a PDF or JPG.
  1. Think through the process: nursing is the perfect field of study to use charts. So much of what we do is process based and the body works via feedback loops and the body is so visual. Simply requiring yourself to think through these process as you draw will allow your imagination to flow.
  2. Don’t be a perfectionist: the point here is to help you learn. Don’t over think or overdo your drawings.  Just draw exactly what works for you to help you learn the content. (as you can see my drawings are VERY crude, but they worked).

 Just Get Started

So in the end I received at 98% in that Anatomy class of over 100 students and for the first time in my life I gained confidence that maybe I was smart.

That ONE class changed the trajectory of my entire life.  I learned how to study, I learned to love studying the body, and I began investigating health care as a career . . . and I truly owe a majority of that confidence to the fact that I drew pictures.

Whether  or not you are a visual leaner, drawing pictures will help with learning and retaining what you are studying and learning.

If mind maps don’t work for you no worries . . . actually sit down and draw the liver and label it with anatomical features and functions.

Tip #6: Find a Study Buddy Smarter Than You

I’m a prideful person by nature . . . ask my wife!

Admitting that I don’t know something or that I am wrong has always been a challenge for me.

Because of this I have never been good about other people being right . . . and me being wrong.

This can limit my ability to work well in groups obviously.

But I learned something very essential to success while in nursing school:

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

This is a quote from popular speaker Jim Rohn.

The more I think about this quote the more I have come to understand its truth.

It is all but impossible for you to achieve success in life or in nursing school if you spend all of you time with unsuccessful people.

This is essentially referring to the law of averages which basically says that the outcomes of any series event will eventually “even out” and applies to human behavior as well. When this is applied to humans it assumes that human behavior will even out among those who spend time together.

“Law of averages typically assumes that unnatural short-term “balance” must occur” –Wikipedia

If you wish to reach your goals and do well in school . . . find like minded students with the same goals.  In your studies find those who grasp concepts better than you do and you will soon raise to their level.

How Does  This Apply to Nursing School?

If your goal is to achieve success in nursing school you need to start spending  time, studying, and emulating the habits of successful students.

In my nursing school there was one student that stood out above all others.

He already held a Pharmacy degree from India prior to coming to the United States, he was easily acing every test, and he clearly grasped the content.

Here is what I did . . . I simply found out when and where he studied and began studying at the same times and in the same places.

I swallowed my pride and asked him questions on things that I did not understand and I offered my skills and knowledge on areas I was stronger in.

Soon we had become great friends and studied together nearly every day.

We now work at the same hospital and he will soon be attending CRNA school at one of the top programs in the country.

Everyone Benefits

This student ended up graduating the top of our class and my GPA and success in nursing school was greatly impacted for the better due to the relationship that we had built together.

Our friendship worked as a means to motivate each other and push each other to work a little bit harder to reach our goals.

As you begin to notice students that seem to excel or to understand material better than you it is important that you develop sincere relationships with these people.

You do not need to suffer through not understanding.

As you begin your career as a nurse you should also navigate to those nurses who emulate the behaviors of amazing nurses in your mind.

Relationships . . .

Nursing is all about relationships and mutual respect.

I followed this method with my toughest professors and to this day . . . years after graduation . . . I am still in contact with those same professors that many other students couldn’t stand.



Anyone that tells you nursing school is easy either didn’t go to nursing school or didn’t do well in nursing school.   Nursing school is hard for so many reasons, but it is essential that you learn the material well so that you have the capacity to take care of individuals during their most difficult and challenging circumstances.

Nursing truly is so much more than a job . . . we impact individuals and change lives.  No one ever remembers their doctor, people remember the nurse who stood at their bedside all through the night.

These 6 nursing school hacks will help you to focus, stay organized, and work in such a way that you will be able to achieve your goals, pass nursing school, and become an amazing nurse.

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