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Top 10 study tips for nurses

As a student nurse, you will be expected to spend 50% of your time studying. Reading text books, attending lectures and completing essay assignments can sometimes feel overwhelming. Don’t let your coursework get you down. Read on for our top 10 study tips for nurses.

1. Get organised

Finding time to study can be difficult, especially when you have family commitments, but if you don’t balance your responsibilities with your studies you’re likely to feel overwhelmed and may not complete the course.

Once the semester starts, prioritise what needs to be done and break down essential reading into manageable chunks. Spread your study time out, aiming to do some reading every day. Identifying a block of time before the deadline is a dangerous strategy, as something unforeseen is bound to crop up. Be realistic about what you can achieve and build flexibility into your schedule where possible.

2. Ask for help

If you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to help you, take it! An extra pair of hands with childcare, shopping, or doing the chores can free-up some valuable study time – or just time to relax. Struggling on until you collapse won’t do you or anyone else any good. If friends and family are feeling neglected, share your calendar with them (stick a copy on the fridge) so they can see how much of your time is taken up with study and clinical placements. The course will have an impact on them too, but remember, it’s not forever.

3. Be a critical reader

You will be assigned many textbooks during your nursing education. Identify the primary texts for each semester and focus on those. Reading a book cover-to-cover is not an effective use of your time and will only leave you feeling overwhelmed. Think of your nursing textbooks as a reference to use when you don’t understand the material covered in a lecture or on clinical placement.

Skim read the material first. Look at headings, subheadings and bullet points and review the summaries and questions at the end of each section, to determine which information is most important. On your second read through, highlight passages or take notes. On the first pass, everything will seem important. Focus on the concepts you don’t know and key facts you need to remember. Taking notes or highlighting things you already know is a waste of your time.

4. Make flash cards

The time you spend making flash cards will be time well spent. You will be learning key facts as you note them down, making a study tool for the next class, and preparing revision cards to test yourself before exams. Create flashcards on vital sign ranges and diseases/conditions and their treatments, listing signs and symptoms, diagnostic tests and interventions, and leave them around the house. Stick them on the bedroom mirror, the fridge or the front door, and you’ll absorb the information without even realising it.

5. Take breaks

Take a 10 minute break after 50 minutes of study. Reading for hours without a break is ineffective as you will not retain the information. Move away from your desk and stretch, or better still, go for a power walk. A quick burst of oxygen can be re-invigorating and is better for you than another cup of coffee. Still find it hard to concentrate? Consider re-locating to the library or a park. A change of scene can work wonders.

6. Record your lectures

Three-hour evening lectures can test even the most attentive of students. If you feel tired, don’t be afraid to quietly leave the room for a few minutes. It’s better to go for a quick bathroom break than sleep through it. If you find it hard to retain information in lectures, ask the lecturer if you can record it – and then listen back at home. This is especially useful on test review days when tutors cover what material is likely to appear on the exam.

7. Switch activities

Switching between different study activities can help to prevent fatigue. You might read and take notes for 50 minutes, take a 10 minute break and then spend 30 minutes reviewing online videos or complete a test on the textbook’s website. Vary the study materials and methods you use, and there’s a greater chance you will retain the information.

8. Have a power nap

If you’re feeling tired, take a power nap. Studies show that sleep clears the brain’s short-term memory storage and makes room for new information. An hour’s power nap can help you remember what you’ve just read, and will mean you wake up refreshed.

9. Join a study group

Find it hard to study alone? Get together with a couple of other students and divide the work between you. The process of having to explain procedures and relay facts to each other will help you remember them, and will highlight any weak areas in your understanding. Ask each person to devise questions on their topic area, and test each other. Sometimes your classmates will have a better grasp of concepts or a particularly good way of remembering facts that proves useful.

10 Look after yourself 

Finding time to study can be challenging but don’t be tempted to stay up late. Sleep deprivation limits your ability to concentrate and exacerbates feelings of anxiety. Give yourself at least 20 minutes to unwind before going to bed – read a book (not a text book) or have a warm bath. As well as needing time to relax and switch off, don’t forget to have fun. Catch up with friends or enjoy a family day out. Keep your life in balance, and you get so much more out of your nursing degree.

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