In this article, we are continuing our series of the secrets of successful nursing students, so you can do more than just survive nursing school…I want  you to THRIVE in nursing school! Throughout this series, we’re expanding on all the factors that contribute to nursing school success, which are summed up in this comprehensive free guide. You can find the other topics in this series linked at the end of this article.

20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students FREE GUIDE

You can listen to the below information in episode 214 of the Straight A Nursing podcast right from this website, or from your favorite podcast player. While you’re there, be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode!

Secret #10 – Consistency is the name of the game

Which brings us to Secret #10…successful students avoid last-minute studying. While this may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how often it happens in nursing school. The schedule can be quite intense, and if you fall even a little bit behind, it can be extremely difficult to catch up. So, a lot of students end up doing EVERYTHING at the last minute…including studying for exams. While this may have gotten you through a prerequisite course once in a while, there are a lot of reasons you don’t want to do it in nursing school: 

  • It causes undue stress: Frantically trying to retain a mountain of information for a high-stakes exam is one of the most stressful things you can do as a nursing student. Studying under stressful conditions increases the risk that you’ll test under stressful conditions as well (why hello there, test anxiety, nice to meet you!).  In addition, studies show that test anxiety is closely associated with poorer performance on exams.
  • It sets you up to “scarf and barf”: What you take in quickly, you lose quickly. Cramming for an exam sets you up for what my Med Surg professor called “scarf and barf.” This is when you scarf down the information and then regurgitate it back up for the exam…and then forget about it. Nursing school is not about memorizing facts for the exam, it’s about understanding broad concepts. What you forget after this exam will apply to the care plan you’re doing next week, the exam you’re taking next month, and the clinical simulation you’re expected to navigate tomorrow. 

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  • Lose out on sleep: Obviously staying up until all hours of the night to study means you’ll get less sleep Trading sleep for study time is a dangerous practice in nursing school and can ultimately lead to serious deprivation, higher levels of stress, and poorer academic performance. Besides, who wants to go into an exam on three hours of sleep? Definitely not me, and you shouldn’t either.
  • Wastes time in the long run: When you cram and then forget information, you simply have to repeat the process again when it comes time for the next assignment or exam. This ultimately wastes your time, leads to poorer understanding of concepts and yes…causes even more unnecessary stress.

Repeat after me: "Impact comes from the small things we do consistently." -- Luvvie Ajai Jones

So what does this look like for a successful student? For starters, it involves managing your time effectively so there’s actually no need to cram at the last minute. Most successful students study consistently, so all that’s necessary the day before an exam is a simple review and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. By preparing consistently, you set yourself up to truly LEARN the information and relegate it to your long-term memory. This leads to confidence you know the material, trust that you’ve prepared well, and feelings of focus and calm during your exams. 

Sounds glorious, doesn’t it? 

Before you move on to the next secret, take a moment to brain dump all the ways cramming for an exam makes you feel. This simple exercise may be just the reminder you need to stick to a consistent and persistent study schedule. 

Secret #11 – Systems will save you

Nursing school is in a league of its own when it comes to overwhelm. Overwhelming numbers of assignments, overwhelming amounts of paperwork, overwhelming projects and reading…everywhere you turn there’s just SO MUCH. 

And while you worked on getting your study schedule dialed in by following Secret #2, we still need to address the piles of paperwork and the many, many digital files that come with nursing school.

Take a moment to reflect on your usual habits. 

  • How long does it typically take you to find a physical document in paper form? Is it in a pile on your desk, shoved into a binder, or sitting in the printer tray? 
  • How long does it typically take you to locate a digital file? Do you usually have to look in more than one place?
  • How much energy do you expend on thinking “Where should I save this document?” Or, do you just save everything to your desktop or main cloud storage folder?

Successful students have systems in place so they don’t waste time hunting for digital files or documents. I don’t know about you, but before I got organized in this area, I could easily spend 5 to 15 minutes looking for an individual document. Every. Single. Time. And believe me, when you do this multiple times per day, it adds up. 

Nursing students DO NOT have time for that. Your goal as a successful nursing student should be that you can locate any document, piece of paper, or tidbit of information in less than one minute. If you can do that, then you are already way ahead of the game.

Here are some tips and ideas for getting your systems in place. If you’d like to go deeper,  I talk about these in more detail in my nursing school prep course, Crucial Concepts Bootcamp.

  • Plan to get your systems set up before classes begin. Once the onslaught of material, assignments, tasks and studying commence, it doesn’t let up…not even for one minute. 
  • Set up a consistent and logical digital filing system for each class.
  • Successful students have a “one-and-done” mindset around managing paperwork and online documents. So, before you set a piece of paper down, close an email, or x-out of an online document, ask yourself “Will I be able to quickly find this again in the future?” If the answer is NO, then that item needs to be placed where it belongs. Don’t just save it to the desktop or shove papers into a binder. Put it where your future self will be able to locate it quickly and easily.
  • Set up a system for organizing your emails so you can keep your inbox clear and find relevant messages as you need them. Here are some great tips to get you started.
  • Consider taking notes digitally with an app such as GoodNotes or Notability and drastically reduce your reliance on paper. 
  • Implement a system for your handwritten notes, paperwork and printed documents. This could be my 2-Binder System or a filing cabinet…do what works for you! 

Before you move on, take a quick moment to look at your calendar and schedule a block of time to setting up your organizational systems (2 to 3 hours should be plenty!).

Secret #12 – Collaboration is key

To get into nursing school, you must work very, very hard. And, in a lot of cases, students are in direct competition with their peers to get a coveted spot in the nursing program. But now it’s time to set that competitiveness aside and embrace collaboration.

A competitive attitude in nursing school helps no one (not even you) and fosters a negative environment of pettiness, judgment and envy. Not only do you not have time for that, you don’t need to spend your emotional energy on it either. By collaborating with your cohort, you create and foster an environment of positivity, encouragement, professionalism and kindness. I don’t know about you, but that’s definitely more my style!

Another important reason to embrace collaboration is that nursing is a team sport. The number of times a classmate or co-worker has jumped in to help me with a situation are too numerous to count. Whether I’ve got a crashing patient who needs immediate intervention, am starving and need a quick break, or simply don’t know or remember how to do a specific skill…I’ve relied on the collaboration and generosity of my coworkers time and time again.

If you’ve been a competitive student in the past, this certainly doesn’t mean you need to lower the bar for yourself. But be competitive with YOURSELF, not with your classmates. Start helping and supporting one another now, and you’ll set yourself up for a long, rewarding career with the best people and the most amazing teamwork you’ve ever experienced. 

Some ideas for fostering a collaborative environment in nursing school are:

  • Introduce yourself to other students in the first week of class…get to know your classmates!
  • Volunteer to lead a group project (only one per semester, though!)
  • Congratulate other students when they do well on an exam or in lab (and mean it!)
  • Form a small study group – just be sure to follow the advice of Secret #6!
  • Avoid bragging or complaining about your grades
  • Offer to practice a new skill with a classmate
  • Other students may need help from time to time. Rather than label them as lazy or unmotivated, understand that they may be experiencing challenges you know nothing about. Instead of focusing on the negative, ask “Is there anything I can do to help?”
  • Help one another in clinical. Nursing is so much more fun with a friend!

I hope this overview gives you some ideas for ways to thrive in nursing school. For all 20 secrets, download the free guide here.

20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students FREE GUIDE

You can also read all my other articles in this series by using the links below:


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