To continue our series of the secrets of successful nursing students, Secret #5 is that successful students do not do all the reading for nursing school. The amount of reading material that is assigned is almost impossible to accomplish, especially considering everything else you have to do in nursing school. However, if your learning style is heavily skewed toward reading and you can read very quickly while retaining the information, then you may benefit from doing all the reading. But for most students, it’s too much, too inefficient, and not a good use of their time.

Instead of reading their textbooks word-for-word, successful students utilize a two-step approach when it comes to the reading.

Step 1: Skim before the lecture

Step 2: Use the book as a reference after the lecture to fill in the gaps

How to Skim Read for Nursing School

Now that you’ve decided that your textbook isn’t a novel, so you shouldn’t try to read it cover-to-cover like a novel, let’s talk about how to skim read for nursing school. You’ll want to do this prior to the lecture or online module so you are prepped to learn and you’re not receiving the information for the very first time in an environment that can be rich with distractions. By skimming ahead of time, it’s like you’re priming the pump and getting your brain ready for maximum learning when you do attend the lecture or view an online module. Think of it as the appetizer before the main course.

Tip 1: Read the chapter introduction. This gives you an overview of what to expect from the chapter and what you will learn.

Tip 2: Read the subject headers. This tells you what the main idea of that section is about.

Tip 3: Read the first sentence or two of each section. If the first sentence piques your interest, by all means, keep reading! But if it satisfies your curiosity and further supports your understanding of what that section is about, stop here for now.

Tip 4: Look in each section for words that are italicized or bold. These are key concepts or terms that you’ll need to understand. Read any sentence that has italicized or bolded words in it. If that sentence piques your curiosity and answers the questions you have about the topic, keep reading!

Tip 5: Now that you have a general idea of what the topic is, go through and look at charts, diagrams, graphs, and images of any kind. Take a moment to try to understand what these visuals are conveying.

Tip 6: Look for text or tables that are called out with bold lettering, a border, or a shaded box. This information is key, so you definitely want to read it word for word.

Tip 7: Pay attention to any numbered and bulleted lists. Determine what the purpose of these lists is and how they fit into the overall concept.

Tip 8: As you read, try to “think like a nurse.” What information do you need to know about this topic if you were working with a patient? In other words, what problems will the patient have and what will you do about it? How will you assess them? What will you teach them? You may find it helpful to fill out the LATTE template as you read about specific disease conditions. This template takes you through the key information you need to know, without any of the extra fluff.

Tip 9: Read the chapter summary if one is present. If that summary includes sample exam questions, see if you can answer them. Go back through the chapter to find the answers.

Using Your Book as a Reference

After the lecture, lab, or online module, you likely still have questions about the topic. As you rewrite your notes or fill out the LATTE template, you can use your book as a reference to answer specific questions. This way you’re not reading word-for-word, but actively seeking out the most useful information.

When The Instructor Relies Heavily on the Text

Sometimes you will come across an instructor whose exam questions come straight from the book. In these cases, you may need to do more than simply skim the chapters. A tactic that worked beautifully for me and my classmates was to take turns outlining the chapters. Here’s how it works:

  • Form a group of students whom you know to be reliable and who have high standards. Even though this method will save you time, this is not the time for the slacker who is looking to do as little as possible. In order for this technique to be successful, everyone involved must have very high standards for the quality of work they produce.
  • Divide the chapters evenly between group members. When it is your turn to take a chapter, you create a thorough outline of that chapter. Yes, this will take much longer than simply reading the chapter. But you will only have to do this for a few chapters and reap the benefits of having the rest of the book outlined by people you trust. The amount of time you ultimately will save is enormous.
  • Create a system for when each chapter outline is due, such as the Monday before the lecture.
  • Set ground rules that if someone does not submit their chapter on time, they are out of the group. If you chose your group members well, it shouldn’t come to this.

I hope that helps you feel like you will be able to manage the reading in nursing school. If you’d like to see all 20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students, download the free guide here.