In this article, we are continuing to reveal the secrets of successful nursing students, which you can also get in a convenient downloadable workbook by clicking the image below. For the rest of the series that includes all twenty secrets, simply search for “secrets” in the search bar above and you’ll be good to go!

20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students Download

Secret #13: Successful nursing students stay engaged, even with online classes

Staying engaged with online classes can be tough as it feels more passive than actively attending lecture – and it gets even tougher if the online class is recorded with no live interaction with your classmates and instructor. Here are a few tips for maximizing your learning in this environment:

  • Take your online classes as seriously as you do your in-person lectures. This means no multitasking and no distractions. Close other browser tabs, turn off the television or streaming service, put your phone away and make sure others in your household know to disturb you ONLY if absolutely necessary. One of the tricky distractions with online classes is the device you’re using to attend the lecture…your computer. Make an agreement with yourself that you’ll only watch the lecture during this dedicated time.
  • Create a designated study area. As wonderful as it sounds to watch your lectures in bed, that’s not the most effective way to stay engaged. Designate a specific study area that signals your brain that when you are in this space, you are working, alert and engaged. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. A corner of the dining room table or a desk in your bedroom are great options.
  • Take notes as you go. The physical act of writing notes, jotting down key words or phrases, and summarizing information is a key strategy for staying engaged in class. And, as an added bonus, it also helps you retain the information (that’s a win-win, folks!). It’s important to note that note-taking isn’t just for lecture-style classes. You can also take notes while going through online modules and reading your textbook. Not sure how to take notes for nursing school? If you’re in Crucial Concepts Bootamp, I’ve got you covered in Module 6.

Learn more test taking strategies and nursing school tips in Crucial Concepts Bootcamp. Explore it here!

  • Keep a list of questions. As you learn new concepts, you’ll likely have a lot of questions. And guess what? Having questions doesn’t always mean you don’t understand the material. Many times it means you are making connections to OTHER concepts and thinking deeply about the information you are learning. As you learn new material, think of questions you have about these concepts. Jot them down in your notes and see if you can answer them yourself as your understanding of the concept grows. And, if they’re really stumping you, these are the questions to ask in class or in office hours with your instructor. Resist the urge to “look up this one thing” during your lecture or online module. Stay present with the material and research these questions later when it’s time to review your notes.
  • Get up and move. Online classes may mean you’re sitting at your desk a lot more than usual. Make sure you take some time between classes (or periodically with longer lessons) to stand up, move around, stretch, do jumping jacks…whatever you need to do to get your blood moving and ease that stiffness from your body. And, for bonus points, schedule actual physical exercise most days of the week.
  • Stop multitasking. While it may seem like “checking this one text” or quickly looking on Amazon for your favorite pens during an online class are no big deal, this constant switching of tasks can pull you out of the experience of learning and cause more fatigue. If you find yourself thinking, “I’ll just do this one thing before I forget” simply jot it down so you can come back to it later.
  • Take full advantage of office hours or synchronous classes. It is so much more helpful to ask your questions in real time than to send an email and wait not-so-patiently for a response. If your instructor is providing live on-line class or office hours, connect with them on a regular basis by asking questions or seeking clarification. 

Secret #14 : Successful nursing students pay attention to the details.

Catching a mistake at the bedside or noticing subtle changes in patient condition can literally be what makes the difference between life and death. For this reason, nursing students must have an excruciating attention to detail. Many times your exam questions will rely on ONE single word that changes everything, or an assignment will have a KEY piece of information that drastically changes your approach. I can’t tell you how many times a student has emailed me with a question on a dosage calculations problem where the issue was simply they used kg when the patient’s weight was listed in pounds….details matter!

Tips for improving or enhancing your attention to detail include: 

  • Slow down. Being in a rush to read instructions or perform a task usually results in mistakes, wasted time, and even patient harm.
  • Read each exam question fully, being careful that your brain isn’t “filling in” words it expects to be there. 
  • Highlight key words as you read, paying careful attention to units of measurement and qualifying words such as “none” or “all.” 
  • Stay present in the moment, even when doing repetitive tasks. When your mind wanders, this is a perfect time for details to get missed.
  • When you notice you’re starting to lose focus, take a break.

Secret #15: Successful nursing students create their own study guides.

While some instructors will provide study guides for exams, most do not. The truth is, instructors expect you to be resourceful and take responsibility for how you prepare for exams. This doesn’t mean, however, that you’re not going to have a method for studying and that you won’t be using study guides at all. What it does mean is that you’ll likely be creating your own study guides instead of relying on your instructors to provide them. 

Some ideas for making your own study guides include:

  • Use the lesson and course objectives as a guideline.
  • Write question prompts for each core concept, and then answer them. For example, a question prompt might be, “What are the physical manifestations of right-sided heart failure?” or “Why do we use diuretics to treat hypertension?”
  • Utilize NCLEX review books to hone in on key concepts and practice answering questions. Make note of any new knowledge you learn along the way!
  • Make a vocabulary list of new terms.
  • Paraphrase key concepts by writing them in your own words.
  • Consider relationships between concepts such as the differences between similar conditions (hypo- and hyperthyroidism for example), or how one condition can lead to another (such as how pulmonary hypertension leads to right-sided heart failure.)
  • Distill the information for a particular concept or disease condition into a single sheet. This forces you to zero in on the things you STILL need to review and connect key concepts together.
  • Create concept maps, tables, and drawings to visually show how concepts connect together.

Secret #16: Successful nursing students know what to review before nursing school starts (and between semesters)

While I am a huge fan of relaxing and getting uber-organized before nursing school starts, there are some key topics from Anatomy & Physiology that can help you immensely in nursing school. 

Successful students take the time to review the following topics: 

  • Fluid compartments, fluid shifts, pressure gradients, and tonicity
  • Renal system physiology, especially when it comes to the balancing of fluids and electrolytes
  • The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system
  • Electrolytes and their key roles in the body
  • Dimensional analysis (you’ll use this for dosage calculations)
  • The autonomic nervous system and neurotransmitters
  • Cardiovascular physiology and the pathway of blood flow through the heart
  • Respiratory physiology and gas exchange
  • Mechanisms for maintaining acid-base balance

You can review these topics in my nursing school prep course Crucial Concepts Bootcamp, or simply dust off your notes from A&P.

I hope these secrets of success help you feel more confident for nursing school. You can download the full guide here.

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


The information, including but not limited to, audio, video, text, and graphics contained on this website are for educational purposes only. No content on this website is intended to guide nursing practice and does not supersede any individual healthcare provider’s scope of practice or any nursing school curriculum. Additionally, no content on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.