Effective Study Habits for Nursing Students

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By Chris DelliSanti, RN | NoteKnight Founder

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Nursing school demands effective study habits that maximize learning and retention. As a critical care nurse with over five years of experience, I’ve honed these skills and developed strategies that proved invaluable during nursing school. Unlike the generic recommendations you’ll find online, such as identifying your learning style, I’ll break down my comprehensive approach to ensure you not only survive nursing school but also develop lifelong self-learning skills that will benefit you throughout your career.

Lectures and Notes

One of the best things you can do for yourself is record your lectures. This allows you to revisit complex topics and ensure you don’t miss key points. Alongside recording, take detailed notes during class. This will help you capture important details not found in the presentation materials and make reminders about things you would like to research further.

Creating Flashcards

The evening after a lecture is the best time to start refining your study materials while the information is still fresh in your mind. Use your notes and replay the recording while you create flashcards. Flashcards are a powerful tool for reinforcing knowledge and challenging your active recall. You can study them just about anywhere. My go-to method was online flashcards, which are ideal for busy students. You can manage more content, copy-paste material from presentations, and study more efficiently with online tools designed for memorization practice.

Assigned Reading

Passive reading of assigned material before a lecture is not an effective use of your time. Taking on dense scientific literature before engaging with the material can be overwhelming and unproductive. Instead, I found it more effective to first build a solid foundation on the current subject from lectures and by creating a starter set of flashcards. Once I had this foundation, I would tackle the assigned reading. Highlighting important details helped me focus on key concepts and revealed nuances not covered in class, ensuring a well-rounded understanding of each topic. Additionally, teachers often hint at content from the reading that you "may like to know" for exams, which you can hunt down during this time as well.


Despite paying significant tuition fees, you'll often be left to your own devices to achieve your academic goals. YouTube can be an invaluable source for gaining deeper insights. There is a wealth of content creators covering nearly every subject in nursing, often featuring professionals who share their experiences. It’s a great way to enhance your understanding and address any remaining uncertainties.

Reinforcing Knowledge

As my father always preached while I was growing up, repetition creates instinct. If you have the opportunity, try to incorporate studying into your daily activities. While working as an automotive technician during nursing school, I would listen to my lectures while I worked. This served two purposes: passive learning and hearing protection!

Another effective method to reinforce material is the Feynman technique, where you explain what you've learned to others. Through teaching others, you'll identify areas that need further review.

Studying Independently

Although study groups can be beneficial for some, I found them ineffective. They often got off track and became more social than productive. Furthermore, you can only work as fast as the slowest group member, and disagreements on important information can hold up productive discussions. I preferred studying independently and found that talking with classmates just before an exam was more useful. On test day, everyone is anxious and keenly listening to each other’s insights.


As exams approach, start focusing on memorizing your notes and flashcards. Don’t procrastinate on this step; it’s much easier to split the material over a few days than to attempt cramming it all at once. Committing information to long-term memory requires challenging your active recall, so you need to put in the reps.

Pre-Exam Preparation and Relaxation

The night before an exam, I prioritized winding down early. I avoided blue light from screens by lighting a candle and stretched while listening to my favorite podcast. This routine helped me relax and ensured I was well-rested. On the day of the test, I arrived early, reviewed my handwritten notes, and focused on staying calm and confident in my preparation.

Addressing Weak Areas

After each test, review your performance to identify areas of weakness. Nursing school test questions can sometimes feel too subjective. For me, therapeutic communication was a challenging topic. If you find yourself struggling with certain question types, such as dosage calculations, the best way to improve is to practice more questions. Most nursing schools provide access to practice test materials, and if not, you can find them online, either free or paid.

Clinical Skills

Nursing education is not all theoretical; you have to apply your knowledge. Nursing skill check-offs are nerve-racking tests where you are observed for any errors while performing a task. Rightfully so, as in your career, you’ll be conducting these tasks with real people who rely on you to be proficient. Although our instructors demonstrated the skills, the guides we received felt incomplete. I found that writing out step-by-step instructions for myself helped me achieve my instructors' standards. I would rehearse these steps in my living room, ensuring I was prepared for clinical evaluations. Although the steps of each skill were detailed and lengthy, they generally began and ended in the same way, which, once memorized, helps you focus on the core aspects of each skill.


Nursing school is demanding, but with effective study habits, you can manage the workload and succeed. Recording lectures, creating flashcards, and updating notes with new insights are crucial strategies. Reinforcing knowledge through repetition, teaching others, and relaxing before exams can enhance retention and performance. By identifying and addressing weak areas through targeted practice, you can improve your test scores and overall understanding. Implementing these habits will set the foundation for a successful nursing career.

NoteKnight Flashcards

Whether you're a nursing student or an avid self-learner, NoteKnight has the tools you need to succeed. Our platform streamlines your learning process with features like AI-powered study tools, multi-language text-to-speech, and interactive memorization games. Conquer your studies with NoteKnight today!