Life is all about balance and life as a student nurse is definitely more challenging to balance out, what with exams, practicals, clinicals, care plans, work, family, and health. While it is important to know when to unplug and give your mind a break from all of the anatomy, lab values, and the like, there are also times I found it helpful to do the opposite: completely immerse myself in the course material in preparation for a test.
It is easiest to learn a new language by packing up and moving to a place where that language is spoken exclusively. If you want to learn Portuguese, it may be best to stuff your life in a suitcase and move to Brazil. Once there, you will read Portuguese, hear Portuguese, shop in Portuguese, and watch TV in Portuguese. By surrounding yourself with the language, it would seem you’d have to go out of your way to not learn it. I apply the same philosophy to studying nursing, so I thought I’d share some of the immersive study techniques I used while preparing for my exams.
So how do I define immersive studying? Basically, it means surrounding yourself with the material using a variety of formats and media so your mind is studying around the clock. Instead of watching Grey’s Anatomy, I watch Youtube videos re-teaching the material I must study. Instead of Instagram, I’m quizzing myself on my school’s e-learning app (yes, even on the toilet). Rather than the radio or Pandora for music, I replay recorded lectures or nursing podcasts. Even the herd of sheep I typically count while falling asleep is replaced by a recording of my professor droning on about blood gases or diabetes insipidus. Why would anyone but a psychopath want to live like this with nursing knowledge following them around like the dustcloud around Pigpen from Peanuts? Because it works.
Pre-reading chapters. Skimming chapters quickly before a lecture or lesson allows you to pick out terms you are unfamiliar with and look them up. This way, once you’re sitting in class taking notes, new vocabulary won’t trip you up and take focus away from the lesson.
Record lectures. As long as your instructors are okay with this, use your phone or another device to record the lecture. I listen to the recordings every single time I drive, cook, or fall asleep. Trust me, the cadence of an instructor reading off of her own Powerpoint slides for 90 minutes can work better than a bottle of Zzzquil to help you fall asleep. Still, the knowledge is trickling in your ears and being absorbed by your brain, even if you aren’t conscious of it.
Watch Youtube. Congratulations, you just replaced your cable, social media, AND all of your streaming services by switching to Youtube videos of nursing topics for all of your entertainment needs! There are some excellent accounts out there (such as Registered Nurse RN) that either feature live nurse instructors or whiteboard lessons on the same topics you will be tested on. Watch one or two full lectures as a means of reviewing what you learned in class with the added benefit of having multiple teachers with slightly different ways of presenting the information.
I recommend building a playlist with as much material as you can find at the beginning of your Youtube sesh and letting it play through. This keeps me from wandering down the endless rabbit hole and eventually finding myself watching videos unrelated to the material I am studying.
Make study guides. This was the first study technique I devised when I began nursing school and it was my favorite. Immediately after I would get home following a lecture, I would organize my notes and write out a single-page study guide for all of the content we had gone over that day. I went all out with different colored pens and markers, color coding as I went, drawing little diagrams and pictures, and making the study guide as clean and tidy as I could. When it came time to study for the exam, I had a short stack of 5-8 study guides I could review quickly rather than trying to read through 40 pages of notes.
Teach your dog. Teaching a topic to others helps to reinforce that knowledge in your own mind, therefore explaining the material you are studying to your spouse, dog, goldfish, or floor lamp is a perfect way to prepare for an exam. Note, this is different than study groups where everyone is familiar with the material. Be sure if you are teaching your significant other or a family member that you acknowledge they are doing you a favor by actively listening to your rant about liver enzymes. It might be nice to treat them to lunch.
Study groups. Everyone has different opinions on study groups so I will share mine with the disclaimer that what works well for me may not work well for you. I believe the perfect size for a study group is 3-4. Less than 3 and you are a duo and it can be easy to get off-topic. Any more and it is too easy for the larger group to split into two separate conversations.
It can be helpful to appoint someone in the group as the leader. If you use the same study group throughout the semester, it can be a good idea to rotate the leadership role (unless one member stands out as a natural, then do yourself a favor and keep her in that role). The leader is responsible to organize the schedule of the study session and the order of topics covered, as well as ensuring the group stays on topic.
It is important to self-diagnose the effectiveness of the study group. If you feel uncomfortable with the way the group studies or if you believe you could be more productive with a different group or on your own, nix the study group next time. Your best buddies in the class may not be the best study group mates. Ultimately, you gotta do you, boo boo, so find the group that will get you that grade.