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  • 03 January 2019
  • 14 min read

How to study and prepare for nursing exams

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

Nursing exams can be daunting - but it's not the end of the world if you feel like you struggle with exams! Newly qualified mental health nurse Chloe offers advice on how to study and prepare for exams.

Play video: Chloe shares her tips for studying for nursing exams.

So today I have got another video for you sponsored by the lovely people over at Nurses.co.uk.

They’re a website designed by nurses, for nurses, and it’s aimed at helping people find the right job for them.

But they also have loads of great resources including blog posts - one of which I’ve actually written about writing your personal statement for your first nurse job application - and advice videos from other nurses and creators.

This is something that has been requested so much, and that is how to study for your nursing exams, how to prepare for them and revise for them.

If you’re new to my channel, I am a newly qualified mental health nurse. I finished my degree in August and started my job in September, so I’ve been a qualified nurse for 2 and a half months now which is so weird!

In my next video I’m going to make I’m going to talk about my experiences as a newly qualified nurse, so look out for that!

But for today I will be talking all about exams.

Stay on top of your workload

Now this is easier said than done, but it’s really easy to overlook things when you’re not quite as busy when you first start your degree.

You might only be at uni a few days a week and you can easily lull yourself into false sense of security and be think that the workload isn’t that bad and that it will be fine, however if your uni course is set up anything like mine then there’s a very good chance that your exams will fall when you’re on placement.

And let me tell you it’s a lot harder to get revision and uni work done when you’re working a full time job!

You’re essentially doing everything that a nurse would do.

So whilst you’re actually at uni as opposed to being on placement, I would advise doing as much work as you can possibly do and keep up on top of everything, because it’s going to make your life so much easier when exam season comes around and you’re working full time and you’re already exhausted!

If you have a really thorough understanding of what you’ve been taught then you’re not going to need to do as much revision as exam season approaches.

So it makes sense to do as much work as possible when you’re at uni and make your life that little bit easier when the exam comes.

Revising and preparing for exams can leave you feeling stressed, however this blog will help you tackle it stress free!

Revise your lecture notes whilst it’s still fresh in your head

When you’re at uni having lectures, I would recommend that a few days after that lecture you go over your notes.

Read everything that you’ve written down - does it make sense? Do you understand it? Is there anything that makes you remember what your lecturer was talking about which you completely forgot to write down?

Your memory is going to be a lot better a few days after the lecture than it’s going to be a few months after.

When you’re trying to revise and you’re reading through your notes and it doesn’t even make sense, because if you’re anything like me you jot things down really quickly and you forget things or you write things incorrectly.

So read your notes a few days after the lecture, you’re much more likely to understand what you meant than two months down the line.

Plus, if there’s something you don’t understand, lecturers are more more willing to help you a couple of days after a lecture than a couple of days before an exam.

If you email them a couple of days before the exam asking for help then they probably won’t want to help you, whereas if you email them a couple of days after then they’re going to be much more willing to help you.

Stay prepared for your lectures

If your lecturer has set you pre-reading or e-learning to do before the session, do it!

I know that seems really obvious but there was so many people I met that didn’t bother doing the readings or the e-learning and has sat in the lecture and didn’t have a clue what was going on.

If you do this stuff in advance you’re going to understand what the lecture is about.

If you have a rough idea of what you’re going to be learning before the lecture, you’re going to be so much more receptive, you’re going to take in so much more of what they say, you’re going to understand it better which is going to enable you to ask better questions so you understand and get as much as you possibly can out of that session.

If I thoroughly understand something I won’t need to revise it as much because it clicks in place and makes more sense in your brain and you remember it better!

So by getting the most out of your lecture, the less revision you have to do in the lead up to your exam.

Flashcards, flashcards, flashcards!

I cannot tell you how amazing flashcards are.

They were literally my best friend, they got me all through my A-Levels and my degree. Flashcards saved me quite frankly!

I’ve actually got some here that I want to show you. So these are all my flashcards for anatomy and physiology… this is how many I made, I don’t even know how many there are - I think it’s a whole pack if I remember rightly!

What flashcards force you to do is condense down something into a smaller amount of information to fit on a flashcard.

These are great for outlining how things have happened or definitions - that’s what my first card is here, it says ‘define cell and organelle’ and then on the back I’ve got the definitions.

I’ve got ‘body compartments’ then on the back I’ve put the different compartments…

So this might look like a lot but how I revise them is not all in one go. I wouldn’t sit and read through all of these flashcards in one go.

I don’t know if you can see but up in the corner here I’ve got a small number, and basically how my APG model was broken up was into different sections and different modules, there were eleven different modules so I’ve written the numbers for each module on the flashcards, so what I would do is revise one module at a time.

For example, if I was revising module 3 that day I would go through my module 3 flashcards and then go through my notes or flip through the textbook on that module.

I wouldn’t revise all the modules in one go because that way you don’t take anything in.

If you’re not a fan of handwriting flashcards you can make them online.

I used these ones for my biopsychosocial exam.

So yeah, if you’re not a fan of writing then these are really handy because you can type it into the website and then the website puts it into the format. Then you just print them out, fold them in half and stick them together, and you end up with one of these double sided flashcards.

If you are using flashcards i would recommend to make them the way I did, which is to make them as you go along.

For example, if I covered the heart in a lecture, that evening or the next day I would make a flashcard about it. If you wait until the month before your exam, it’s going to take you ages to make all your flashcards in one go.

How I like to revise with flashcards is i would carry them everywhere with me: when I was sat on the bus, when I was waiting for lectures to start, when I was on my break at work sometimes.

I would just take any opportunity I could to flip through my flashcards and make the most of every 5 or 10 minutes that I had spare to read them through and really cement them into my brain.

And as I said, flashcards are great because they force you to condense information down, and if you’re able to condense information down then it shows you really understand it.

Rather than having a 2 page spread on the heart, if you can condense that down into 1 or 2 flashcards that shows you’ve got a really good understanding of it.

Chloe shares the flashcards she used and explains why they're so effective.

So there’s some of the stuff that you can do in preparation months before the exam, here’s what you can do in the lead up to the exam.

Create a revision timetable

How i like to do this is I like to print out a blank calendar page - if you type in something like ‘November 2018 blank calendar page’ into Google images then loads will come up.

I would print one out and I would use that to write all over to create my revision plan. It’s also quite handy as you can stick it up on the wall or on your notice board so you can always see it and know what you’re supposed to be doing.

Now the key to this is do not give yourself too much to do because the reality is you’re not going to do it. It’s important to cross out a few days completely, whether that’s because you’ve got plans or because you don’t want to spend any time revising that day, you do need some days off.

Some people would like to divide their time up, for example ‘9am-10am revise this’ but I like to do it as morning, afternoon and evening.

Sometimes I’d cross out the morning on one day, I might cross out an evening on one day because I’ve got plans, but I’d try to do at least two revision sessions a day if I had the day off, or if I was working I’d try and do one revision session.

So I might divide it up as:

Morning - revise modules 1 and 2 for anatomy and physiology exam

Afternoon - no revision

Evening - modules 3 and 4 of A&P

It’s not as rigid as doing timescales as I find if you do that and your first thing over runs the schedule you’ve made then it throws you off a bit and that just stresses me out even more.

So by splitting it up as morning/afternoon/evening you’re not putting as much time pressure on yourself but you’re still getting everything done in a less stressful way.

Break your revision up

Don’t sit and read a textbook for an hour and a half, that’s not going to go in.

You’re much better off maybe reading a chapter in your textbook and then watching a YouTube video on the topic, and then finishing off by reading the flashcards on the same thing.

So you’ve just done three different ways of revising the same thing in different mediums and that way it’s a lot easier to take things in.

As you know, it’s important to take breaks and look after yourself.

Because if you’re really stressed and you’re working yourself into the ground, your brain isn’t going to work as effectively.

Give yourself a break

Take days off, take regular breaks from revision and look after yourself.

Make sure you’re exercising regularly and doing things you enjoy because if all you’re doing is revising the you’re just going to be miserable and you’re not going to be working to your full potential which means that most of your revision will be a waste of time as you won’t be taking any of it in.

Your better off taking some time off and relaxing as by relaxing you’re going to be more effective in your revision.

Rather than 8 hours, do 5 hours - you’ll probably get the same amount of work done.

One thing I really like to do when I’m revising is baking!

I’ll do a load of work, then when I take a break I’ll make a cake, then whilst it’s baking I’ll do some revision, and then when it’s done I’ll take the cake out and do some washing up and do a little bit more work, and then when I want to have another break I’ll go back and decorate my cake.

And the most important thing - eat the cake, that’s the priority!

This way I’m doing something fun and using it to break up the revision so I’m not just staring at a computer screen for hours and hours on end.

Play video: Lottie also offers exam and assignment tips! Watch her video here.

Take the night off the day before the exam

A lot of research has shown how ineffective cramming is because the more stressed out your brain is, the less effective it’s going to be.

Have you ever sat in an exam, and you know the answer to something, it’s there in your brain, you can feel it on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t think of it?

And you walk out of the exam and you’re just like ARGH I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE ANSWER IS!!

And then you get really annoyed with yourself! The reason that’s happened is because whilst you were in the exam your brain literally couldn’t think of it.

Then you walk out of the exam, take a deep breath and then you suddenly know the answer.

It just goes to show how much your brain needs relaxation.

I would advise the night before your exam have your favourite meal or the morning of your exam make yourself a nice breakfast, have a bath, wear comfy clothes, do your makeup if that makes you feel better - whatever you need to do to feel rested and put together, and you’re going to walk into that exam and smash it.

You are far more likely to do well than if you’re a shivering wreck because you’re so stressed and haven’t been looking after yourself.

Exams are not the be all and end all of nursing

Getting great marks in your exam isn’t going to make you a great nurse.

Yes, it’s important as we need the academic side of things, but if you’re not an exam person don’t stress about it!

It’s not going to make you any better or worse as a nurse and it’s not going to impact on the care your patients will receive.

I have met some incredible nurses in practice who have just scraped through their degree, and vice versa I have met people who have done amazing in their degrees but actually I don’t think I’d want them caring for me!

So whilst they’re important and you should definitely work hard because you’ll be really proud of yourself, don’t feel like it’s the be all and end all because it’s not.

So that’s everything that I’ve got to say!

Don’t forget to give this video a big thumbs up if you enjoyed it and hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss out on anymore content. I will see you again next time! 

For more exam and assignment tips for student nursing, then take a look at our other blog.

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About the author

  • Chloe Lawrence
    Registered Mental Health Nurse

I qualified as a Mental Health Nurse (RMN) in August of 2018 and started as a newly qualified nurse shortly after. On top of nursing I juggle creating content for both my YouTube channel and blog.

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