By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor
Not only is the nursing profession drastically different than it was 20 years ago, so are nursing students. Whereas in decades past those entering nursing programs came directly from high school unmarried and childless, today’s students are often older and married with families. Many are changing careers and continuing to work while attending school.
According to Judith A. Burckhardt, RN, Ph.D., Vice-President of Nursing Programs for Kaplan Test and Prep and Admissions, each of those situations can present challenges for studying effectively.
“Those coming from high school may find that what worked for them there doesn’t carry over into nursing studies and the older students have to regain study skills they may not have used in many years,” said Burckhardt, whose own mother graduated from nursing school at age 56. “It is necessary for them to rely more on time management and study skills and to change certain things to make themselves more effective and productive.”
Burckhardt cautions that there is no magic bullet for doing well on nursing school exams. Study and preparation are everything. But, there are myriad tips a student can use to get the most out of those two things to make them pay off more efficiently.
When Burckhardt speaks to student nurse groups she distributes a handout to them that lists those tips. Among them, rather than keeping your study plan in your head, put it onto paper (or into the computer) for visual reference. Start with a definite plan for how your time will be organized. Set aside short, frequent blocks of study time, set up a weekly study schedule and stick to it, then reward yourself when you do.
As you study, it is important to eliminate or control distractions and stay targeted with your study. If you keep studying throughout the semester, rather than cramming at the end, you will improve knowledge retention and reduce your stress.
Burckhardt also recommends looking up unfamiliar words as you come across them, learning definitions and taking notes as you read. Keeping notes organized will save time as exam day approaches.
In the days leading up to the exam be sure to get plenty of sleep and maintain good nutrition. On test day, begin by thinking positively and picturing yourself doing well. Read all questions and answer choices (if multiple choice) carefully, pace yourself and remember that a little anxiety is a good thing.
Burckhardt knows firsthand the challenges of managing work and a family while going to school. She was married and the mother of two young sons when she completed her master’s program. She earned a Ph.D. while working full-time in a job that required a considerable amount of travel.
“I am amazed to see students who have so much going on in their lives—families and full-time jobs—complete a nursing program,” Burckhardt commented. “My hat is off to them.”
Burckhardt pointed out that one of the things nursing programs are concerned about is attrition.
“There are students who get into school, students who deeply want to be nurses, but have difficulty with their studies or with balancing everything in their lives and they drop out,” Burckhardt explained. “With a little more help and support, they could have made it. Providing help with study skills can boost the number of graduates and help with the nursing shortage.”
Burckhardt always wanted to be a nurse, particularly a nurse educator.
“My father was a college professor, so education is in my genes,” she said.
She is dedicated to helping student nurses reach their goals by assisting nursing programs in the support of their students.
“Nursing programs are challenging for students and they should be,” Burckhardt stated. “We need to prepare the very best nurses because they deal with patients’ lives.”
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