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Nursing school is it’s own beast, and while with hard work and determination anyone can do it, it doesn’t hurt to be as prepared as possible. I’ll be listing out and explaining my nursing school must haves in three parts: lecture & studying, lab & clinical, and miscellaneous. These must haves range from physical products, to supplies, to habits and routines all of which are not necessary but are essential in making your nursing school career as enjoyable and successful as possible.

1. A reliable note taking system

I cannot stress enough how important it is to decide how you are going to take notes before you start school. If you were in a pre-nursing program prior to starting school, hopefully you have a good sense of how you take notes and study, however, if you still feel lost or could never really get a grip on it, it’s never too late to develop an efficient note-taking method.

If you are entering a direct-admit program, accelerated program, going back to school after many years, or any other situation that means you haven’t had much nursing school experience prior to starting, it is essential that you take the time to understand how you best study and learn, in order to help you develop the best note-taking method for you.

2. Voice recorder

Recording lectures and re-listening is something that was entirely new to me when i started school, and while not necessary in every single class, there are multiple classes where i have found it to be beneficial, such as in patho and pharm. I really enjoyed the option of being able to pause and rewind to hear something again, or skip ahead if i knew i understood a section or the professor got off track and was talking about something not necessarily important to what i was studying.

There are a few different options for recorders, i simply used the voice memo app on my Iphone, i would record, listen, and then erase once the exam was over. I was at first worried about the amount of space it would take up, but the storage it uses is really quite minimal. Another option would be a simple voice recorder that can be purchased for relatively inexpensive at office supply stores, or on Amazon.
Here are a few recommended recorders:

3. A planner, bullet journal, to-do list strategy, calendar, etc.

Nursing school is full of never-ending to-do list’s, overlapping due dates, exam dates that seem to come up way to fast, SNA meetings, study groups, and skills lab appointments, when you combine this with the rest of your life, work, other gen-ed classes, etc., it’s way to much for anybody to keep straight.

Even if you think you have the best memory around and all of these dates would be fine in your head, you still need to write them down. Writing done all of the deadlines, exam dates, and appointment times, as well as color-coding them, and keeping them somewhere that you will see them daily, ensures that you won’t miss anything and gives you a piece of mind that you know you’re not forgetting something important or mixing up dates.

Nursing school is basically one giant never-ending to-do list. Whether it’s notes to take, clinical paperwork to complete, tests to study for, study guides to make, skills to review, practice questions to do, whatever it is having a running or daily to-do list just for school (and keeping the life one separate) allows you to ensure that you know exactly what you need to do.

Choosing the planning system that works best for you is important. There are a million out there and all have their pro’s and cons.
Here are a few of the most popular options:

– an all-in-one planner; something that has both monthly and weekly or daily layouts where you can put all of you dates and times as well as to do lists in one place.

– a bullet journal; great if you have a creative side that you can’t seem to find time for in nursing school, this allows complete customization and can be as simple or a as fancy as you want.

– a large wall/desk calendar + daily to-do list’s; keeping a large wall calendar or simply monthly planner with all of the big dates that you look at daily, and then making daily or weekly to-do lists, preferably in a dedicated notebook or loose paper allows for a level of customization as well as saves space if you don’t want to lug around a planner or a journal.

Of course there are a million and 12 ways to organize your dates and to-do’s, but the most important part is choosing the option that works best for you and you’re life. At the end of the day, keeping the peace of mind that you aren’t forgetting anything and ensuring that you’re not missing important due dates is what’s most important.

4. Highlighters, pens, pencils + a color-coding system

High-quality highlighters and writing utensils are a necessity. Highlighters are one of my favorite ways to study large portions of information, such as in a textbook or lecture notes. It is likely that you’ll use highlighters a lot, therefore it’s important that you have a variety of colors from a high quality brand that will last year all semester, and possibly throughout school. Spending just a tad more for colors and variety that you love will make study and nursing that much more enjoyable.

PENS. Nursing students get crazy when it comes to their pens. Try a few types and choose your favorite. Then buy way more than you think you’d ever need, then buy some more and you might have enough to get you through the semester. Black pens are essential. You can’t write in charts or sign documents in any color other than black, so don’t even bother with the blue. Keep them everywhere, and i mean EVERYWHERE. Your car, pockets, backpack, notebooks, clinical bag, shoes, wallets, lunch container. Everywhere. Don’t ever be that person showing up to lecture/ lab/ clinical, without a pen.

Colored pens are great too. It’s important that you develop a color coding system. This can be as simple or as complex as you like. It can be a general system, you can have a different system for each class, and there are a million ways you can color-code you things. Some people learn better when the take notes in a bunch of different colors because it helps them visualize. Some people, like me, get overwhelmed with too many colors and have to study from aesthetically pleasing notes (type A anyone?).

I like to use a simple, general color-coding system. I type all my notes in black, lab values are green, medications are purple. I usually pick a matching highlighter and pen once my notes are finished to highlight and add anything extra. This means i have enough color to differentiate, but not too much color that i’m lost. If i don’t pick a matching highlighter and pen for that notes set, extra info is written in blue pen.
Here are a few different color coding options:

– By class; using a specific color of pen & highlighter to take notes for each class.

– By type of information; each type of information gets a certain color. For example, vocabulary is in blue, concepts are in orange, sub-concepts are in pink, lab values are green, medications are purple, etc.

– Simple & general; all notes are written/ typed in black, extra information added is a certain color, important things are highlighted in a certain color. (Similar to what i do, black notes, blue pen for extra information, yellow highlight for important.

Here are some of my favorite highlighters and writing tools:

Pilot G2 pens with .5 mm fine tip

Stabilo boss pastel highlighters

Zebra Mildliner double sided highlighters

Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens

5. post-it’s, page flags, sticky arrows, etc.

Let’s face it, we all love a good post-it note. These come in hand for so many different things. Professor gives you an assignment in class? Whip out a post-it. Due date change? New deadline? Scheduled an appointment? Post-it note. Mini to-do list? Post-it note. Shopping list? Study group lunch orders? Question during lecture? Bookmark? Quick math calculation? Post-it note. Need i say more?

Page flags and sticky arrows are GREAT for marking charts, tables, concepts, lab values, and pretty much anything you can think of. Mark charts and tables you feel are important to the concept at hand. Mark lab values that you need to memorize. Mark medications. Mark spots of confusion, or spots of clarity that you may want to come back to if you get confused. Use them in your notes, text-book, planner, everywhere.

Pro-tip: Color code your post-it’s and your tabs.

6. Note-cards, flash card rings, Quizlet

Figure out early one if you study better from physical flash cards or digital ones like Quizlet. Both have pro’s and con’s, and those may differ from class to class as well. Physical flash cards have the added benefit of customization, as well as the fact that it forces you to actively write the information. However, it can be extremely time consuming for large units (unless you do them in small chunks after each lecture or study session), and can be hard to carry around (unless you hole punch them and put the on flashcard rings).

Quizlet or other similar programs are awesome because you can load as much information as you want, and do so quickly, and then have access to them anywhere as well as save them for final exams (yikes, i know). Quizlet also allows you to play games and study in different ways.

Either way, quizzing yourself on the material whether it be explaining a concept, listing lab values, defining vocab, or list medication side effects, is proven to be one of the most effective ways to learn new material and be able to recall it come test time.

7. Adaptive quizzing & practice questions

Going along with quizzing yourself, practice questions are a huge key to successful test taking. Especially if you’ve never been exposed to NCLEX style questions before, it’s essential that you learn how to dissect the questions and choose not only the correct answer, but the most correct answer. Because often times, all or multiple of the answer choices are correct, but only one is the most correct.

If you’re using the Elsevier books, the majority of them offer adaptive quizzing that is book-specific that you can choose your chapter, number of questions, and quiz style and take practice tests and quizzes. Some schools require purchasing ATI books, if you’re required to buy them, you might as well use them, while i don’t have personal experience with ATI, i’ve heard really good things about their efficacy.
On top of you Elsevier adaptive quizzing or ATI books, i strongly suggest investing in an NCLEX exam review book and using it throughout your time in nursing school. It provides more practice questions and you’re able to work through the book by class and subject, at the end of you’re nursing career you’ll have completed an entire NCLEX exam review book, and be that much more prepared for your NCLEX. The best part? They typically come out with a new version every year, so after graduation you can buy a new version to study for the NCLEX!
Here’s the one i use:

Saunders Comprehensive Review for the NCLEX-RN® Examination (Saunders Comprehensive Review for Nclex-Rn)

Thanks for reading!

Check out the rest of my blog for more nursing and nursing school content!


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