It’s fair to say I am a straight-A student; haven’t always been in high school or my earlier college years, but now that I’ve chosen an actual career and have a family to support, I am definitely working hard to earn good grades.

From the beginning of nursing school, I decided to read every assigned chapter and spend lots of time and energy gaining as much information as I could. Being in an accelerated program, with each class lasting from 1 to 2 months, time management was of the utmost importance. I would spend nights studying, since my days were filled with classes, my full-time job, and taking care of my three kids.  I would say I was doing everything right as far as being a nursing student was concerned.

Then hit Med Surg I & II – easily the hardest four months of my life. I was not prepared for how intense of a class this would be, both in lecture and clinical. For the first time in nursing school, I straight up failed a midterm exam. I was embarrassed, ashamed, flabbergasted – I couldn’t understand how my study habits that had carried me thus far, some seven months or so, had gotten me A after A in classes, tests and assignments, then suddenly I had the lowest score I’ve ever seen with my name on it.

At our school we have what are called “LSPs,” or Learning Support Programs, which require that we maintain at least a 76% percent on all tests and quizzes. When I first heard about this remediation program, I haughtily told myself, “I will never be on a LSP. In fact, I’ll make it a personal goal to get through nursing school without a single LSP.” Well, I must have either jinxed myself or was simply never prepared for what Med Surg would be like until that midterm in the first Med Surg class. It was a complete eye-opener, and it humbled me, that no matter what kind of student you are, there will be struggles and obstacles that will make or break you.

I certainly had my breaking points over the four months of Med Surg. I spent more hours studying away from home, sometimes more than 6 hours even after class going to Barnes & Noble or Starbucks. I found comfort in my friends and mentors who knew the struggle I was facing and could relate to my inner turmoil.

If I could share the top lessons that I learned from that first failed test, it would be this:

1. Study smarter.

If the way you’ve studied in the past doesn’t seem to be working, be willing to ask others their study habits and try to incorporate some new ideas into your routine. Don’t try to read everything, like I had before, but rather find ways to absorb the content in a way that makes sense to you. Watch more videos on topics you don’t quite get and hopefully they have visuals to help if you’re that kind of learner. Find “cheatsheets” online from nursing-related websites to help you memorize better. Don’t highlight everything even though everything seems important (trust me, someone called my textbook a “coloring book for adults”). Find questions from NCLEX-prep books or online to help test you on the content; read the rationales whether you got it wrong, know the answer or guessed and still got it right. It’s always best to know the “why” behind every answer, and I have found this to be most helpful in trying to approach NCLEX-style questions on tests.

2. Use this experience to grow.

Re-evaluate your study and test-taking abilities. Meet with your professors during their office hours. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions in class and clarify something during lecture. Don’t try to wear yourself out more from failing, but utilize your time and energy more efficiently. Most of all, get plenty of sleep; I thought that burning myself out with late-night readings and study sessions would help me but it only hurt me in the long run. I learned the value of sleep and how we remember information better when we get a long night’s sleep after studying. Give yourself a daily To Do list and stick with it, but make your goals manageable so as not to overwhelm yourself. Most of the classes in nursing school, like Med Surg, will cover a lot of material every week, so try focusing on one topic at a time instead of a bunch so you can better retain the information.

3. Everyone struggles in nursing school.

Because I failed one test, I felt like a failure. But, that isn’t true. Because nursing school has a wide range of topics that it focuses on, from theory and leadership to pharmacology and specialty areas, we are all bound to get to a subject that challenges us. While I found pharmacology and obstetrics to be fairly easy, others did not; same with Med Surg being my weak spot whereas others found it to be a breeze. Just because you fail one test doesn’t make you a failure or less than your peers; take this opportunity to not be discouraged but rather to push yourself more and test your abilities of what you can do. Two of my favorite teachers I’ve had in nursing school have shared their stories of struggling when they were in school and how they have retaken classes only to come out stronger in the end because of it.

Janelle Werthmann

Janelle Werthmann

Janelle Werthmann is currently a student nurse at National University in San Diego and plans on entering the nursing profession by 2018. As a mother, her interests include NICU, PICU, pediatrics, ICU and ER. Janelle has been writing professionally for local publications, both online and in print, since 2009. She plans on writing about her nursing education and career to help others be informed of the process to becoming a professional nurse.
Janelle Werthmann

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