Welcome to part two of the series on how to (seriously) get an A on your nursing exams.

I’m so glad you’re as pumped as I am to learn all about the critical thinking process.

If you missed part one of this series, be sure to check that out first. It lays a great foundation for all the information here in this post.

Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you to come back…

GREAT! Now we’re on the same page. So, like I laid out in the previous post, I definitely have experience doing all of the wrong things when it comes to studying for nursing exams.

I stayed up late doing the readings, made flashcards, completed the learning outcomes given to us, and did practice questions. By the time the first test rolled around, I felt extremely prepared, and I was.

But the nursing test only had a small fraction of the information I had studied. And that small fraction that we were tested on, I did not truly understand because I was too busy memorizing all of the other unnecessary information.

But yet, again and again, I continued to study the same way because it was how I had always studied for exams.

I was wrong. But I learned how to make it right. And now I’m here to show you how, too!

So here’s how to critically think about all of the information you learned using the part one strategies.

5. Think about it.

After A&P, our brains seem to be wired to memorize information in a logical order. But nursing is all about putting those pieces together.

Start by asking yourself a few questions:
How does this disease or intervention impact a patient without comorbidities?
– How does this disease or intervention impact a patient with comorbidities?
– In each of these cases, what signs and symptoms would I expect to see?
– In each of these cases, what patient education needs to occur?

Looking at a patient holistically is a key starting place. When you see a patient, they never just have one problem. They always have multiple things going on, even though they might not all be “medical.”

By taking the time to think about all of the common disease processes, and how their signs and symptoms, interventions and education relate to each other, you will be a stellar nursing student!

6. Draw a concept map.

Use the information from step 5 and draw it out:

Link diseases, signs and symptoms, and interventions together
– Compare and contrast them to other diseases
– Bundle disease processes that are normally found together (ex. diabetes and hypertension)

Really spend some time connecting the dots. We have all had those brain block moments when faced with an NCLEX question. So connect these concepts before the nursing exam so that you can stress less during the exam.

EDIT: After I wrote this blog, the comments totally exploded with students wanting an example of a concept map. So I figured I’d just add it here. Enjoy! 🙂

7. Go out with friends.

By going out, I mean to a library. To study.

Because, well, this is nursing school.

Grab those notes from step 4 and your concept map and share them with your friends.

Ask each other questions. But don’t just ask them where insulin comes from. Ask them what role insulin plays in diabetic hypoglycemia and what interventions need to be done.

Really think about the material and talk it through. Try to explain it to them. You will learn a whole lot by teaching the material as well as hearing it from others.

8. Answer NCLEX questions.

This is a big one. And honestly, it’s my least favorite.

NCLEX questions are hard, but they get easier with time and practice (and did I mention patience?)

Doing a bunch of NCLEX questions will help put your brain in nursing mode. Even if you get them all wrong, you will learn how to critically think through each question, which answers are hardly ever correct and which ones are most likely correct.

Don’t worry, it gets easier and less daunting as you go along.

After I started using these strategies in studying for the nursing tests, not only did my grades improve but I was wayyy less stressed. I found that I didn’t need to study as much but still ended up doing really well on exams. I know you can have this kind of success on your nursing exams, too!

What critical think strategy did you find the most helpful? Is there another one you recommend?