28 Expert Tips to Successfully Pass Nursing School – (By a Nurse)

Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Nursing is a gratifying career. You get to deliver care to patients across their lifespan—interacting with the patient and their family, leaving a lasting impact on their life. A nurse's settings are endless, leading to multiple opportunities. Plus, you can easily advance your career, leading to even more opportunities for the nurse. Truthfully, the options are endless. But, one thing that keeps many people from pursuing a career in nursing is nursing school—because they have heard it is hard. Are you interested in becoming a nurse but wondering how to pass nursing school? Below, you will find 28 expert tips to successfully pass nursing school.

What Does Passing Nursing School Exactly Mean?

Passing nursing school means you graduate from your nursing program. This can be an associates degree nursing program (ADN), bachelor of science in nursing degree program (BSN), or even a graduate-level program. The requirements for graduation vary based on the program you attend, but ultimately, to pass nursing school, you must graduate. However, it is important to note that just because you pass nursing school does not mean you can practice as a nurse. To practice as a nurse, you must also pass the NCLEX-RN exam, which is taken upon graduation from your accredited nursing program.

Is Nursing School Hard to Pass?

One of the many questions prospective nursing students ask is, is nursing school hard to pass? Yes, nursing school is challenging but not impossible as there are approximately 4 million nurses in the United States. As someone who has successfully passed nursing school, I firmly believe nursing school is hard because it needs to be. The role of the nurse is extensive, and their responsibility is great. You prepare to be a nurse through nursing school. It is where you learn about anatomy and physiology, how to deliver care to people across their lifespan, and practice your nursing skills in a clinical setting. Nursing school is also preparing you for the national licensure exam, NCLEX-RN, that you must pass before practicing as a nurse.

6 Common Reasons Why Students Fail to Pass Nursing School

Unfortunately, not all students who start nursing school pass nursing school. Successfully getting through nursing school is tough, and below, I have listed six common reasons students fail to pass nursing school.

1. Nursing is not their passion:

People choose the nursing profession for many different reasons. Some love the job's flexibility, while others know people who are nurses and want to follow in their footsteps. There is no bad or wrong reason to go into nursing. Still, some people choose the career based on their friends, family, or even media, instead of fully understanding the profession and role responsibilities. Therefore, some people start nursing school with a desire to become a nurse but soon realize it is not a good fit for them, leading to them dropping out of the program.

2. Poor time management:

Time management is crucial to being successful in nursing school. Nursing school has many components, including clinical and in-class learning, tests, and projects. This is also often balanced between home responsibilities, work, and social activities. If you do not manage your time appropriately, this can lead to the failure of a nursing class or even program.

3. Lack of studying or not committing enough time to study:

Nursing school is hard, and studying is a must! Many people underestimate the amount of studying that needs to be completed to be successful in nursing school—the amount of required study has been compared to working a part-time job or more. Therefore, having realistic expectations about the amount of time that needs to be dedicated to studying is essential. For some people, due to a full-time job, family responsibilities, or other commitments, the need to put in enough time towards studying is not possible.

4. Stress and Lack of Support:

Nursing school can be stressful, and the stress can lead to the failure of a nursing course or program. Having strong support systems can help, and examples of support systems include study groups, friends, family, and even your instructors.

5. Not asking for help early on:

If you do not understand a concept or start to fall behind, you need to ask for help. If you wait to ask for help, especially when you don't understand a concept, this could lead to you falling farther behind, doing poorly on exams or quizzes, or getting frustrated and wanting just to quit. Instructors have office hours available to you to ask them questions and can also direct the student to other resources that may help you pass their nursing course.

6. Fall Behind in coursework:

Falling behind can mean falling behind on assignments or not fully understanding the content. Regardless, once you fall behind in many nursing courses, it is difficult to catch up, leading to failure of the course or nursing school. To prevent this, time management is key! You must also communicate with your instructor early on and seek help at the first sign of falling behind.

How to Pass Nursing School?

As stated above, nursing school is difficult as it prepares you to become a nurse and deliver direct patient care. But, this may be leading you to wonder how to pass nursing school? Passing nursing school is very achievable, though, and below I have provided 28 tips, in no specific order, to make it easier for you to pass nursing school successfully.

1. Time Management

To be successful in nursing school, you must manage your time appropriately. For many, this isn't easy, but time management is key to success. Nursing school is challenging and requires balancing between school, work, and other outside responsibilities. School alone is challenging because you have both lecture and clinical hours, but factor in study time, work, and time to relax; you can see how difficult it can be to get it all done. One effective way that many nursing students, including myself, learned how to manage time in school better is to purchase a planner and write everything out for the week—block out time every day to study, relax, work, exercise, etc. That way, you have a plan in place for each week, allowing you to manage your time and stress better.

2. Get Organized

Another tip to pass nursing school is to get organized—and I feel that getting organized goes along with time management. Getting organized refers to organizing your day/week/month and organizing your classes, including your notes, study guides, etc. This will make it easily accessible when you need to get to class or study and will help your study sessions go smoother, use your time more wisely and achieve more in possibly less time. It will also give you a sense of control, which many feel is lost in nursing school.

3. Use Mnemonics

Mnemonics is a very helpful tool that many nurses use to succeed in nursing school. Mnemonics can help a nurse remember information, and it can be a pattern of letters or phrases. An example of a mnemonic frequently used is ADPIE (assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation), used to remember the nursing care plan. Another example of a mnemonic is MOAN (morphine, oxygen, aspirin, and nitrates) to remember treatment for someone experiencing a heart attack.

There are numerous mnemonics available, and they are often considered very helpful to pass nursing school but are often used in a person's daily practice to help recall information. In my own experience, I use specific mnemonics quite frequently to ensure the delivery of appropriate care.

4. Study Everyday

Another tip to be successful in nursing school and pass nursing school exams, is to study a little bit every day. This can include readings, studying for an upcoming exam, practice questions, assignments, etc. Doing a little bit every day makes you more likely to stay on track in your courses and not fall behind. You are also less likely to cram for exams, feel overwhelmed with the homework and studying required, and ultimately lead to a better school-life balance.

5. Complete Practice Questions

Another tip to pass nursing school is to complete practice questions. Practice questions are nursing student's best friend! They allow the student to apply the knowledge they are learning and identify areas of weakness or uncertainty. Once you identify areas of weakness, you should return to your readings, notes, or other resources to better grasp the concept and solidify the information. Just because you do well on the questions does not mean you still need to review that information for upcoming tests or application opportunities. It just means you don't have to place as much emphasis compared to your areas of weakness. These questions may come from your instructor or textbook, but you can often find questions in other online resources. You will often hear many nurses tell you one of the best ways to pass boards is to do practice questions, and it is often true for nursing school too.

6. Participate in a Study Group

Study groups are an excellent way to study in nursing school. Study groups allow a group of people to get together to review content, quiz each other, and teach their peers who may not understand a specific concept as well. Study groups can also teach you tips and tricks to recall information, stay organized, and manage your time better. Study groups help hold you accountable and provide words of encouragement and support when you feel frustrated with school. I honestly cannot say enough good things about study groups and believe they can significantly impact a person in nursing school.

7. Focus on course objectives when studying

Another tip to success in nursing school is to focus on the course objectives when studying. Often, nursing students feel overwhelmed with the reading and studying assigned by the instructor. While completing all of the reading is important and necessary, you should emphasize understanding the content listed in the course objectives. When I was in nursing school, I typically read the assigned readings, skimmed the content I felt comfortable with, and then wrote out very detailed and thorough responses to the course objectives. This method has worked well for me and studying for my nursing exams—but may not be a perfect fit for everyone.

8. Know your learning style

Knowing your learning style is key to successfully passing nursing school. It will help reduce your stress and anxiety when studying and preparing for class. It will also lead to better time management, saving you time from unnecessary study techniques that will not benefit you. As a nursing instructor, I know I provide multiple tools for the student to try and meet all learning styles to better set my students up for success.

9. Do not be afraid to use outside learning resources

Let me repeat this, do not be afraid to use outside learning resources. Nursing instructors do their best to provide you with the resources necessary to succeed in their class, but other resources may be needed based on your learning style or areas of weakness. I know I have referred students to various websites and videos to clarify the information because the methods I was using were not “clicking” with the student. Many nursing instructors feel the same way, so do not hesitate to reach out to your instructor early on and ask for any other resources they may recommend to solidify the knowledge further.

10. Give yourself a break

Give yourself a break. This is so important to remember! In nursing school, there is a good chance you may not do as well on an assignment, test, or quiz as you would like—and that is okay! The important thing to do is not beat yourself up over it. Depending on your strengths and areas of interest, you may not fully grasp all content in every course—and that is okay as long as you ultimately pass the class. If you feel yourself falling behind in a class and realize that your poor test, quiz, or assignment was not a one-time thing, make sure you reach out to your instructor to see if there are resources available to help you succeed in the class.

11. Find activities to do outside of school

It is essential to find activities outside of school—and work if you are working throughout your RN program. These activities should be relaxing and allow you to decompress. During these activities, you should try your best not to think about nursing school but instead focus your attention on your activity. This can include hanging out with friends or families, watching your favorite TV show or movie, or exercising. While the length of time for this activity is variable--some days it may be an entire evening, while other days it may only be 30 minutes, there are benefits. This is your time to decompress, de-stress and remind yourself there is life outside of school.

12. Breathe

Do not forget to breathe. While this may seem like a simple tip, many nursing students fail to do this—I have both personal experience as a nursing student and have seen it in my nursing students as well. Forgetting to stop and take a breath can lead to burnout, high-stress levels, and even dropping out. Taking deep breaths can lower your stress level and help re-focus your energy productively and positively.

13. Good Sleep Habits

Many nursing students feel that sleep is a thing of the past. This is due to many students pulling all-nighters or getting less than 5 hours of sleep due to catching up on homework or studying for exams. I understand that in some circumstances, this is unavoidable; it is important the majority of nights, you aim for 7 hours of sleep or more. This is where time management and organization come into play. Sleep has significant health benefits, including improved concentration and memory, decreased stress, and improved overall mood. These are all important to overall health and success in nursing school.

14. Eat a well-balanced diet

Eating a well-balanced diet is another essential component to successfully pass nursing school. This means eating a diet that includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and whole grains. While it is important to eat these foods routinely, it is perfectly okay to indulge every once in a while. Eating well leads to better control of your blood sugars—ultimately leading to increased energy and focus, which are important in nursing school. The energy and focus from eating well may also lead to a decrease in daily caffeine intake, which can also have a positive impact. This will also lead to decreased stress as you will be more alert leading to greater success in nursing school.

15. Exercise daily

We all know that exercise has its benefits, but many still do not participate in daily physical activity. Many nursing students do not exercise routinely because they are overwhelmed by school and feel too busy. The thought of committing a minimum of 30 minutes a day to exercise may seem impossible for some students. But, in reality, the 30 minutes does not have to be at once but can be completed throughout the day. In other words, take 3 10 minutes study breaks throughout the day and get some cardio or strength training done. This will lead to many benefits, including decreased stress, improved mood, and better focus. All of which is important to successfully pass nursing school.

16. Ask Questions

Do not be afraid to ask questions! Questions demonstrate that you are seeking clarification on a topic, developing critical thinking skills, and genuinely wanting to grasp the content. I wish someone would have told me this while in nursing school. I can say from personal experience, while in school, I was so nervous to ask a question as I felt it made me look incompetent. As a practicing NP and nurse educator, I know asking questions will make me a better student and ultimately a better nurse.

17. Schedule meetings with your instructor, especially if struggling with a specific course or content

Nurses who became nurse educators chose that career path because they enjoy teaching. They are there to help you and provide support and guidance throughout your nursing school journey. Therefore, do not be afraid to meet with them, especially if you struggle with the course or specific content within the class. Often, the instructor will have other resources that may help you better understand the content. Most instructors will also take time to walk through questions you got wrong on exams and quizzes to appreciate your thought process further and provide a more in-depth rationale for why the correct answer was the right answer. Nurse educators want to help, so utilize them while in school to help you succeed.

18. Do Not Cram for Exams

I cannot stress this enough—do not cram for exams! Cramming for an exam may seem like an okay idea as it worked for you in high school, right? In nursing school, it may still lead to a passing grade. Still, your stress level will significantly increase, and you may not retain the information leading to difficulty learning-related content in future courses. To prevent cramming for exams, you need to manage your time and complete a couple of hours of studying every day. For most students, this will lead to more confidence with the content, ultimately leading to better grades and overall less stress and anxiety about exams.

19. Complete the pre-class prep

My next tip is to complete the pre-class prep. Most nursing instructors will provide prep work, whether it is readings, worksheets, or quizzes, to prepare the student for the content taught during that specific class. The purpose is to introduce the student to the content, allowing for more advanced discussion and questions on the content to achieve a higher level of learning. It will also lead to greater confidence with the content and recognition of concepts you don’t fully grasp--allowing you to ask questions throughout or after class to ensure understanding. This prep work does not typically take long to complete and, if completed, will help prevent you from cramming for the exam.

20. Maximize clinical experiences

For many students, clinical is one of their favorite parts of nursing school. While waking up early may not be fun, it is an opportunity to apply learning to real-life experiences. The clinical experience fosters the development of critical thinking skills and basic nursing skills such as obtaining and recognizing abnormal vital signs, administering medications, and patient education. The clinical experience, though, can be as boring or robust as you make it.

Don’t just sit around and only care for your patient—because that may lead to a very boring day. Instead, ask to follow your nurse for the entire day. This will allow you to be exposed to other patients and learning opportunities and also help you gain a better understanding of the day-to-day flow of a nurse. In most situations, the nurse will say absolutely. In the rare instances they won’t let you follow them for their entire day, they will grab you to assist with a specific skill or task. The important piece to remember is that the clinical experience is partially what you make it—and it is your job to maximize that experience!

21. Positive Attitude

A positive attitude goes a long way. As someone who has successfully passed nursing school, I can say that I tended to be more productive when I maintained a positive attitude, leading to overall better grades and satisfaction with my school work. Other people want to be around positive people, allowing you to surround yourself with like-minded people. This may lead to more productive and efficient study group sessions as well. Positivity also leads to thinking outside of the box, thinking critically, and even being more open and successful at solving problems and challenges. Positive attitudes have excellent health benefits, including decreased stress and better quality of sleep.

22. Set Realistic Goals

Setting goals is another tip to help you succeed in nursing school. Plans give you a purpose and focus for what you strive to achieve. The key, though, is to create realistic goals, and using the SMART method to write your goals will help with this. Once you write your goal, make a plan for how you will achieve this goal. Also, to help hold yourself more accountable, write your goals down and put them in a place that you look at daily. Again, the key is to set realistic goals. If you select too high of goals or goals too difficult to achieve, you will become frustrated and potentially even give up due to the difficulty of reaching your goal.

23. Have a good support system

Having a solid support system is essential to get through nursing school. The support system can consist of friends, family, and even instructors. Support systems can provide multiple benefits to one’s mental and physical health as well as their success in nursing school. Those who have strong support systems tend to experience less stress and anxiety as well increased self-confidence. When they are having a difficult day, week or even month the support system provides a healthy outlet for the student, providing encouragement and support aiding the nursing student to pass nursing school.

24. Take 5 minutes after class to review information learned

After class, take 5-10 minutes to review the content you just learned. While this may seem simple, I can say in my educational experience I did not see this. And, now that I am also a nurse educator, I have maybe had less than 10% of my students tell me they do this. I firmly believe this is an important step, just like the prep work, in ensuring you understand the content from that day's lecture. Taking 5-10 minutes immediately following class to review your notes will allow you to formulate questions right away and solidify information learned to prepare you for upcoming exams better, and ultimately the NCLEX.

25. Get to know your instructors

Don’t be afraid to get to know your instructors. As I have stated previously, most if not all instructors are there to support you in getting through nursing school. They do not want to be strangers to their students but instead want you to reach out to them—whether this is through questions, clarification on topics, or for additional resources to support your learning needs. Your instructors are there as another resource to successfully pass nursing school. They have all completed nursing school at one time or another, so they know and understand what you are going through.

26. Review your course exams

After your nursing exams, most if not all instructors will allow you to review your test. There is typically a dedicated length of time to do this, so it is essential to know what you specifically want to review from your exam. This allows you to identify the questions you got wrong and read the rationale for the correct answer. Reviewing your exam will ultimately help you in your nursing career and possibly on future exams, including the comprehensive final.

27. Do not fall behind

Whatever you do, do not fall behind. While this seems easy to follow, it is very challenging. The amount of work, accompanied by outside responsibilities such as children, family, or work, can all interfere with your ability not to fall behind. When you fall behind, it is challenging to dig yourself out and get back on track. Time management and communication with your instructors are vital to reducing your risk of falling behind.

28. Do not give up!

Do Not Give Up! Nursing school is tough, and at times may even make you reconsider your career choice—I know I did! It is challenging because it prepares you to be the best nurse possible. Just remember, it will be worth it in the end. The flexibility with the job, including settings and opportunities for growth, is endless.

My Final Thoughts

After reading the article above, do you feel more confident in how to pass nursing school? Nursing is such an excellent profession, and I genuinely believe that. The flexibility within the profession and the ability to make upward moves in your career are endless. I hope the 28 expert tips to successfully pass nursing school provides you with some ideas and confidence on succeeding in nursing school.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

1. How Many Hours A Day Should I Study For Nursing School?

The number of hours a day you should study depends on your coursework/number of credit hours at that time and how well you retain information. Someone once told me that you should expect to spend a minimum of 3 hours of studying per lecture hour per week while in nursing school. On average, though, you should dedicate 3-4 hours a day to studying or completing assignments for nursing school. Ultimately, you must study enough to retain the information learned to be a successful nurse.

2. How To Pass My First Semester Of Nursing School?

To pass your first semester of nursing school, I recommend following the 28 tips to passing nursing school listed above. The first semester of nursing school is one of the toughest due to having so many feelings of the unknown, learning how you learn and study best for nursing school, and learning how to manage your time. Developing relationships with your instructors, not being afraid to ask questions, and finding activities outside of school and studying will all lead to the success of your first year of nursing school.

3. How To Pass My Last Semester Of Nursing School?

To pass your last semester of nursing school, you need to do the same thing as your first semester. I strongly recommend following the 28 tips to passing nursing school listed above. While you may have more confidence in yourself as a nursing student, since you have been in that role for several years, your last semester is not a time to slack off or not continue to give 100%.

4. How To Pass My Clinical In Nursing School?

To pass your clinical in nursing school is pretty straightforward—turn in your pre and post-clinical assignments and stay busy during clinical. In other words, maximize your clinical experience! Nothing makes a nurse or nursing instructor more frustrated than seeing a nursing student sitting around not doing anything. There is always something that can be done to maximize the clinical experience. This includes shadowing your nurse with their other patients, looking up diagnoses, tests, medications, etc., that you do not know, completing clinical assignments, or reviewing content from the course associated with that clinical. Just stay busy and use your time wisely.

5. Can I Pass The NCLEX-RN Without Nursing School?

No. You cannot take the NCLEX-RN without graduating from an accredited nursing program. For more specific information regarding this, please visit your state board of nursing or the NCSBN website.

6. What If I Pass Nursing School But Fail NCLEX-RN?

If you pass nursing school but fail the NCLEX-RN, you cannot practice as a nurse. The good news though is that you can retake the NCLEX after a minimum of 45 days have passed since the previous attempt. The requirements to retake the exam may vary based on your home state. Therefore, check with your state board of nursing for specifics before registering to retake the NCLEX-RN.

7. Do My Nursing School Grades Really Matter?

The answer to this question is not so straightforward. Grades are essential, as they are a clear indicator of whether you grasp the content taught in nursing school—it also is one indicator to demonstrate your readiness to pass the NCLEX. However, grades are not everything. You must get a C or C+ in most programs to pass the course and are only allowed to fail one class before being asked to leave the nursing program. Grades also don’t always indicate whether a student will be an excellent nurse or not, but again, to start your career as a nurse, you must pass the NCLEX.

Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!