15 Tips To Study And Pass Pharmacology In Nursing School

Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

One of the most challenging classes for nursing students is pharmacology. If you are a nursing student or considering going to nursing school, you may wonder, “Can someone tell me how to study and pass pharmacology in nursing school?” As a nurse and health educator, I understand being worried about tough classes. In this article, I will share with you 15 tips to study and pass pharmacology in nursing school. You will also learn reasons why learning pharmacology is important and what makes it so difficult to learn. Additionally, I will provide you with some resources to help you on your journey to passing pharmacology in nursing school and answer some frequently asked questions.


Pharmacology, which is the study of medications, is one of the essential classes you will take in nursing school. It involves learning how drugs work in the body. In this class, you will learn about medication uses, side effects, adverse reactions, and the expected outcomes. You will also learn about important nursing interventions and patient education techniques.



Because understanding pharmacology is essential for nurses, passing pharmacology in nursing school is crucial. The following are three reasons why studying and passing this subject is so important for nursing students.

REASON #1: Studying and Passing Pharmacology Ensures Medication Safety

Anyone can open a bottle of medication and give a pill to someone. However, nursing involves much more than passing a few pills. When you study and pass pharmacology in nursing school, you will have the knowledge needed to verify medication orders and safely administer medications to patients.

REASON #2: You Must Educate Patients About Medication Administration

Nurses and nursing students not only administer medications, but we also educate patients about medications, their uses, side effects, and anticipated outcomes. Studying pharmacology in nursing school prepares you with essential knowledge that you will later pass on to your patients and their caregivers.

REASON #3: You Can Help Improve Patient Outcomes

When nurses use medications safely and effectively and educate patients on their proper use, we become advocates for better patient outcomes. We do so by verifying medication dosages, implementing proper interventions with medication administration, and educating patients and caregivers about safe medication usage and side effects or adverse reactions to report.


Studying pharmacology in nursing school is not for the weak-willed. Like anything worth doing, it takes time and dedication if you genuinely want to succeed. The following are three of the main reasons why studying and passing pharmacology in nursing school is hard.

REASON #1: There is SO MUCH to Learn!

One of the main reasons why studying pharmacology in nursing school and passing it is hard is because there is so much content to learn. You will learn drug classes, generic names, brand names, actions, side effects, adverse reactions, expected outcomes, indicated uses, and patient education techniques, just to name a few!

REASON #2: Every Detail Matters!

Nursing instructors typically prepare pharmacology tests designed with a patient scenario or situational format. This approach is used to encourage critical thinking, which is essential for effectively using pharmacologic interventions. In pharmacology, every detail matters.

For example, many years ago, I took a medication called Propranolol to treat chronic migraines. I have not needed the medication for more than 15 years. However, a few weeks ago, I started experiencing headaches again. When I went to see my nurse practitioner, we discussed options for treating my headaches, and Propranolol was mentioned. However, my heart rate at the doctor's office was 54. When we looked through my previous visits, my heart rate had not been higher than 60 in the past 12 months. Propranolol is a beta-blocker that slows the heart rate and, therefore, is now contraindicated for me. THIS is why every detail matters!

REASON #3: You Must Have a Solid Understanding of Anatomy and Physiology

Before you take pharmacology in nursing school, you will take anatomy and physiology. If you struggle with these subjects, it is harder to pass pharmacology. The reason for this is that anatomy and physiology are the study of the structure and functions of the body. Without understanding what is normal in the body, you cannot identify what is abnormal, and you will not be able to identify whether pharmacologic interventions are effective.


(The following are 15 tips to study and successfully pass pharmacology in nursing school.)

TIP #1: Do Not Try to Cram the Information

About the Tip:

With heavy course loads and busy clinical schedules, it is common for nursing students to put off studying until a day or two (or the night) before an exam. Although your schedule may be hectic, if you want to pass pharmacology in nursing school, you must avoid cramming the information.

Why This Tip is Important:

When you try to cram too much information in a short time, it is a recipe for failure. This tip is important because, even if you retain enough information by cramming to pass a test, the chances of you retaining the information long enough to put it into practice are slim. Effective nursing requires having a clear understanding of pharmacology. Therefore, take the time you need to actually learn the content instead of cramming for exams at the last minute.

TIP #2: Flashcards Are Your Friend

About the Tip:

When I was in nursing school and later as an instructor, I learned the value of flashcards when it comes to passing pharmacology in nursing school. A great way to build your flashcard stock without being overwhelmed by making too many at once is to end each day by making flashcards for the drugs you learned in pharmacology that day.

Why This Tip is Important:

Flashcards are an effective study tool because they promote active recall within the brain. Active recall is the process by which you retrieve a memory. Using flashcards allows you to look at a term (drug name, class, etc.) and then actively attempt to remember it. Doing this helps move the memory from your short-term memory to long-term memory.

TIP #3: Buy a Nursing Drug Guide

About the Tip:

One of the most important books you will ever buy as a nursing student is a Nursing Drug Guide. There are many options, including Mosby’s Drug Guide for Nursing Students. Because new medications are introduced daily, I recommend buying a new drug guide each year to ensure you have the most up-to-date information.

Why This Tip is Important:

Nursing drug guides provide a quick resource for identifying the indicated use, possible side effects, and available doses. Using a drug guide can be instrumental in helping you access essential information as you learn about various drugs. Also, if you have questions about a medication and use your drug guide, you can reduce the risk of medication errors.

TIP #4: Learn Drug Classifications

About the Tip:

Drugs in the same class have the same properties. They typically have the same side effects, possible adverse reactions, and intended uses/expected outcomes.

Why This Tip is Important:

Unless you are an advanced practice registered nurse or nurse practitioner, you will not write prescriptions. However, knowing the different drug classes will help you know which responses to medications are appropriate or if they are adverse responses. Knowing this allows you to identify changes in your patient and to identify if interventions are effective.

TIP #5: Learn Prefixes and Suffixes

About the Tip:

Many drugs in the same class have the same prefixes or suffixes. For example, atenolol, metoprolol, and Propranolol are in the beta blocker classification of drugs. These drugs work to decrease some activities of the heart by blocking the action of hormones such as adrenaline.

Why This Tip is Important:

Learning prefixes and suffixes is an effective way to study pharmacology in nursing school because it makes it easier to identify drugs that belong to a particular class. If you have learned drug classes and use prefixes and suffixes to group drugs in a class, it is easier to identify possible side effects, adverse reactions, and expected outcomes and measure effectiveness based on their intended use.

TIP #6: Learn to Match Actions and Side Effects

About the Tip:

It is nearly impossible to memorize every side effect of each drug you study. However, you can learn what side effects are associated with expected drug actions.

Why This Tip is Important:

The ability to link actions with side effects makes it easier to pass pharmacology in nursing school because it makes using critical thinking on NCLEX-style questions easier. This tip is also important because if you know the action of a drug, you are more likely to identify whether its use is effective or if your patient is experiencing side effects or adverse reactions, both in nursing school clinicals and in practice after you graduate.

TIP #7: Create Mnemonics

About the Tip:

Mnemonics is the approach of using patterns, associations, or ideas to assist with memory. A common mnemonic people use is "i before e except after c," which is used to help you remember how to spell words like conceive and believe.

Why This Tip is Important:

This is an important tip because mnemonics have a two-fold advantage. Mnemonics not only help you encode information into your long-term memory, but they also help you retrieve that information from memory to use when needed.

TIP #8: Use Concept Mapping

About the Tip:

Concept mapping is the use of visual representations of information. Concept maps may take the form of graphic organizers, charts, flowcharts, timelines, or tables.

Why This Tip is Important:

Concept maps are an effective tool to help you identify relationships among drugs, their classes, uses, side effects, adverse effects, and expected outcomes. This method of studying helps you to establish a relationship between concepts that may seem isolated to promote in-depth learning instead of memorization, which is essential if you want to pass pharmacology in nursing school.

TIP #9: Consider Recording Lectures

About the Tip:

If you are an auditory learner, you may find that recording lectures and listening to them outside of class is helpful. Keep in mind that not all instructors allow their lectures to be recorded. Therefore, you should ask permission before bringing a recorder or using your laptop or phone to record a class.

Why This Tip is Important:

We each have a type of learning that is most effective for us. If you know that you learn better by listening than reading, recording lectures could be the key to helping you pass pharmacology in nursing school.

TIP #10: Form Study Groups

About the Tip:

As a nurse and healthcare educator, I have seen the benefit of study groups time and again, both for myself and my students. While there are times when studying alone is what you need, forming a study group is an excellent alternative to independent learning.

Why This Tip is Important:

Passing pharmacology in nursing school can be tough, even for students who typically do not struggle. Forming study groups is a great way to help yourself and your classmates. You can ask one another questions and share study resources and notes from class.

TIP #11: Access Different Resources

About the Tip:

Learning pharmacology does not have to be limited to class lectures or your pharmacology textbook. There are many resources, including pharmacology cheat sheets, podcasts, and YouTube videos, which you may find helpful.

Why This Tip is Important:

Although you have instructors to teach you, in nursing school, you are responsible for learning the content presented in class and preparing for tests in ways that work best for you. The more resources you tap into, the better your chances of success. It could be that you watch a video or listen to a podcast, and something you did not understand in class or study group suddenly becomes clear. As a healthcare educator, I encourage you to never sell yourself short by not utilizing every resource possible to aid in your success.

TIP #12: Be Intentional About Study Time

About the Tip:

If you truly want to pass pharmacology in nursing school, taking time to study each day is essential. It is important to not only set aside study time but to be intentional about what you study.

Why This Tip is Important:

Pharmacology is an in-depth course that requires having a good strategy. I recommend dedicating a set amount of time each day to reviewing information you have already learned and studying any new information.

TIP #13: Set the Tone for a Cohesive Study Environment

About the Tip:

If you want to study pharmacology in nursing school effectively, you need an environment that is conducive to studying. Eliminating clutter, establishing boundaries that outline your study space, and asking others to give you privacy can help set the right tone for studying.

Why This Tip is Important:

Many people do not realize how much their immediate surroundings and environment affect their mood or ability to concentrate. When you purposefully set the tone for studying, you can approach your study sessions with a sense of calm, which promotes more effective studying and better retention of content.

TIP #14: Speak Up When You Do Not Understand

About the Tip:

Even on days when it may not feel like it, your nursing instructors genuinely want to see you succeed. After all, their jobs depend on having students to teach!

Why This Tip is Important:

The only way your instructors will know you do not understand is if you ask questions. Even if you feel like you should have already learned about a medication or grasped an understanding of its use, do not be afraid to speak up if you have not. The only bad question is the one you do not ask.

TIP #15: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!

About the Tip:

Pharmacology is challenging because you must learn and recall a large amount of content, usually in one short semester. One of the best tips I can give you to help you pass pharmacology in nursing school is to learn the art of repetition.

Why This Tip is Important:

This tip is important because the best way to establish something to memory is to repeat its concept over and over. Whether you use visual or auditory cues, repetition is key to your success.


One of the awesome things about technology is that your scope of learning is not limited to assigned textbooks. There are many useful resources to help nursing students pass pharmacology in nursing school. The following are examples of YouTube videos, podcasts, books, websites, and blogs that offer excellent information to help you.

YouTube Videos

Pharmacology Study Tips for Nursing Students:

In this video, the founder of Nurse In the Making, Kristine, shares her tips on how she survived pharmacology in nursing school. The video is broken down into three sections, including how to create flashcards and work practice problems.

5 Ways to Get an “A” in Pharmacology in Nursing School:

Host, Kristina Merrill, shares five tips on how to pass pharmacology. She explains how using active listening, taking notes, and focusing on the “bigger picture” make the process easier.

Top Ten Pharmacology Study Tips:

This video, hosted by Cathy Parkes, BSN, RN, CWCN, PHN, breaks down ten essential tips to help you study smarter, not harder. You will learn about studying on the go, establishing a study space, and creative ways to remember medications.


Strait A Nursing:

Created by Maureen, “Nurse Mo,” Strait A Nursing is designed to give you tips and insight into effective ways to pass nursing school. The podcast features a page full of pharmacology episodes with excellent information.

PeerView Clinical Pharmacology:

PeerView provides continuing education for nurses and other healthcare clinicians by researching evidence-based medicine and combining it with their instructional experience. The podcast features several entry-level pharmacology episodes, which are perfect for individuals looking for ways of studying pharmacology in nursing school.

Real Life Pharmacology:

In the Real Life Pharmacology podcast, you will learn the basics of pharmacology, such as mechanisms of action, drug interactions, and side effects, and discover how medications impact patient outcomes.


Memorizing Pharmacology:

This audible book organizes pharmacology into logical steps that you can learn in short spans of time. You will learn to memorize medications and form connections between drugs, their classes, and actions by using mnemonics designed by both students and nursing faculty.

Pharmacology Made Incredibly Easy:

This book, published by Wolters/Kluwer, provides clear descriptions of pharmacology concepts and procedures for nursing students. The book features an illustrated guide to help you grasp pharmacology quickly and easily.


The Nursing Professor:

This blog page is dedicated to helping nursing students find ways of succeeding in nursing school. On the site, you will find blog articles, including “Pharmacology Friday: How to Study Pharmacology in Nursing School.”

Evolve Elsevier:

This website features student blogs with helpful tips on passing nursing classes. For example, “10 Study Tips for Pharmacology” written by Austin Johnson


If you are a nursing student or considering going to nursing school, you probably know or have heard about how difficult pharmacology can be. You may have wondered, “Can someone tell me how to study and pass pharmacology in nursing school?” In this article, I shared some insight as both a nurse and a healthcare educator and provided you with 15 tips to study and pass pharmacology in nursing school. While the class can be challenging, if you implement the tips in this article and stay focused, you can succeed!


1. . How Hard Is Pharmacology In Nursing School?

Passing pharmacology in nursing school can be challenging. Every student learns differently and has their own strengths and weaknesses. Once you identify what learning style suits you best, if you integrate that into a dedicated study schedule, pace yourself, and ask for help when needed, you can succeed!

2. Is Pharmacology Harder Than Anatomy In Nursing School?

While opinions vary, I believe pharmacology is harder than anatomy in nursing school. However, because anatomy teaches the foundations of the structure of the body, you must have a clear understanding of anatomy before you can apply the concepts of pharmacology.

3. What Semester Of My Nursing School Will I Study Pharmacology?

Most students take pharmacology in their third or fourth semester of nursing school. Each school is different, though, and you should carefully plan your schedule in collaboration with your academic advisor.

4. How Long Do I Have To Study Pharmacology In Nursing School?

Most pharmacology classes in nursing school last one semester.

5. Is Pharmacology In Nursing School A Lot Of Math?

Pharmacology in nursing school usually requires you to memorize medication dosages or calculate appropriate doses for patients. However, there is typically not a lot of math in nursing school pharmacology.

6. Do I Need To Be Good At Math For Studying Pharmacology In Nursing?

While you need a general understanding of algebra, you do not have to be a math whiz to pass pharmacology in nursing school.

7. Is Pharmacology In Nursing School More Biology Or Chemistry?

Pharmacology in nursing school focuses more on chemistry than biology. However, you must have an understanding of human biology before you can apply the concepts of chemistry to human pharmacology.

8. What Are Some Common Medication Categories That I Should Know For My Pharmacology Exam In Nursing School?

Some of the common medication categories you must learn to pass pharmacology in nursing school include ACE inhibitors, Beta-blockers, diuretics, narcotic analgesics, and CNS depressants.

9. Can I Pass Pharmacology Without Studying?

I have been a nurse for many years, and I have never met anyone who could pass pharmacology without studying. In fact, even the most experienced nurses must study and stay abreast of changes in pharmacologic interventions to provide effective care.

10. Can I Study And Pass Pharmacology In Just One Day?

While you may be able to memorize abbreviations or some other information to pass a short examination, the likelihood of studying and passing pharmacology in nursing school in one day is highly unlikely.

11. What Is The Best Way To Study Pharmacology Calculations?

One of the best ways to study pharmacology in nursing school is to memorize formulas and common conversions.

12. Does NCLEX Have A Lot Of Pharmacology?

An average of 13% to 19% of the NCLEX is comprised of pharmacology questions.

13. Do I Need To Memorize Medications For NCLEX?

It is not necessary to memorize medications for the NCLEX. Instead, you should learn drug classes, mechanisms of action, side effects, and nursing considerations.

14. How Do I Memorize Medication Names For NCLEX?

If you want to memorize medication names when preparing for the NCLEX, one of the most effective ways is to use flashcards. I also recommend using online resources, such as video tutorials and practice tests.

Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).