56. How to Study in Nursing School to Think Like a Nurse

Today I have a really special episode for you. It is the beginning of the year. And that means it’s the beginning of spring semester for a lot of students. And so I wanted to share with you a recent workshop that I recorded on how to study for nursing school.

This is the only way that I train my tutoring students in my VIP tutoring membership to study. And I call it the silver bullet study system. Can you guess why? It’s because it’s the silver bullet that you need for success in nursing school. And so today, I’m going to share with you a recording of that workshop that you can listen and learn how to do this entire study system for yourself.

I hope that you find the recording of this workshop helpful to you as you start your nursing semester or even if you’re in prerequisites and you’re looking forward to taking your core nursing classes sometime in the future. Either way, it can be helpful, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

Listen Now!

Some links below may be referral links…purchases made from referral links don’t cost you any extra, but may provide a commission that helps support Your Nursing Tutor’s free content, so thank you!

Links from Episode 56:

Free, 20-min Silver Bullet Study System Workshop (the BEST way to study for nursing school!): https://register.yournursingtutor.com/sbss-workshop

LIVE Tutoring Membership: www.YourNursingTutor.com/vip

Free Facebook Group: Nursing Students in Nursing School, (Free Help and Support)

Transcript for Episode 56

Are you working crazy hard in Nursing School but still not getting the grades you deserve? 

Or maybe you’re a pre-nursing student and you want to start off strong in your first semester? 

Either way, you’re in the right place!

In the next 20-minutes, you’re going to learn my entire Silver Bullet Study System that I use to train ALL my tutoring students to think like a nurse faster, and get better grades as a result. 

My name is Nicole Whitworth, and I’ve been a professional nursing tutor for more than 14 years, since even before I finished my BSN RN. 

It all started back in 2007, when I discovered the study method I’m teaching you today and started using it to help my classmates pass their tests. My nursing program noticed what I was doing, and decided to hire me as their first (and only) official nursing tutor. And this was only my first semester!

But the craziest thing that happened was when instructors started sending me students who were ahead of me in the program…and I was STILL able to help them, even though I hadn’t even taken their specific classes yet. 

I was surprised at the time, but it led me to realize something that I now know is fundamentally wrong with most nursing programs…

They are REALLY good at telling you all the things you supposedly “NEED” to know…AND stressing you out in the process…

…but then they turn around and actually TEST you on HOW TO THINK about that content instead.  

They tell you to fill your head with these endless pages of information, but never teach you how to process that information, which is truly what it means to think like a nurse.

This results in hardworking students studying for hours and hours and hours…but STILL getting the same, exact, borderline or even failing grades on exams.

I’ve seen it countless times, and it breaks my heart because the results do not reflect the amount of effort they put into it. And maybe you feel that way too…

If so, don’t worry – you are NOT alone! There IS hope for you!

The study system I developed all those years ago has helped hundreds of other nursing students since then to not only pass their classes, but also save time and reduce stress in the process. 

I call it the Silver Bullet Study System.

It’s a 4-step framework that mimics the way experienced nurses think, and that any beginning nurse can use. 

For example, one of my former VIP Tutoring members, Bailey, came to me after failing her first 5 Fundamentals of nursing exams…then, after only 2 weeks of using the Silver Bullet Study System, she PASSED her very next exam! 

Her story is not uncommon. 

Now, before I share the exact framework that Bailey and all of my other VIP Tutoring members use to get better grades and improve their critical thinking skills, there are 3 things you need to do FIRST, before the Silver Bullet Study System will work for you.

  1. Number one: You’ve got to be prepared to take responsibility for your own learning. Meaning you can’t expect your instructor or even me to do it all for you. 
  1. Number two: You have to be willing to try some new study techniques that may be outside of your comfort zone. By this, I do NOT mean to “study harder” or study more, only to study differently than you’ve probably ever done before.
  1. And the final requirement for the Silver Bullet Study System is that you need to be committed to becoming a nurse no matter what. If the first challenge you face in nursing school has you giving up and quitting, then nothing will work. But if you’re dedicated to it…then let me show you what you need to do next.


Here’s an overview of the Silver Bullet Study System. As you can see, it’s broken down into 4 study steps so that you can follow it on repeat for any topic you need to study in nursing school. I even help my pre-nursing VIP Tutoring Members learn how to adapt this framework to study for some of their pre-req classes like Anatomy & Physiology. 

Step 1 is called “Foundational 15,” because I recommend you spend about 15-minutes studying your foundational information every single time that you sit down to study. 

So how do you know what your foundational information should be? It’s any of the normal, basic stuff that you have to know FIRST, before you can master the more advanced information. Some of it is going to come from your science pre-requisite classes, like Anatomy & Physiology, and some of it will come directly from your nursing classes, things like lab values, new vocabulary, abbreviations, that sort of thing.

Even though this is the most important, dare I say, foundational thing to study, it’s also the step that most nursing students will naturally want to skip. 

But you should NEVER skip it because this is the information that is going to become your “alphabet” for nursing school. 

Think about it this way…if you were trying to learn a brand new language, like Russian or Chinese, would you expect to be able to read an entire novel written in that language right away? Or even a single sentence, for that matter? 

Or would it make more sense to first learn the alphabet of your new language, so that you can then go on to learn how to read words, then sentences, then whole books! And eventually the goal would be to be able to speak fluently, and even THINK in that language, right?

Well, becoming a nurse is no different. Learning to speak, think, act, prioritize, and make clinical decisions like a nurse IS learning to think in “nursing” language. 

And just like learning Chinese or Russian, learning to think like a nurse starts with an “alphabet” of foundational information, too. 

The information you study in Step 1, IS your nursing school alphabet. If you skip it, then you’re always going to find yourself “feeling like” you know the information…but consistently struggling to identify the BEST answer on exam questions. 

Often, this looks like being able to narrow it down to two answer choices…then always guessing the wrong answer.

And while it’s a real confidence buster when you’ve put in sooo many hours of studying, only to get these disappointing results, it’s NOT a problem that’s going to be fixed by gimmicky test-taking strategies…because test-taking strategies will NOT help you save patient lives someday! 

So what do you do instead? You start with Step 1. 

And just to clarify, you do NOT need to study your entire mental library of Foundational 15 information every single time you study. Obviously, that would take waaaay longer than 15-minutes. 

Rather, you practice identifying the “alphabet letters” that are most relevant to the nursing topic you want to study. It’s just like if you’re trying to spell “CAT”, you would need to review the letters “C”, “A”, and “T”, first.

This is something that you can definitely learn to do for yourself. But if you’d like some additional mentorship and tutoring on how to identify the most important Foundational information even faster, well, that’s one of the services I provide for my VIP Tutoring Members. 

The beauty of Step 1 is that as you consistently study these foundational topics, you’ll discover that they get reused over and over again (just like alphabet letters do). For example, the GI System doesn’t change no matter which GI disorder you study, ya know what I mean? And it’s largely the same GI system for Med-Surg as it is for Pediatrics. This is one of several reasons why Step 1 will actually save you time so that you can gradually spend less and less time studying as you progress through nursing school, and maybe go back to spending more time with your family, instead. 

Okay, now on to Step 2. I call it the “Humpty Dumpty Factor”, because “Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall, Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall.” And then he broke. So Step 2 is all about identifying what’s “broken”. 

And this step should be relatively quick and simple, because all you need to do is “compare and contrast” it to the normal, foundational information you took the time to review in Step 1. For example, if you were studying pneumonia, then you’d start by thinking about normal A&P of the lungs and then identify what’s different from normal A&P when someone has pneumonia. 

In this example, pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs. Normal A&P of the lungs is NO inflammation of the lungs. Easy peasy, because we already took the time to build a firm knowledge foundation in Step 1. 

Now there IS a little more detail to this step, because obviously you can have different reasons WHY the inflammation occurs…like sometimes the inflammation is caused by a virus, sometimes by a bacteria or fungus, and sometimes by something that just went down the “wrong hole”, as they say! That last one’s called aspirational pneumonia. 

Asking yourself WHY something broke, and identifying the possible causes is an important process in Step 2, because it will help you tie new information back to important concepts you already learned. This has the double benefit of both saving you study time AND making this information easier to remember and recall later on when you need it to answer a test question. 

Now let’s move onto Step 3, which is called “Crystal Ball Predictions.” This is the step where we finally make the mental switch from simply memorizing and understanding “all the things,” to actually practicing how to think about them. 

It’s like when you first start trying to have a conversation in a foreign language…it feels awkward and uncomfortable, and you’re pretty sure you’re not saying a lot of things right! But it’s also a necessary step if you ever want to develop fluency and be understood by native speakers! 

That’s why Step 3 is going to feel a little messy and uncomfortable for you at first! And you’re going to be really tempted to default back to the way you’ve always studied as a result, because that’s what you’re familiar with doing. Fortunately, that just makes you totally normal! Which is why I offer a LOT of “hand holding” and encouragement for my tutoring members at our live tutoring sessions while they work on developing their OWN “fluency” when it comes to thinking like a nurse, at least until they feel experienced enough to confidently do this process on their own.

So here is the question you always need to start with asking yourself for Step 3: “Based on what I know about normal from Step 1, and what I identified as broken in Step 2, what do I predict will happen next? What are the symptoms going to be?” 

It is essential that you think it through and make your predictions FIRST, before looking at your textbook to check yourself. Remember, the most important part of this phase of studying is NOT the actual symptom…it’s the thought process that you are practicing to improve your critical thinking and learn how to think like a nurse. 

Once you’ve predicted your symptoms, THEN you go back and check your textbook. If you notice any symptoms that you missed, make sure you take a moment to figure out why they happen, and always tie your rationale back to steps 1&2. 

If you predict a symptom that doesn’t show up in your textbook, take a moment to figure out if you made an incorrect prediction OR if your symptom is actually plausible, and just not mentioned in the textbook. Either way, you need to treat each prediction not as a “right or wrong” answer, but as a learning experience at this point. 

Step 3 is also where nursing students usually make their 2nd biggest study mistake, by treating this information more like facts to be memorized, versus logical concepts that naturally flow from your previous knowledge. 

This process should be very similar to how knowing your alphabet helps you sound out new words, versus simply trying to memorize a list of brand new words without trying to sound them out first. The pure memorization method is going to be a lot harder, a lot less fun, and you’re going to be much more likely to get them really confused later on.

But if you study your nursing material using Steps 1 through 3 as I’ve described, then you’ll find you’ve developed the BEST kind of “test-taking strategy” possible…which is actually KNOWING how to identify the correct answer!

Are you starting to see how powerful this study method can be in making you feel more confident AND making nursing school get easier, instead of harder, as you progress?

Finally we move on to Step 4. 

Step 4 is actually pretty similar to Step 3. Only this time, we’re predicting Nursing care and relevant medical interventions instead of symptoms. 

So the question you ask yourself for Step 4 is this: “Based on the symptoms I identified in Step 3, and what I identified as broken in Step 2, what needs to be done to either fix or manage this situation, or monitored to prevent any complications?” 

And then you make your predictions! After you make some predictions, check your answers in your textbook. 

As you attempt to study Step 4, however, you might discover that you don’t even KNOW all of the nursing care or medical interventions, because you’re just so early in school that you haven’t learned them yet! 

That’s okay, too, because we’ve got a workaround for it. Here’s what you do: you predict a category of interventions, even if you don’t know specifically what they’ll be yet. 

Here’s an example. Let’s say with pneumonia, one of the symptoms is difficulty breathing. Makes sense, right? 

So maybe you’re still a first semester nursing student, and haven’t learned any specific nursing or medical care for breathing difficulties yet. That’s okay, because you ARE smart enough to know that you’re going to need to do something to help that pneumonia patient breathing easier, right? So you put that general concept as your prediction. 

Then, when you go back to check your textbook, you see suggestions such as oxygen therapy, or placing the patient in semi-fowler’s position, both of which fit into your general category prediction of interventions that would help someone breath easier.

And the beautiful thing? Let’s say you realize, “I have NO idea yet what semi-fowler’s position is, AND I have no idea what type of oxygen mask to use!” Well, instead of feeling your anxiety rise as you reflect on how much you still DON’T know about nursing, you simply jot down those two topics down on your Foundational 15 study list to review next time you’re studying this topic. 

So this entire process also helps you identify knowledge gaps that you didn’t even know you had, AND helps you fill them in a very “non-overwhelming” sort of way that makes your foundation of nursing knowledge stronger and stronger over time.

The more you study this way, the faster and easier it becomes, because you start to internalize these 4 steps that mimic how experienced nurses think, until you finally start thinking this way, automatically, for yourself! 

And before you know it, you’ll find that you’re needing to study less, that you’re feeling less anxious about your grades, and that you have a HUGE confidence boost…so much so, that by the time you get to NCLEX you might realize that you don’t even feel like taking a review course, because you’re already confident enough that you can accurately think through just about any test question they could throw at you. 


Do you see how changing the way that you study can make it easier to do well on your exams and feel more confident in nursing school? 

If you’re still watching, I’m guessing that you probably do!

But now I have to warn you of something…

You may be listening to me today, and even agreeing with me so far, but you’re still not ready to independently do what it takes to get the kind of amazing results I’ve described.

That’s because you’re a typical nursing student, who is already feeling super stressed out and overwhelmed with everything you’re already doing to study! And making these changes feels scary, because you’re worried that it’s going to add more to your already overwhelming “to do” list, that it’s going to take you even more time that you don’t have available…and that maybe, in the end, the Silver Bullet Study System won’t even WORK for you and you’ll end up in a worse situation than you are now.

It’s totally understandable to feel this way. 

Many students DO…and unfortunately, they let those fears stop them from making necessary changes until it’s too late. And just to clarify, by “too late”, I never mean too late to become a nurse, because I firmly believe that it’s never too late for that. 

But if you wait until it’s “too late” to make these study changes, then you may find yourself experiencing a different kind of change, instead…a bunch of unpleasant bumps and twists added to your own personal nursing journey, such as failing a class, or even getting dismissed from your entire nursing program. These kinds of unwelcome changes will cost you both time, money, AND confidence.

Remember Bailey that I mentioned a few minutes ago? She had already failed her first 5 Fundamentals of nursing exams when she found me and started using the Silver Bullet Study System. Once she started using it, she passed her very next exam only 2 weeks later, which was incredible!

But sadly, she still ended up failing her class because there simply wasn’t enough time OR tests left that semester to “make up” for those first 5 failed exams. If she would have made these study changes after her FIRST failed exam, then clearly her story would have turned out differently. 

There’s still hope for her, though, because now she knows exactly how to study to pass, AND has proven that she can do this! So when she retakes her Fundamentals class next time, she KNOWS she will do so much better! And I’m confident that Bailey is going to eventually become a successful nurse…it’s just going to take her a little bit longer because of this “bump” on her nursing journey. 

And her story is the exact reason why I offer the VIP Tutoring Membership at such an affordable price. I want you to get the tutoring support, mentorship, AND accountability that you need to make these study changes as early as possible in nursing school, and to do it in a carefully guided way so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. 

Now I COULD charge a lot more for the VIP Tutoring Membership, because when I only offered private, 1:1 tutoring, I charged $75 an hour! And now that I have more than a decade of experience, my private tutoring rates have understandably doubled, making them pretty much completely outside of the budget for a typical nursing student. 

Which is why I don’t even do private tutoring anymore, but instead offer my services in a membership format so that I can help many more nursing students at a much more affordable rate. 

Instead of $150 per hour for private tutoring, you can join the VIP Tutoring Membership for only $37 per month…AND I even offer a free trial so you can try it out for yourself before you commit.

This tutoring membership includes regularly scheduled live group tutoring sessions via Zoom that are always personally led by me. Plus you get access to ALL my additional online trainings for things like dosage calculations, test anxiety, care plans, and more. You even get to ask anything you want, whenever you want, in our private, VIP Facebook Group. 

Not only do you get all this support directly from ME, but you also immediately become a part of our amazing community of dedicated nursing students, many of whom are adult learners returning to school, so that you have the chance to network with like-minded people, create a stronger support system, and celebrate your successes. Because we’re ALL stronger, together.

Right now the VIP Tutoring Membership is only $37 per month, but I also need to give you a heads up that we recently upgraded our membership website, which means that we will also be raising the monthly membership price sometime in early 2022. Of course, anybody who is already a member gets grandfathered in with this lower price, though, because I’m totally not going to raise your prices once you’re already a member.

Sound good?

One more thing…if you’re a pre-nursing student listening to this and wondering if it’s too early for you to join, my advice is usually that if you’re within 3-6 months of starting your nursing classes, then it’s the perfect time to join the VIP Tutoring Membership! I can help you prepare to start strong in nursing school so that you avoid as many bumps on your nursing journey as possible. Not only can I show you how to use the Silver Bullet Study System and other important study strategies for your current pre-requisite classes, but I can also give you get a headstart on building your Step 1 foundational information, avoiding future test anxiety, and even mastering your Dosage Calculation skills…all before you ever step foot in your first nursing class. 

So if all that sounds good to you, then click the link to try out my VIP Tutoring Membership for FREE before I raise the membership prices.

And I hope to see you at our next live tutoring session!

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