As nursing (and pre-nursing!) students, you know that studying is about more than memorizing facts now…it’s about understanding what you learn so that you can use those facts to save lives.
You’ve probably heard people saying that you need to improve your critical thinking skills to be successful in nursing school (heck, you might have even been told that yourself!). And while it’s true, it’s not the entire story. The study methods you use can dramatically influence how quickly and how well you learn to use your critical thinking skills so that you can pass your classes and (more importantly!) learn to think like a nurse.
The Role of Critical Thinking in Nursing School
What exactly is critical thinking in nursing school? It’s a term that gets tossed around a lot, but often only in an abstract sort of way. You might be told to “improve your critical thinking skills” when you seek help after a failed exam, but instructors and experienced nurses rarely give you concrete advice on HOW to do that.
The good news is that when you reframe your definition critical thinking a little bit, it becomes a lot easier and less overwhelming. In fact, I would guarantee that you already have all the critical thinking skills that you need to be successful in Nursing School! You just need to learn how to transfer your existing critical thinking skills to the nursing content (…and learn the most important nursing content, of course, but that’s a whole other topic).
Critical Thinking vs Clinical Judgement
Personally, I prefer to use the term “Clinical Judgement” when working with my nursing tutoring students. That’s because Clinical Judgement is the #1 skill that NCLEX tests on, which means it’s the #1 skill you’re in nursing school to learn. Therefore, if you can learn to improve your clinical judgement, then everything else in nursing school (and your future nursing career) will also improve.
So even if nursing clinical judgement is not technically the same exact thing as ‘critical thinking’, it’s close enough for our purposes. Because in my 15+ years experience as a professional nursing tutor, they go hand in hand.
Which means that when you improve your Clinical Judgement skills in nursing school, you will automatically see your nursing test grades improve, too.
Common Challenges to Developing Your Clinical Judgement in Nursing School
Nursing School horror stories run rampant. This has the unfortunate side effect of normalizing the really negative experiences in nursing school that you might experience…after all, you reason, nursing school is tough! From the excessive amount of reading assigned, to the fast-pace, to the instructors who only read off the power point slides and still expect you to know everything in the textbook.
And this often leads to ineffective study habits, because you end up studying only to survive the next test. You use the same study habits you always used throughout your life, but they’re not longer working the way that they used to and you can’t figure out why.
You only know that you go into the test thinking that you understand everything, only to have no idea what the test question is really asking.
The Root Problem of Nursing Education…
The truth is that the way you’re being tested has changed, but nobody gave you the memo. That’s why all the “traditional” ways of studying aren’t working for you anymore.
See, you used to be told what to study, you studied it, and you were tested on it. And of course, you did fine as long as you put in the effort.
But now? You still get told what to study, you study it…but then you’re NOT tested on what you studied. Not directly, anyway. Instead, you’re tested on how to think about what you studied. It’s a subtle, but essential difference.
This is what it means when someone tells you that you have to “learn to think like a nurse”. You have to learn to think about the nursing content that you’ve been studying, which goes way beyond memorization. Another way to say it, is you have to develop your Clinical Judgement.
See how I brought it full circle there? 😉
More Effective Study Methods for Nursing Students
That’s why it’s essential to change the way you study once you get to nursing school. If you can adjust the way you study even before Nursing School, that’s even better! But no matter where you’re currently at on your Nursing School journey, the best time to start fixing your study strategies is right now.
The first thing you want to do is shift from passive learning strategies to active learning. Passive learning is about absorbing information without active engagement. This usually includes the most common study strategies used: reading the textbook, listening to lecture, highlighting, flashcards, re-writing notes, looking over powerpoint slides…you get the idea.
Active learning involves interacting with the material, questioning it, and applying it in various contexts. I’m going to be totally honest with you: active learning is harder work, and can make your brain hurt a little bit if you’re doing it right.
Active Learning can feel like it takes longer to do. That’s because, in a sense, it does. But let me ask you this…would you rather spend 2 hours studying, cover all the material, not remember most of it, and struggle on the exam?
Or would you rather spend 2 hours studying the most important information, thoroughly remember and understand all of it, and be able to confidently apply it to your exam?
I know, I know…you think it’s easier said than done. But that’s where the Silver Bullet Study System come in.
Silver Bullet Study System for Nursing Students
The Silver Bullet Study System is mimics the way experienced nurses think, so that you can think that way too. (Even when you’re a beginning nursing student who still feels like you have zero clue what you should be doing). It offer 4 concrete steps to follow every time you study a new topic.
And most importantly, it helps you to easily self-identify what the most important information is to learn, while also guiding you through the process of practicing how to think about that information.
Remember how I said you’re being tested on “how to think about” the nursing content? Imagine how much better your exam grades will be once you’re practice the skill you’re actually being tested on.
If you haven’t already gotten it, make sure to click here to get my free 10-min video overview on what the Silver Bullet Study System is and how to use it.
Nicole is a Professional Nursing Tutor with over 15 years experience, and the founder of Your Nursing Tutor. She has a BSN, and an MA in Clinical Psychology. Nicole specializes in providing easy-to-follow, proven study methods (like the Silver Bullet Study System) that transform frustrated nursing students into calm, confident nurses! When she’s not helping students through her Live Tutoring Membership, Nicole loves spending time with her husband, homeschooling their 6 kids, and staring at sunflowers.