How to Get the Most Out of Lecture

Every nursing student has been there.  Whether it’s after a long night of studying or the daunting feeling after a certain class, we’ve all left class scratching our heads thinking ‘I didn’t understand that at all’ or ‘How am I going to have this material down before the next exam?’  Nursing school is hard, and it will seem even harder if you are always leaving lectures feeling behind.  Read on to discover our four tips for getting the most out of every lecture!

Are you leaving your #nursing lectures feeling overwhelmed and confused?  Click through to check out our four tips for getting the most out of every lecture!


“Read” Before Class

Before attending class, it’s important that you’ve at least cracked open the textbook that your instructor teaches from (but we want you to do a little more than just flip it open).  Previewing the content your instructor will teach before class is smart because you’ll already have a sense of familiarity when your professor is discussing the content, and that will allow you to remember what you’re learning more easily.  Notice that we recommend “previewing” your textbook, not reading it word for word.  That just isn’t an efficient use of your time as a nursing student!

So how exactly should you “preview” your assigned reading?  We don’t recommend a clear-cut, regimented method of any sort, because everyone has a method that works for them individually and honestly, the way you preview your text may (and should) vary depending on the class.  Some people like to skim over headings and subheadings and read the first sentence of each paragraph along with the last sentence of each paragraph, and that is a great method, but it could be time consuming depending on the length of your assigned reading.

Kendra and I liked to preview the reading for our adult health classes by looking over the objectives at the beginning of the chapter, skimming charts and tables (main points will usually be presented additionally outside of the main text, especially nursing interventions), and reviewing the summary or key points listed at the end of the chapter.  With this method, we could typically finish previewing reading for each subject in about half an hour, which is a lot less time than the 2+ hours it would take to read the same assignment word for word.

If you are very short on time, you can grab your corresponding ATI book (if your school uses ATI prep) and read the sections that cover what you’ll be learning in class.  The ATI books are great because they typically only have the absolute must-know information about a topic.  As we mentioned in How to Pass ATI Exams on Your First Attempt, using the ATI books all throughout the semester instead of the week before your exam will definitely boost your ATI scores.  Ideally, looking at both your textbook and your ATI book would have you super prepared and ready for lecture, but it is up to you to select the best preview method for you!  For example, we usually skimmed our textbook for our adult health courses using the method described above, but for our psychiatric nursing course, simply reading the corresponding ATI chapters was enough to make us feel prepared for lecture!

Stay Awake

It can definitely be a challenge to stay alert during class when you’re sleep deprived or just exhausted from dividing your time into studying, clinicals, skills practice, and maintaining your life outside of nursing school.  However, it is vital that you are actually awake and not merely giving off the illusion that you are awake in order to get the most out of every class.  If you are struggling to keep your eyes open, here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Bring a snack:  It is much tougher to fall asleep if you are munching on a tasty snack!  However, be careful not to pack too much food!  If you stuff yourself, that feeling of satiety will have you asleep in no time!  If your instructor frowns upon students bringing food in class, you can try mint gum or hard candy!
  • Ditch the jacket:  If you know that your classrooms are going to be chilly, leave your jacket behind!  Most people are more likely to fall asleep when they are cozy:  full stomach, warm room, etc.  By making yourself a little uncomfortable, you can be more alert during your classes.
  • Remain hydrated:  Fill your water bottle before class and be sure to sip away during your lectures.  Getting up to empty your bladder at least twice can be helpful because actually leaving the classroom will provide you with a brief energy boost.
  • Coffee/Energy Drink:  If all else fails, you may need an extra pick-me-up before/during class in order to ensure that you’ll stay awake.  When Kendra and I were in nursing school, there was one class that we struggled to stay awake in nearly every week, and the only thing that worked was drinking a Red Bull during the second half of class.  Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do, haha!

Sit in the Front

Now do you see why our second point was to stay awake?  We can’t have you falling asleep if you’re sitting right in front of your instructor, haha!  So why should you sit in the front?  There’s no doubt about it:  the students who are the most serious about their success sit in the front.  When you sit in the front, you are able to block out the distractions that your peers may cause.  Honestly, class time is too valuable to be spent looking at the Facebook and/or Pinterest feed of the people in front of you.  If your instructor utilizes presentations or writes/draws on the whiteboard during class, why strain your eyes by sitting further away so that you can hardly see the material?  Sit in the front not only to prevent yourself from getting distracted, but also for a clear, unobstructed view of any notes you need to copy.

Listen Actively

Hopefully if you woke up early, battled traffic, fought for a parking spot, and came on in to class, you are going to give your instructor your undivided attention.  Why even bother putting forth all the effort it takes to come to class if you are not going to pay attention?  Sure it can be difficult, especially if your instructor is monotonous or the topic is not interesting to you.  Even if your instructor simply reads off of powerpoints or is not the most engaging, you should show them a sign of respect and listen to what they have to say.  Whether you think so or not, your instructors are aware of who is paying attention and who isn’t.  They are nurses, so they pay attention to detail!  By presenting yourself as a student who is always ready to learn, your instructor will be more than willing to offer you assistance later down the road, whether it be helping you to understand a concept after class, a letter of recommendation, or a LinkedIn endorsement! 

When you are an active listener in class, it is easy to pick up on what your instructor deems important, especially when they use phrases such as “this is important”, “you should know…”, or “the nursing role/responsibility is…”.  But if you are too busy daydreaming during class, you can miss tone inflections or even a blatant “this will be on the test”, and there’s no reason why you should miss that (and someone will miss it  every lecture, trust us).

So there you have it!  If you apply these four tips to your next class, you’ll notice a difference in the way you feel about the material and when test time approaches.  How do you get the most out of your lectures?  Be sure to comment below and let us know!