So you've decided you want to take the leap and become a nurse. Great! Welcome to the frying pan! Now, before you & I jump into the actual fire (I'll be jumping in soon – March is when my nursing classes and clinical practicums start so yay!), let us talk about surviving the prerequisites.
What are the Prerequisite Courses?
First, let me define prerequisite courses.
These are the courses that your school's nursing program requires that you take before they consider you for the program. These are the courses that they focus on and care about the most. They place priority on these courses over the other classes that the college may require. While GPA is, of course, what they look at, the grades you get in these prerequisite courses can be the deciding factor about whether or not you get into your program.
Meaning when the Nursing Department is deciding on who gets the very last available seat in the class, you or another person with the same GPA as you, your grades in your prerequisite courses are the deciding factor. If you get a 4.0/A in a non-prerequisite course, but the other person has a 3.3/B+ in Anatomy and Physiology, the person who has the better grades in A&P will be the one to get into the program. You will either be rejected completely OR placed on a waiting list.
For my school, nursing prerequisites are the following subjects. These subjects are counted TWICE when they’re trying to calculate your GPA:
* Anatomy and Physiology I & II (only A&P I is counted twice, but I include A&P II here because you need to take it before you go into the program anyway)
* English I
* General Psychology
My nursing program also requires the following subjects, but these you can take after entering the program. If you do take these before getting into the program, they will be counted into your GPA. This is helpful to boost up your GPA, but it can lead to trouble if you get a low grade in this class, thus pulling down your GPA, although they won’t do as much damage as getting a low grade in the subjects mentioned above these:
* English II
* Developmental Psychology
* Microbiology (which must be completed before the second semester of the nursing program)
Still with me? Yes? Good.
Let's go with the easy stuff first aka general advice.
I know this seems so trivial and simple, but seriously, know yourself.
Maybe, you're like me, and you want to get all your prerequisites done and dusted ASAP. When I was advised, the general advisor had me sign up for all of my requirements in one semester. Meaning that I had signed up for A&P I, chemistry, general psychology, and English for that first semester.
I survived, and aside from my B+ in chemistry, all my other courses worked out. I only got an A- for A&P I (funnily enough, my professor thought he gave me an A but oh well), however, my GPA was pretty good at the end (it was a 3.7). Later in the summer, I also took developmental psychology and statistics which bumped me up to a 3.8 because I had gotten As in both classes.
I was able to handle the course load due to several factions, mainly the fact that I don't have a job and I gave up going out in favor of studying and going to class every day of the week that first semester. Yes, I had classes every day of the week. Monday-Sunday.
Aside from my obligations at home, my focus was on my classes. I hardly hung out with friends, and when I did, it was on weeks when I knew I had a light load in terms of readings and homework. Even then, I was more likely to stay home and play video games than I was to go out. It was a sacrifice I made.
The stress levels were insane. Even worse because I had to take my finals early due to a previously booked trip to Japan I had with my mom which we had booked almost a year in advance. I took my A&P final and chemistry final on the same week, with me taking another A&P test just before my final for that class. So two A&P tests in one day, then the chemistry final five days later which was the same day as my departure.
I slept on that flight. I was knocked out like I just got punched in the face. Worth it though.
Now, I'm sure you don't have to worry about the same thing, but the point still stands.
Realistically, can you do about the same and take two science courses that have labs and two writing/reading intensive courses in the same semester? Can you take these important prereqs in the same semester AND get an A/A- in all of them (or one B+)?
Dig deep because this is your grade on the line. I can say 100% that it's doable, but this is my opinion based on my experience and personality. The fact that I was able to do it doesn’t mean others are going to be able to do the same. It all depends on you and your ability.
If you think that you can handle chem and A&P at the same time, go for it. But if you know that you are someone who struggles to memorize concepts and can only handle so much, don't do it. You need to not only get good grades in these courses, but you especially need to understand the concepts presented in the courses, especially A&P.
Establish Your Study Space and Designate a Study Time
This is another given. However, it is important for you to have your study space. This place can be private, or it can be in a public space. It can be a library or a cafe or your room or somewhere quiet in your house or dorm.
Wherever it is, make sure it's a comfortable place for you to study where you can focus. If this means leaving your home/dorm because it’s too loud, then leave and go somewhere else that you’re comfortable sitting in for a few hours.
You should also have a set study time every day. Obviously, things come up, but establish a time for studying and try to stick with it. Be consistent and have your routines to put yourself in the mind space for studying. If this means going to the gym first, showering, and then studying? Do it. If this means making coffee or tea before going to your study space? Then go!
Have a routine. Make it consistent.
Use a Planner
Buy yourself an academic planner, make a bullet journal, or use a digital calendar. Something. Anything! But make sure to use a planner of some kind to keep track of:
- Days off
- Cool Stuff
- Life in general
- When things are due
Don’t rely on memory or even your syllabus to tell you when things are due. Write them down in your planners. When you’ve completed whatever it is you need to complete, mark it as completed and move on to the next task.
Set Daily Goals and Reward Yourself When You Complete Them
Have daily goals that are reasonable and doable. This will prevent burnout and cognitive overload. Once you’ve finished your daily goal, reward yourself with a little something!
Of course, this would require that you have good time management which means?
Seriously just don’t do it. It’s not worth the trouble or the stress later on. It might seem like a good idea at first, but believe me – trying to finish a semester’s worth of chemistry homework right before finals won’t do you any good. You’ll just end up with a lower grade than what you could have gotten if you had done your assignments on time.
Take Breaks and Have an Alarm that Goes Off at Midnight
Take those breaks. Have those delicious snacks. Go to the gym for a bit. Go for a run. Drink! Go to the bathroom. Take a bubble bath or even just a quick, but relaxing shower. Just take a break every so often.
Also, don’t pull all-nighters. Just don’t do it, especially if you have classes in the morning. This is why I say right above this one to stop procrastinating because if you manage your time well, you should be able to avoid having to pull all-nighters.
I have an alarm that goes off at midnight. Why? That’s my signal to stop studying and go to sleep so that I’m more awake during the day. Sure, I still drink coffee, but coffee + good night’s sleep the night before? It’s good shit, and I highly recommend. I also do it because I’ve found that on days when I’m more awake, I do better on exams and quizzes than when I try to stay up to study. It’s easier for me to dig deeper into my brain when I’m awake than when I’m half asleep.
Electronic or Handwritten Notes?
You’re not confined to one or the other. However, it’s good to keep things consistent and organized. Regardless of what your decide on, make sure to record lectures for playback later on while you’re revising.
If you go electronic, make sure you’re organized by having folders for every semester and class. Whatever program you decide to use for your notes (i.e. Google Docs, OneNote, or Word), make sure that you have backups saved somewhere. If you’re using Word, make sure the file saves automatically and to upload those files to Google Drive as soon as you can. If you’re using OneNote, copy & paste your notes into Word and upload the file to Google Drive. Don’t underestimate technology’s ability to screw you over when you need it the most. Backup, backup, backup.
If you forget your laptop/tablet? Don’t worry. Handwrite your notes and then just type it up later. You could also scan the handwritten notes and just save it into the proper folder.
If you go with handwritten notes, make sure to have separate notebooks and folders for each class. If you’re more of a looseleaf and binder person, just make sure to have the binders organized with tabs if you’re going to use just one binder. Make sure everything is labeled.
If you got too lazy to write and just want to type (which I have done), then just rewrite your notes later on into your notebook/binder or print out the pages and staple them into the notebook/stick them into the binder.
Just don’t rely on printouts of powerpoints and other documents to do the work for you.
Remember that these classes are trying to prepare you for your nursing classes.
You Need to Learn and Understand the Material Well Enough to Teach It
This should be your goal. You need to imagine that you’re going to teach this to someone else. The best way to gauge whether you understand a concept is if you can teach it to someone else and they understand it.
Remember that the most important thing isn’t just getting an A in these classes. You need to learn these concepts. You need to understand them. You need to be able to use your knowledge of these concepts to answer difficult questions.
It’s great if you can memorize every muscle in the body, but if you don’t understand how action potential works and how neurotransmitters work, how will you be able to answer clinical questions?
So this brings me to another point!
Don’t cheat. I don’t care if you need a 100 to get a B/B+ in that class. I don’t care if the moon started falling to the earth Legend of Zelda style and you cheating is the only way to save the planet.
Do you want to become an RN? Do you want to earn that sweet, sweet high salary that RNs get?
Then work for it from the start.
I have no patience for cheaters, and neither do any of your future RN professors. If you get caught cheating? I have no doubt the program will have no issue tossing you out. Cheating does nothing for you and will not do you any good when you’re taking the NCLEX-RN.
Now, if you’re having trouble?
Ask Questions. Go to Tutoring When Needed
Don’t be afraid to ask your professors questions. They’re there to teach you, after all.
Don’t be afraid to use your college/university’s resources such as tutoring or study halls. They are fantastic tools that will help you study in the long run.
You are paying for this education, so you may as well use the resources that your school is providing for you so you can succeed.
Make Friends and Share Notes/Recordings of Lectures
Pretend we’re all in grammar school because it’s time to learn/relearn how to make friends! I can’t stress it enough how important it is to have friends (or at least people you’re friendly with) in all of your courses, but especially in these prereqs.
Form group chats with your classmates.
Be supportive of each other.
Share notes and recordings.
Technically speaking, some of these classmates are your competition for those seats in the nursing program. However, it’s rather harmful to think of them as such. Thus, don’t think of them as competition, but rather as your cohort, potential coworkers. You need to learn how to play nice with people and work together with them because someday, you’re going to be working in an environment that requires cooperation and good relationships to ensure patients get the best care. In a semester or two, you’re going to be in the program with these people and if you want to survive, having friends is a good thing.
In the next post, I’ll talk about surviving lecture. See ya there!