How to Take Notes in Nursing School

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There are many techniques to help you learn how to take notes in nursing school; however, there is no right way. Try a few methods and find ones that work for you, such as the Cornell method which keeps notes organized. Remember to prioritize information and use abbreviations whenever possible.

students taking notes during lecture

Choosing a nursing career may be one of the most rewarding decisions you’ll make as nursing offers opportunities to serve others and make a positive difference in your community. However, learning to be a nurse has its share of challenges including the amount of information you need to process in classes, labs and clinicals.

It’s even more important to stay on top of everything in an accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program, such as Harding University’s, which allows you to graduate in as few as 16 months. Fortunately, you can use strategies to become a better student and more efficient note-taker. As you learn how to take notes in nursing school, brush up on your time management and organizational skills.

Understanding the Challenges of How to Write Nursing Notes

Before diving into how to take nursing notes, it’s worth exploring why note-taking in nursing school can be so challenging.

smiling woman sitting at table with a laptop

Want to get a head start? Find out what to study before nursing school.

Significant Volume of Information

One of the biggest challenges affecting how to take nursing notes is the sheer volume of information you need to record. You will examine everything from how medications affect the body to diagnostic procedures for orthopedic injuries to recommended interventions for fetal distress. It’s a lot to take in.

Complexity of Material

Another challenge in nursing school is that, although you must memorize nursing concepts and theories, memorization itself isn’t enough. The material is highly complex. For example, a case study might involve a patient with multiple comorbidities making it difficult to reduce the risk of interacting with medications.

To pass nursing school — and be an effective nurse — you must commit to deep learning. You need to understand the topic to make clinically appropriate decisions.

What do you learn in nursing school? Read more to learn what to expect.

nursing student working with sim manikin

Fast-Paced Lectures

Another challenge with taking nursing student notes is that classroom lectures are often fast-paced. However, if you’re enrolled in Harding’s ABSN program, you’ll work through the nursing coursework online. This means you can rewatch portions of lectures — or entire lectures — whenever and as many times as needed, making it easier to take notes.

How to Take Notes in Nursing School: Essential Strategies

If you’re like many students, taking notes consists of writing down as many words as possible and hoping the most essential information is included. But did you know there are established strategies for taking notes? These strategies can help optimize the learning experience and ensure you record crucial information.

Try the following strategies to learn how to take notes in nursing school and find the ones that work best for you.

harding nursing students on laptop

The Cornell Method for Nursing Students

The Cornell method is great for keeping your nursing school notes well-organized. It’s highly efficient and allows you to organize your work according to topic. Here are the steps:

  • Draw a vertical line down the sheet of paper about two inches away from the left-hand margin.
  • Begin taking notes on the right-hand side.
  • Add main ideas, keywords, summaries and questions to the left-hand side on the lines corresponding to the right-hand information.
  • When the lecture shifts from one topic to the next, leave a few lines blank and continue with your notes. You can add more to the previous topic later.
  • After class, review your notes and fill them in with more information, key thoughts or additional questions as needed.

The Mapping Method

The mapping method allows you to create a visual representation of nursing concepts. It’s particularly ideal for topics with interconnected ideas. Here’s how to write nursing notes using the mapping method:

  • Write down the main topic or idea at the top or center of your paper.
  • Create branches that lead to subtopics or connected ideas.
  • Label the branches and add notes, which might lead to additional branches.

Note-taking Apps

Taking handwritten notes is ideal, but consider a note-taking app if you prefer a tech-based solution. Look for web-based note-taking apps as trying to capture a high volume of information with your smartphone isn’t practical. Instead use a web-based app that allows for easier, faster typing.

Tips for Effective Note-taking in Nursing School

Now that you know how to take nursing notes using time-tested strategies like the Cornell method, it’s time to look at some tips for optimizing your nursing student notes to support learning and memory retention.

nursing student in front of sign

Use Handwritten Notes

Technology for note-taking may be popular, but is it the best way to promote learning and memory retention? Studies show that to give yourself an edge in school, you need to stick with handwritten notes. Studies prove that engaging fine motor skills by writing notes by hand sparks more brain activity in areas that involve memory and sensory processing.

nurse with stethoscope

Interested in more actionable tips? Check out how to pass nursing school for more information.

Prioritize Information

It’s important to remember the goal of taking notes isn’t to record the entire lecture word-for-word. Instead, note-taking should summarize the main idea, explain the key points and highlight essential bits of information. In other words, you must prioritize and write down the most critical parts.

Engage in Active Listening and Participation

Remember that taking nursing school notes is only one component of success in your nursing coursework. Sometimes it’s best to pause your note-taking in the interest of listening closely so you develop a better understanding of the topic. You also want to participate in class as much as possible as classroom engagement supports learning. If you’re taking online courses, you will participate via class forums.

Review Nursing School Notes Regularly

The best notes in the world won’t help if you don’t review them. Creating a study schedule and reviewing the material during each session is ideal. In addition, consider setting aside time before and after each class to review your notes.

Overcoming Common Note-taking Challenges

Even after learning how to take notes in nursing school, you may encounter a few obstacles. Here’s a look at overcoming some common ones.

harding nursing student on a laptop

Information Overload

Considering the volume of information to sort through, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when taking notes in nursing school classes. Remember to prioritize the key points and main ideas. It’s also helpful to use abbreviations or even learn a shorthand system. Be sure to leave a few lines blank so you can flesh out the information later.

Mental Burnout

Nursing school students must take care of themselves to avoid mental burnout. This is particularly important in a fast-paced accelerated nursing degree program. Although you should spend plenty of time studying, it’s also important to set aside time for enjoyable activities that lower your stress like exercising, meditation or reading.

Poor Knowledge Retention

Do you feel like you’re putting a lot of effort into taking notes and studying yet still having difficulty retaining what you’ve been taught? It may be helpful to become a more engaged student. Use the discussion forums to connect with your instructors and cohort. Ask questions when you need clarification and participate in ongoing discussions.

Effective Learning Starts With High-Quality Instruction

Harding University’s ABSN curriculum is your source for high-quality nursing school instruction through the lens of the Christian perspective. Our ABSN program is led by highly knowledgeable faculty members dedicated to supporting our students’ success so they can better care for their patients. Plus, with online coursework, Harding’s ABSN program makes pursuing a future in nursing more convenient than ever.

Contact our admissions counselors today to learn about our ABSN eligibility requirements and determine if our nursing school could be a good fit for you.