1. Memorize normal lab values
This is a major component of any foundational nursing course, which is typically taught as your first nursing class. I recommend memorizing the following lab values: WBC, Hgb, Hct, platelet count, Na, K, Ca, Mg, Phosphorus, pH, pCO2, HCO3, BUN, Creatinine, PT, PTT, INR, Glucose, and HgbA1C. If you have these already memorized it will make your first semester much easier, as well as future courses because you will always use this information (yes, even after graduation). Keep in mind that each nursing school/hospital may vary in their normal ranges by a slight amount.
2. Start taking practice NCLEX question quizzes
Finding practice NCLEX questions online was a method I used before almost every test. You can buy books or apps that are loaded with practice questions, but you can also find several by simply googling “practice NCLEX questions lab values”. You will frequently hear nursing students say, “nursing exams aren’t like any other test I’ve ever taken” and that is a very true statement. Multiple choice questions on a nursing exam often have more than one answer containing correct information and you must determine which is the MOST correct answer. This is a major learning curve and can be very confusing for students. I recommend taking random NCLEX practice quizzes as time allows, before you start your first course. It will be most beneficial if you can find practice quizzes that give the correct answer as well as an explanation about why that answer is the correct choice.
3. Find out how you learn best
Maybe you came out of high school knowing how you learn and retain information best, but I certainly didn’t. I honestly don’t think I knew how to study until my second or third semester of nursing school. What worked best for me: a study group, taking & re-reading my notes, flash cards (depending on the material), and practice NCLEX style questions. I was never the type that could retain much from simply reading a chapter, I utilized my book when I had questions or felt I needed a more in-depth explanation of something. My advice on a study group: make sure it’s an actual study group, not a bitching group. Nursing school is hard; there will definitely be times when a complaining session is much needed, however, complaining isn’t going to help you pass nursing school, studying will. Also, you may find that a large group is too overwhelming for you, sometimes one or two study buddies is best.