Becoming a registered nurse requires successfully passing an Anatomy and Physiology course. In order to do so, you’ll need to memorize certain anatomical terminology and better understand complex physiological processes. Ask one of the thousands of Joyce University nurses about their experience with A & P, and they will undoubtedly tell you how rigorous and challenging the course is. As a nursing student, your expectation should be that A & P will be one of your more difficult courses, but don’t worry— we’re here to help! This useful guide is chock full of helpful Anatomy and Physiology study tips for nursing students, designed to prepare you with effective study tools for remembering and recalling the course material successfully.
Beyond passing the course, learning all of this information can also help make you a better nurse—giving you a more holistic understanding of each of the parts of the body and how they all work together. At Joyce, we have extensive experience helping students succeed in our nursing program. Based on the knowledge we’ve gained over years of practice, combined with the application of scientifically-proven study methods, our list of top ten study tips will help you prepare for and excel in your Anatomy and Physiology course—and in your future career as a registered nurse.
We recommended that you develop a robust study method and hold yourself to it. Read the assigned sections in the textbook before going to class—if you already have some familiarity with the topic, your comprehension of the lecture will be much improved. Make sure that you study the images too, as Anatomy & Physiology is a very visual course. Since your instructor will often add information that isn’t included in the lecture notes, try to attend every lab and lecture. Take notes in class and consider recording the lectures, so that you can listen to them later when you’re reviewing the material. If you have questions in class, ask them! Joyce instructors are invested in your success as a student and want to help you understand the material better. Finally, try to spend 15 minutes reviewing your notes after class—this brief review will help your brain retain new information.
Related resource: How to Prepare for Nursing School
Studies have found that students acquire both a deeper understanding and better recall of material when they take notes by hand, rather than using a laptop. When you type notes on a computer, you are able to write down more words, but you also tend to record the information you hear verbatim. When you write information by hand, you tend to reframe the information in your own words—and this type of record-keeping has a significant impact on how much information you actually absorb. As you take notes, you can also draw pictures, diagrams, or charts—whatever works to help you organize, comprehend, and remember the material effectively.
Related Resource: 10 Proven Study Tips to Retain Information
Most medical terms derive from Greek and Latin. Anatomy terminology is almost exclusively Latin, while Greek is used mostly for clinical terminology. One of the reasons Greek and Latin are used (in addition to the Greek influence on medicine through the 18th century) is because they are well-suited to the building of compound words. Each medical term is made from a root word, which is often combined with a prefix (at the start of a word), a suffix (at the end of the word), or both. This means that you can break down medical terms into their component parts to make them easier to understand and memorize. For example, the word dacryosistisis derives from three Greek terms: dákryon (tear), kýstis (sac), and -itis (inflammation). When you become familiar with these terms, you can understand why the meaning of dacryosistisis is “inflammation of the tear sac.”
Using mnemonic devices is one of the best techniques for memorizing information. Mnemonics refers to any system or device used to aid memory, and often relates more specifically to a pattern of ideas, letters, or associations. Common mnemonic devices include rhyming mnemonics or acronyms. For example, one common acronym used for remembering how to review an emergency CT head scan is Blood Can Be Very Bad, reminding you to search the Blood, Cistern, Brain, Ventricles, and Bone. An acronym for remembering the Brachial Plexis roots subdivisions is Remember To Drink Cold Beer (Roots, Trunks, Divisions, Cords, and Branches). You can invent your own acronyms, or check out online resources like Medical Mnemonics, which has a large database of medical mnemonics, organized by category.
Chunking is a particularly helpful method to use for digesting large volumes of information. When we group information into smaller sets, our brains can remember more. For example, we remember phone numbers by grouping them into three categories, like this: (000) 000-0000.
Chunking information involves finding patterns amongst terms and then, grouping the terms by the patterns. It is a particularly effective method because our brains are naturally primed to look for patterns already.
To use this method to study for your Anatomy and Physiology course, group vocabulary words by patterns you recognize—such as topic, the first letter of the word, how the word sounds, or the number of letters in the word. Write down the list of words (by hand!), grouped by pattern, and then test yourself. Try to recall every word in the group without referencing your notes. This is a particularly good method for memorizing anatomy, medical terms, diseases, lab values, and other vocabulary words.
Repeatedly recalling information strengthens the connections and memories in your brain, helping you retain information more effectively. Create flash cards, do practice tests, and write out important concepts without referencing your notes. Flashcards utilize active recall, which requires you to remember information without looking at a range of options, and has been found to create stronger neural connections. You can use free digital flashcard apps like Quizlet or Chegg. Pay particular attention to the questions or information that you miss, and make sure to study those more frequently.
Related Resource: Nursing School Survival Kit
Students can sometimes focus so much on the week’s lessons that they often miss seeing the larger patterns in the course materials. Try to focus on learning the overarching concepts and systems. You’ll likely find that many concepts—such as metabolism—come up again and again. If you have clear comprehension of the concept, you’ll have a much better understanding of how that concept influences each body system, and you will retain all of the information better. Try creating a section in your notes for each of the most important concepts, and add notes to each concept whenever something comes up in class that relates to it.
Another way to focus on the big picture is to conceptualize how you will use the information you’re learning in your Anatomy & Physiology course in your future nursing career. For example, if your patient is in renal failure, your understanding of anatomy will help you better understand why their kidneys aren’t working properly. In addition, your knowledge of physiology will help you understand why your patient is experiencing fluid overload. When you can connect what you’re learning with the reason you’re learning it, it can help keep you motivated through challenging courses like A & P.
Related Resource: 6 Proven Study Tips to Retain Information
We all process information differently, and you’ll do yourself a big favor by figuring out your ideal type of learning environment. Some students find they are more focused in the early morning, while others do better in the evening. Some students concentrate better with low-level background noise, while others require silence. All of us work best in conditions where we feel comfortable, but not sleepy and engaged, but not distracted. Consider the type of desk you plan to use, the lighting in your workspace, the temperature of the room, and any other factors that will contribute to how you interact with the space you’re in. Don’t just theorize what will work best for you—test out a few different study environments, and pay attention to your response to the different environmental factors. After you’ve finished, make note of how productive your study session was and then, take steps to reproduce the conditions that were the most favorable for you.
Related Resource: Start Strong: 4 Tips for a Great Semester
Study groups can be an invaluable resource for nursing students. Meeting with other students helps motivate you to study, fills in the gaps in your knowledge, helps you retain information, and gives you the opportunity to form connections with your classmates.
Meet regularly with your study group to go over readings and lectures—they will likely remember things you missed, and vice versa. Talk through challenging areas in the material and if you know something someone else doesn’t, explain it to them in your own words. Studies have found that the average person retains 90% of what they learn when they teach the concept to someone else. You can also practice together—quizzing each other on important concepts and terms. Meet in a small group of 4-6 people so that each individual contributes. If there isn’t an existing group, put one together yourself.
Related Resource: 5 Ways to Make Studying Less of a Chore
While in nursing school, it’s very important to take good care of yourself. Make sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise as much as you can. Taking care of your body will have beneficial effects on your concentration and mood. Not only that, sleep, exercise, and a good diet are also proven to help improve memory.
Try finding ways to take care of your body while you study—you could use a standing desk, go on a short walk, or schedule in quick workout breaks. Plan out and prepare your meals once a week so you have easy, convenient, and healthy options to choose from. And whatever you do, try to get enough sleep—it will have great effects on your memory and emotional well-being.
In addition, set boundaries on your time with friends and family when needed. Tackle the most important items on your to-do list first, and accept that you won’t complete everything on your list by the end of the day. Give yourself permission to stop aiming for perfection—nursing school is already challenging enough.
Your Anatomy and Physiology course will most likely challenge you, but utilizing these proven study tools and techniques will help you successfully pass the course and excel in your future career as a licensed nurse.
And if you’re interested in continuing your education after completing your nursing program, Joyce has you covered. As a recognized leader in nursing education, more and more nurses are choosing to advance their education with our progressive RN to BSN program. Our no-nonsense BSN program was built for you to take at your own pace without the worry of pricing going up. Our innovative, “all-in” tuition model means you can complete our program in less than a year or take your time, without increasing the cost of the program. We even offer a New Nurse Scholarship for nurses who choose to pursue their BSN degree soon after completing their associate’s degree.
If you’re looking to gain higher earning potential, become eligible for leadership positions in nursing, or want to pursue advanced degrees like Nurse Practitioner, getting your BSN degree is a great next step—and Joyce has the expertise to help you get there quickly and affordably.
Interested in getting your RN to BSN degree? Learn more about Joyce’s unique program.