Pro Tips for Studying and Passing Med-Surg
by Cathy Parkes August 19, 2020 Updated: January 18, 2023 5 min read 4 Comments
Our Medical-Surgical Flashcards for Nursing Students help you study the most important concepts you need to know for your Med-Surg exam. In addition to the content provided in the cards, we have gathered some PRO tips for studying Med-Surg.
Check out our interactive Med-Surg study guide.
Things to know before starting Med-Surg
In addition to all of Cathy's expertise, we asked our Instagram community what they wish they knew before starting Med-Surg. Here's some of what they said. Want to get polled next time? Follow us @leveluprn.
- Don’t learn and dump your anatomy and physiology! Know how a body system or organ is SUPPOSED to work (what its functions are), so you can understand why/how things go wrong.
- Pathophysiology background is important, but once you’re in Med-Surg, focus more on studying the interventions the nurse should take as well as nursing duties - priorities, teachings, medications, nutrition, labs. You can understand the disease process, but if you don’t know how to treat it, how are you helping that patient?
- Have a good understanding of pharmacology
- That your predictor exams may be multiple quarters after your class, so remember to review the information regularly after you’re done with the course.
- Warning: Don’t underestimate Med-Surg! It is absolutely a class you can conquer, but you need to really devote time to studying and preparing. A good rule of thumb is about 2-3 hours of studying each week per credit hour of the class.
Tips for studying Med-Surg in nursing school
- Many concepts will be comparisons, such as the difference between left and right heart failure, or rheumatoid arthritis versus osteoarthritis. Try to study by making comparison charts and examining the unique characteristics of each condition.
- Never forget your priority setting frameworks! Always think about ABCs, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, least to most invasive, etc.! Most test questions will be priority based.
- Use as many unique ways of studying as possible! Your brain doesn’t like reading black words on a white page, so watch videos, use flash cards, take practice tests, and do whatever you can to combine your senses when you study. Practice questions are key!
- Make up test questions for yourself to see what you think you could be asked. If you get stuck, try asking “if I were writing this test, what would I want to ask?” or “what would I want to make sure my students knew?”
- Read the key points. Write down everything your teacher writes on the board. It’s probably going to be on a test or on the final
- It’s so important to study a little every day. Do not try and cram at the end
- Memorize your normal lab values
Test-taking tips for Med-Surg Nursing
- As you read the question, cover up the multiple choice options. Try to answer the question on your own first. For example, if a question asks about manifestations of acute kidney injury, try and come up with a list of possible answers before uncovering the actual options. Then, if you see one of the things you just thought of, you can feel pretty confident in choosing it!
- If you see two multiple choice options that are the exact opposite of one another, it is very likely that one of them is the answer.
- An answer that uses extreme words like “always” or “never” is unlikely to be the correct answer. There are very few times in medicine that we do something always or never!
- Examine all your options. See if there are three of them that have something to do with one another. For instance, are three options cholinergic (wet) in nature? Like excessive salivation, diarrhea, and lacrimation...but one of them is anticholinergic (dry), such as urinary retention? It’s likely that the odd man out is the one you’re looking for.
- Remember, Med-Surg is about interventions and duties. Before you pick “call the provider,” really, really prove to yourself that this is the correct answer without a doubt. You aren’t spending years of your life in nursing school to learn to call the doctor. So what are some immediate actions you could take as the nurse before or instead of alerting the provider?
- Pay attention to the numbers used in an answer. For example, “Assess vital signs every two hours.” You’re thinking, “yes! Assess vital signs!” But is the timing right? Do we want vitals more or less frequently? Or perhaps it says “administer oxygen at 2 lpm via nonrebreather.” And you’re thinking “Yes! Oxygen!” But is that the right flow rate? Any time you see a particular number, be positive it’s the right number before picking it. Don’t pick an answer you like with a number you don’t like!
- For “Select all that apply” questions, treat them as five separate true/false questions. The answers do not depend on one another. For example, if the question asked what a nurse should do upon entering the room of a patient and one answer says “clean hands with foaming alcohol-based sanitizer,” and another says “wash hands with soap and water,” both of those are correct! You’re thinking “but I already used the sanitizer, why would I wash my hands?” You wouldn’t! But you absolutely can do either of those. On their own they are both true. But don’t put them together to try and fit a story you’re telling yourself about this situation.
- Do not add or remove anything from the stem of the question. You’re living in a perfect world within this test where the only things you need to consider are the pieces of information that are presented to you. So only consider that information! If you have to add or remove something from the question to make an answer fit, it’s wrong!
- When a question asks you to pick your priority option, keep in mind all the different ways we can set priority. We can think in terms of ABCs, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nursing process, survivability, least-to-most invasive/restrictive, etc. Try and figure out which one the situation fits most closely, and answer in accordance with that priority framework. Don’t jump ahead! That is, if it’s a nursing process question, don’t skip to implementation until you’re positive that you’ve assessed!
- If you’re stuck on a priority question, ask yourself two questions:
- 1) If I could only do one thing, which would I do?
- 2) What would kill my patient the fastest?
- DO NOT CHANGE YOUR ANSWER. If you had an immediate, gut reaction to an answer, it is likely for a reason! You are probably picking up some information from way back in your memories even if you can’t specifically identify why. If you change your answer, you are likely to be wrong! The only exception to this is if you can identify with 100% certainty that you misread the question.
When in doubt
- Pick the answer that most protects patient safety.
- If none of that applies, pick whichever has the most to do with the airway.
- And if none of that applies, pick grapefruit juice!
September 10, 2020
This is AMAZING! Thanks for putting these test taking strategies in one solid list! These have all been so helpful!
September 10, 2020
Was very helpful and interés. Cathy is a fantastic profesor 🙏 I’m having my final this coming weekend and I’m so so anxious.
September 10, 2020
Your videos stressed the most important info needed to pass the classes and hesi. your videos were great help to pass peds hesi. i scored 922 thank you!
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November 16, 2022
You have helped me out tremendously!! I absolutely love you videos! You are the best.