Smart Strategy: the Need to Know

The “need to know” information is exactly what it sounds like – the need to know! It’s the information that requires your attention. When you focus on the “need to know” you are studying what you need to do well on your exams and as a nurse.

In comparison, “nice to know” information is detail. If you find yourself deep into the “nice to know”, you’re in the weeds. It’s nice to know when you’re in the hospital, specializing in cardiovascular, neuro, or endocrine. It’s not nice to know in nursing school when all you want is the need to know. In fact, I don’t even know why it’s called “nice to know.” It’s more annoying than it is nice.

An example of “need to know” information would be lab value ranges such as blood sugar, hematocrit, hemoglobin, RBCs, or WBCs. These are basic lab values that will never go away and you’ll always need to know. A lab value that you don’t need to know, that’s “nice to know,” for example, is gastrin levels.

During nursing school, you’ll always be guided towards “need to know” information. NCLEX makes it easy by giving a guide towards the “need to know” lab values and other information important to study for the exam on their website.

Your instructors will teach over topics they’d like you to focus on. Don’t get distracted by dense material available in textbooks. Instead, focus on what your teacher directed your attention towards. Dive deeper into topics you find interesting or need clarification on but don’t worry about memorizing every little detail.

It’s best to have a quality yet general idea over each topic rather than a detailed understanding of one topic. Remember that it’s not about memorizing  during nursing school. It’s about applying information. That’s why Anatomy and Physiology are so important. It creates the basis for which you’ll be able to think your way to the answer, not just regurgitate information.

A high level of stress and confusion, as well as a lack of focus, is a good indicator that you’ve ventured into the weeds. When you realize you’re in the weeds stop, take a deep breath, and re-evaluate what you’re studying. Perhaps all you need to do is shift your focus back to the main topic. From there you should see the top points that are the need to know, skip the rest.

For patho/pharmacology, you’ll focus on the disease, signs or symptoms, causes, medications, and interventions. In other classes, you’ll focus on basic care and human needs based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, as well as the nursing process. I discuss Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs and the nursing process in my up and coming eBook, “Smart Strategies for Nursing School: How to Study, Manage Your Time, and Still Have a Life.”

Happy Studying,


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