ELM Survival Guide

Welcome future nurse! The purpose of this guide is to give you a jump start on all the information that you need for success at my alma mater: the Azusa Pacific University Entry Level Master’s (ELM) program.

Everything in here is the opinion of one guy, so feel feel free to take it or leave it as you see fit. Perhaps you can come up with better ways of doing things that you can pass on to future cohorts.

You are probably feeling excited and a little bit nervous right now – don’t worry, all of your predecessors felt that way, too 🙂

If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out to me here: davidbenavides21@apu.edu.

~ David Benavides, Cohort 125

Logins and Links

Username and Password

APU uses single sign-on (SSO) for most of its systems – that means that your login is the same for everything (even the building WiFi). You do not have to update your password everywhere if you change it
Update 1/5/2023: The Elsevier password must be changed separately from the APU password.


The San Diego building WiFi uses your APU email and password for the network called “APU WiFi”.

Know these links:

apu.edu – manage your class schedule and finance info here. Access the APU library to get research articles.

canvas.apu.edu – access your class content, syllabi, power points. All assignments are submitted here.

calendar.google.com – the faculty will share a calendar with you that will show your class schedule (not assignment due dates)

gmail.com – access your apu.edu email.

pageburstls.elsevier.com – access textbooks that you get from Elsevier (your book bundle).

evolve.elsevier.com – access digital content associated with each textbook you get through Elsevier (your book bundle), access Saunders, and NCLEX review questions. THIS MAY CHANGE STARTING SPRING 2024.

kaptest.com – access the NCLEX-style integrated tests and focused review tests that you will need to do for each class. You can also do additional review on your own, but … you probably won’t have time for that.

12/2023 Update: I have been informed that the ELM program is switching to ATI testing interface to be integrated throughout the program, starting for the Spring semester 2024.

apu.slingshotedu.com – an optional service that helps you get the additional textbooks you will need for each class that are not part of the book bundle.

elnec.academy.reliaslearning.com – ELNEC – short end-of-life care courses you will be required to take.

Items to Buy

  1. Textbooks – check your syllabi for the books that are not in the book bundle.
  2. Scrubs – get them from the approved school vendor.
  3. Stethoscope – it’s not a fashion show. Get a cheap one and a real one once you graduate.
  4. ECG Calipers – they are cheap on Amazon.
  5. iPad + iPencil + Notability – most people who did not start with this setup ended up buying it by the end of first semester.


You will mostly use your textbooks when you need to get a deeper understanding of the topics you cover in class. 99% of the time, everything you need to know for exams is covered in class, so you may not ever crack open a class textbook (e.g. Patho…), *BUT* you will frequently use the digital content associated with your med surg book, and the other books as references for your papers.

Update 1/2024: The ELM program will not be offering books as a bundle. Now, books can be purchased wherever you can get them. Check out Chegg.com or rent them through Amazon if you think you might not need them for long.

PRO TIP: Buy the book bundle, but expect about $100-$150 of additional books needed per semester. I have found several of the non-bundle books for much cheaper on Chegg.com. I have also had a lot of success renting books on Amazon.com and using Kindle Cloud Reader to read them online.


Slingshot is a company that APU partnered with to get you the extra textbooks you will need for each semester – the ones not included in your book bundle. At the beginning of each semester, they try to find the textbooks you need and deliver them to you via VitalSource or RedShelf. THEN THEY SEND A BILL TO APU that YOU have to pay with your tuition.

You can opt out of Slingshot by going to apu.slingshotedu.com, logging in with your APU credentials, and “opting out” in the My Account tab.


Kaplan is a giant test bank of NCLEX-style questions. It gets integrated into each class in the form of “Focused Reviews” – tests you take at home, and “Integrated Tests” – tests you take in class. For either type of Kaplan test, you will be required to “remediate”, which means looking up the answers to the questions you got wrong and explaining what you did wrong.

PRO TIP: Don’t just look up the answers to the focused review tests on Quizlet and automatically get a good score to lower your remediation time. You will do much better on exams if you actually try to do the Kaplan tests.

Update 12/2023: Getting to know the Kaplan content and format is extremely important. Your exit exam that you must pass to graduate is through Kaplan. The NCLEX has the same format as Kaplan. The sooner you start reviewing and utilizing Kaplan as a tool, the less stress you will have at the end of your schooling.


ClinicalKey is a really great tool that gives you lots of extra nursing clinical guidelines, access to journals, and lots of other cool information. This will probably be most useful while at clinical to look up procedures that you want to learn about, or to help you find research articles for your Foundations class paper.

You cannot access the ClinicalKey for nursing mobile app with the type of subscription that comes in your book bundle, so this is strictly a browser-based tool (the mobile website is formatted well, you just have to log in through Elsevier, which is kind of a pain).


Saunders is a test bank that provides practice questions on various nursing topics. The questions are much simpler in complexity than Kaplan, and were never assigned as homework in any class (as of 2nd semester), so you probably won’t use Saunders much.

Due Dates

All assignment due dates are listed on each class syllabus, and are rarely changed. Most professors have very hefty penalties for being late with assignments… so just don’t be late. If you are, make sure your professor knows ahead of time, and talk to them about it. Many of them have been in your shoes with nursing school stress (many at APU!), and they are all very gracious about it.

PRO TIP: At the beginning of the semester, put the due dates from all of your syllabi onto one Google Calendar and share it with your cohort. You’ll be a hero, and the calendar will be an invaluable tool (sharing it with others will also help find any mistakes in it!).


Most of you are probably type-A overachievers (that’s why you got in), but rest-assured, you don’t have to get a 4.0 in the ELM program. *BUT* you do have to get a 3.0, or you can be kicked out of the program. We lost two people in our cohort due to them failing Med Surg and/or Patho. So while class position is not critical, keeping at least all B’s is.

Additionally, APU is affiliated with Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing honor society that will accept the top 12% of your cohort in semester 4 – in case you are interested in stuff like that.

Update 12/2023: Two major San Diego hospitals ask for your GPA when applying for new graduate nurse jobs: Kaiser and Scripps.

APA Formatting

APA formatting will be very important in Foundations and Patho. Utilize your APA manual, and make sure you have the correct edition. Additionally, there is a Kindle APA reference guide for less than $10 that you can get in order to have a quick reference (or just use any of the many online references for free).

  1. Citations for your textbooks can be found in Elsevier (https://evolve.elsevier.com).
  2. The APU library (https://apu.edu/library) is a wealth of citable research – get familiar with it now. Citations can be generated automatically from most articles.
  3. Use Scribbr.com to generate other citations. Sometimes it will generate them automatically.

PRO TIP: DOUBLE CHECK THE FORMATTING AFTER YOU AUTO-GENERATE CITATIONS – case errors or missing punctuation can cost you lots of points!

Cohort Dynamics

Your cohort will quickly begin to feel like a family – friends will be made, personalities will clash, cliques will form – it’s inevitable. The most important thing to do is maintain professionalism and civility with your classmates, because you will be stuck with them for almost two years, and will be in group projects with them.

You’ll probably (maybe even accidentally) link up with 3-4 people that vibe with your study methods, and those people will become your inner circle. Divide your administrative, research, and study material creation tasks among your small group to save yourself a lot of time.

Working During the Semester

It’s possible – but difficult. Most of your free time will be spent studying or catching up on sleep and family/friend time. We had a few people working as CNAs during the semester and their feedback was that it was “very difficult”. A few others had desk jobs that they were able to continue on a very part-time basis. If you must work, try to find something with short shifts, flexible hours, or where you can study.

BSN Classes

This section gives you a rundown of your classes – what to expect and tips for success.

Every class has a group project. Some are more involved than others, all involve a presentation (or two) to the class.

Every class has a “spiritual” component where you will explore the connection between spirituality and nursing, or examine your own spirituality.

1st Semester:

Med Surg 1 (Jessica Oliver)

Med surg is one of your most important classes, especially since it is more units than the other classes. It consists of:

1. Didactic Lecture
2. Clinical / Practical at St. Paul’s / UCSD Population Health / Sharp Acute Rehab
3. Skills Lab

The clinical portions are easy to pass – make sure you show up on time and have a good attitude toward grunt work, because you’ll be starting with the $hit tasks (literally).

The didactic portion of this class will be mostly reviewing the professor’s powerpoint slides and discussing various patient presentations by body system.

For example, you’ll learn about the integumentary system, what disorders/conditions can occur in a patient, and the nursing interventions that can treat it. This is cool because it will coincide with your Patho and Health Assessment classes.

Train your brain now to know what “normal” is when you are looking at a patient, what can go wrong, and how you treat it. Pay attention to the priority given to treatment steps (Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Patient Safety, Comfort), this is important when testing. Many people get really interested in the symptoms and presentation portions of this class, and skip the “Nursing Interventions”. The interventions are why we are taking this class, so don’t skip them.

Exams: Exams in this class are not too bad. Use the powerpoint slides to create quizlets, or find previously made quizlets online. Make sure you understand any disorders that are mentioned, and use the textbook to provide deeper context if needed. Pretty much all the exam content is on the powerpoint slides. If you want real mastery, do some Kaplan practice tests on the topic that you will be tested on.

Here is a quizlet I made with the normal lab values you need to know: https://quizlet.com/_d5m5od?x=1jqt&i=5366se

Health Assessment (Bridget Miranda)

David’s head to toe assessment flow. Feel free to make yourself a copy and edit as you develop your own head to toe assessment. You must be logged in to your APU google account to access this: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Wbh6aoO8up6ocXPoJf0wjebXViv6x7R1Gm21ZlE0c8g/edit?usp=sharing

Pathophysiology A (Dr. Glenn Holt)

Update 1/2024: Most of patho will be taught asynchronously online, and Dr. H. will hold regular office hours where you can ask questions and go over material.

Don’t be scared by the intimidating name – Patho is not as hard as it sounds. It is 100% didactic with a group presentation and an individual “spiritual share” presentation.

Didactic: Dr. Holt will teach you from his highly curated powerpoint slides. He does such an organized job presenting his content that there will be little (if any) need for you to consult your textbook.

Spiritual Shares: These are 5 minute unstructured presentations where you can share something about yourself. In the past, people have shared photos from vacations, YouTube videos of their favorite music, lessons on a language they speak, or short devotionals.

GDP (Group Disease Presentations): The GDP is a presentation you will create with five or six classmates to present a topic (one of ours was rhabdomyolysis and compartment syndrome). The order of your slides should follow the sections presented in your syllabus, with proper citations and pronunciation (yes, this matters). Your textbook is a good place reference for these presentations. The place where most people lost points was for improper APA citations/reference page.

Foundations of Nursing Practice (Dr. Dayna Holt)

This class is 100% didactic, with group presentations and a large research paper. Classes are very interactive and group discussion is highly encouraged. You will explore nursing’s roots, it’s connection with spirituality, and nursing theories.

Group Presentations: Your group projects will consist of reading through 5-6 research papers on topics like Just Culture or Nursing Theories, then creating a powerpoint presentation to present what you learned to the class. Make sure your APA formatting throughout the slides is perfect, and that you do a good job with eye contact and smooth presentation.

Research Paper: You can choose from approved topics and write a research paper. Ours needed to be roughly 10 pages. Make sure to include almost none of your own opinions or inferences in the paper. All you need to do is find citable peer-reviewed information on your topic and present it. You can’t over-site this thing! The more citations the better, like one for every couple sentences (not kidding). The first half of the paper is due at some point in the middle of the semester, and the second half is due at the end. Except that the paper won’t be fully graded until well after the semester ends.

Exams: There are no exams in this class. Make sure to thank Dr. H for that!

Nutrition (Dr. Judi Labenske)

You may or may not have this class in your first semester, depending on if you start in the summer. If you do have it, it is an 8 week course that will be mostly lectures supported by powerpoint slides.

Pay special attention to the “fill in the blank” worksheets, as many of these exact phrases and facts show up on tests.

2nd Semester:

Intermediate Med Surg 2 + Clinical

Pharmacology (Dr. Janet Mendis)

Pathophysiology B

Mental Health + Clinical

3rd Semester:


Christian Foundations


Obstetrics + Clinical

Pediatrics + Clinical

4th Semester:

Scientific Writing


Community Health + Clinical

Critical Care + Clinical

5th Semester:

Clinical Residency

Kaplan NCLEX Studying

MSN Elective Course

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