BACKGROUND : The balance between lessons prepared to challenge the talented students and students who find the courses difficult is a recurrent dilemma in the Danish nurse education. Challenging talented students while pitching the learning appropriately for less able students is a recurring dilemma in education. In Danish nursing courses, the gap between these two kinds of student becomes particularly obvious in fifth semester theoretical courses. METHODS : To provide knowledge of students' experiences of challenging courses a phenomenological approach was adopted. Nine fifth semester nursing students participated. Data were generated through photo-elicitation, which proceeded in two steps. Firstly, nursing students were invited to take photos of NO-situations, i.e. situations they considered to be boring, difficult, annoying or confusing, and YES-situations, which they considered to be cool, awesome, interesting, exciting, encouraging, etc. Secondly, the students presented their photos at a workshop, where they described the background of the photos. In reflecting teams, they reflected on the stories and discussed whether they recognised the situations and could relate them to their own experiences. The stories, reflections and discussions were audio recorded and transcribed. RESULTS : A phenomenological analysis revealed three themes. The first theme It is hard to crack the code was characterised by a feeling of insecurity in facing unknown words and concepts that were far from what they normally associated with nursing. The second theme When the students succeeded in cracking the code was characterised by the feeling of joy and relief when they grasped the meaning and understood the links to nursing practice. The third theme Sources of irritation and frustration was characterised by various disturbances, lack of mutual respect and practical challenges. The paper also adds to the field of elicitation methods the combination of photo-elicitation and reflecting teams.