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Academic Success Toolkit: Setting Yourself Up for Success!

A Strategy for Success

Taking college courses, especially when you haven't been a student for some time, can be overwhelming! But you can do it! Taking college classes and following a plan for success can be rewarding, in addition to helping you enhance skills you need in the workforce. Although everyone is different in how they approach college coursework, a general strategy can help you stay on track. 

1. Get into Blackboard to view your classes as soon as you can and READ the syllabus for each class! This will help you prepare for what will be expected weekly in each class throughout the semester. 

2. Try to develop a routine to check your classes weekly online, if you do not meet with a class face-to-face. Commit to setting boundaries for yourself to invest in your academic efforts! If you are a totally-online student, try to find a place in your home or elsewhere so you can go to focus on your schoolwork regularly. Set aside time on a schedule as best you can to study and work on upcoming assignments, i.e. projects or tests.

3. Develop a support system! Reach out to your course instructor with questions. Find classmates to study with. Locate MCTC student services to help you when you are struggling, including library, tutoring, counseling, Student Support Services, and more. College employees are standing by to help you face any challenges you encounter in your academic journey! Be sure to download the KCTCS App to connect with other students, too. 

4. Take care of yourself! (See the "Taking Time for Self-Care" page.) Try to follow a regular meal and sleep schedule - it's hard to focus on learning when you are hungry or tired! Each campus offers a snack pantry if you are in need (See MCTC SSS Services on the "Getting Involved on Campus" page in this guide for more information.)

5. Reward yourself! When you set a goal and achieve it, give yourself a treat even if it's something small or an experience. For example, if you study for 2 hours and stay focused, reward yourself with a walk or watch a television show you enjoy. Figure out what motivates you and use that for your personal incentive! 

Studying Tips

How to Take Notes

Watch this YouTube video to get some tips for taking notes in college! Read more below. 

Taking Notes

Why bother taking notes? There are several reasons! Taking notes helps you strengthen your listening and concentration skills to stay focused on the content being presented. Many people find that taking notes improves their memory of the content and provides a study guide to review for tests. Notes, if done accurately, are generally a reflection of what an instructor deems important for you to know. Notes can be done in different ways, such as writing with pen and paper, typing on a laptop or other device, or even on index cards for ease of study later. Below are some tips to help you improve your note-taking skills!

  • Stay organized - either keep a separate notebook or file for each class or have a divided notebook for ease of access. If using index cards, you will need a system to keep them organized, such as using rubber bands, an expanding or pocket folder, or plastic sealable bags. 
  • Try to write as neatly as you can if you are hand-writing notes! 
  • Follow the instructor's cues and note anything the instructor presents on a screen, especially making note of any information underlined, bolded, written in all caps, etc. for emphasis. This indicates that the information is important! Use headings to indicate when the instructor changes topics in your notes so you can locate information more easily for studying later. You may also want to use a new sheet of paper or a file for each topic so that all of the information on the same subject is kept together for you to study later. This can also help you improve your memorization of the content. 
  • Find a method of note-taking that works best for you or the way the instructor is presenting the content. Here are so ways you may consider taking notes:
    • List - These notes will be a sequential order of the content covered by the instructor, perhaps using bullets to note a change in focus in topics or concepts as they are presented. You may consider transferring these notes to an outline or concept map (read further) after class to better organize the content for review later. 
    • Outline - This type of note-taking involves numbering concepts with main concepts generally using Roman numerals to the left of the page, and noting sub-topics with capital letters. Sub-topics can be further expanded upon with an Arabic number, a lowercase letter, and so on. 
    • Concept map - A concept map shows a central topic or theme in the middle with sub-topics noted around it, as a way to highlight relationships between the concepts. Visually, the map can be done drawing circles or boxes around the topics or done more creatively in whatever way best helps the student retain the content. Here is an example of a concept map that can be printed for your use. 
    • Cornell Method - Using this method, you will follow a specific format for a piece of paper that is divided into four boxes: a header, two columns, and a footer. The header is a small box across the top of the page with the class name, date, and any other important information that needs to be noted. Under the header are two columns with the right-hand column being about 2/3 of the page. In the larger column, you will write what the instructor discussed, announcements, and anything else that happened in class. In the smaller column to the left, you will list the information for recall, such as main concepts, key ideas, questions (self-test), etc. In the footer box at the bottom of the page, you will summarize the class lexture and discussion. To learn more about this note taking method, visit Cornell University's Note Taking System.  

Using Outlines

One tool many researchers use to organize their work is outlining. Outlines arrange the content of a research project in a hierarchical order and are often written or jotted down before writers begin actually writing. This tool can also help with brainstorming and writer's block. Below are some resources to help you use this tool to get your research project on track.


Are you a visual learner?

Tips for Reading Critically

When reading or working on an assignment, you should conduct your research with a critical eye. As you read or view your research sources, consider not only the content provided by the writer(s) but its purpose and how it is written. Consider the who is the audience for which it was written and evaluate the supporting information provided by the author. Does the author use unbiased or emotionally-charged language? Learn to distinguish between fact and interpretation. Draw your own conclusions!


Common traits of critical readers

Critical readers tend to have the following traits:

  • Exhibit self-awareness of their own thoughts and biases
  • Open-mindedness
  • Recognize arguments and avoid being easily manipulated
  • Ask questions
  • Draw evidence-based conclusions
  • Find connections between thoughts and subjects
  • Develop intellectual independence
  • Creativity

MCTC Books Available

The library has many books on the shelf and online to help you with test-taking and study skills!

MCTC Library Pinterest: Tips for College Success