Strengthen Your Academic Skills

Success in college depends on a set of skills outlined below. We encourage you to make small goals to improve these skills to create steady progress towards college success.

For more focused support, you can take a College Success class. Students who completed this class improved grades and persistence towards their degree. They often say they are very happy they took the course.

Why should you take this course? See what past participants had to say!

Search for courses and learn more about current class offerings.

  • Sustaining Motivation for Learning

    It can be hard to sustain motivation and productivity for getting your school work done. Here are 6 ideas to keep your motivation strong.

    1. Remember your big reasons for being in school. It might be financial independence, making your parents or your children proud, to help people, for the love of learning, etc. 

    • Break your big reason for school into smaller goals. “Get a good job” becomes: 1. Get good grades  2. Get degree  3. Get internship   4. Get a good job
    • Not sure what your big reasons for school are? Take some time to reflect and choose. You can talk to your family or our counselors if you need a sounding board. 
    • Make big visual reminders. Plaster your room and bathroom and your car and your lock screen with images that remind you of your big reasons every day. Make it unavoidable.

    2. Imagine the line connecting your activity today to your big reasons. Take 30 minutes to start the draft of your English paper is connected to finishing the class, accumulating credits, getting degree, getting a good job. The trick is to practice making this connection each day until it is second nature. Every step counts.

    3. Stay connected with friends who care about your goals. Isolation can drag down our motivation.

    4. Do the work anyway. You won’t always feel motivated, but you can commit to follow your daily routine for work. 

    5.   Stay Productive. 

    • Use a routine to structure your day.
    • List the small tasks required for each course for the day and week.
    • Connect these tasks to the time on the calendar when you’ll work on them.
    • Use the Pomodoro Technique to balance bursts of working time with short breaks and rewards. 
    • Celebrate your accomplishments toward your larger goals.

    6.  Maintain Self-care. Work toward small improvements in exercise, sleep, nutrition, having fun, and staying connected with friends and family.

  • Asking for Help

    What stops us from seeking help when we need it?

    • Lack of knowledge of where to go for resources and support
    • Not realizing that campus and community resources are available virtually
    • Pride and shame can often stop us from seeking help
    • Personality and culture can impact our readiness to seek help


    Successful students ask for help and are more open to interdependence (the positive exchange of help an support between people). 

    Students can strengthen their readiness to accept help in order to reach their goals. Talk to instructors, classmates, tutors, counselors, or advisors. How to get started:

    • Madison College's Navigate app is the best way to get in touch with college resources like tutoring, counseling, advising, library, etc. 
    • Contact the Student Success Center; (608) 246-6076. 
    • For community resources, contact United Way 211. Available 24/7 and assists in multiple languages. 
  • Managing Your Time and Energy

    Successful students work towards using their time and energy more effectively. Here are some ideas for making improvements.

  • Fostering a Growth Mindset

    Have you ever pondered questions like, “Will I be successful in college?” or “Do I have what it takes or am I smart enough to finish college?”

    If you have, your answer may lie in the growth vs. fixed mindset debate. 

    Research shows that a person with growth mindset contributes to better outcomes in school and beyond. A person with a fixed mindset gives up sooner on difficult tasks. Below you will find resources discussing growth vs. fixed mindset, a self-assessment, and how you can optimize your mindset. 

    2 Minute Online Assessment for Mindset

    Short video comparing growth and fixed mindsets

    How to develop a growth mindset

  • College Level Reading

    Madison College Counselors are a great resource for helping students improve their reading skills. Start wtih these suggestions:

    1. Find Your Reading Corner. The right reading environment should fit with your learning style. The right spot will increase your focus and concentration. Consider four factors:

    • Atmosphere: Is there sufficient lighting? Do you have a comfortable chair?
    • Distractions: Is there enough quiet? Have you muted or turned off your phone?
    • Location: Is this spot convenient to things you need?
    • Schedule: Have you given yourself enough time to complete the reading and assignments?

    2. Preview the Text. Survey the material and ask some questions before you start reading. What’s the topic? What do you already know? What can you learn from the text from any table of contents, glossary, or introduction? What do titles, subheadings, charts, and graphs tell you?

    3. Use Smart Starting Strategies. When you start reading, don’t let the text overwhelm you. Use these strategies to keep your reading assignment under control.

    • Break up the reading: If an assignment seems daunting, break it into bite-sized sections.
    • Pace yourself: Dense material, such as that in textbooks, can be tough to read. Manage your time well and schedule regular breaks.
    • Check for understanding: As you read, occasionally ask yourself if you understand what is being communicated. If not, you may need to go back and reread a paragraph or section.

    4. Highlight or Annotate the Text. Watch for important terms, definitions, facts, and phrases and highlight them or add annotations within the document—digitally if you’re on a computer. However, don't get carried away with the highlighting.

    If you would rather not use a highlighter, try to annotate the text with notes in the margins or in comment mode, or underline key phrases. Also, look for and mark the main idea or thesis.

    5. Take Notes on Main Points. This is different from highlighting because you can take your own notes separately. Here are a few note-taking strategies:

    • Have your own style: Try bullet points, mind mapping, outlines, or whatever method works for you.
    • Turn subtitles into questions: By making section headers into questions, that can help you find the answers.
    • Summarize as you read: After reading a paragraph, write a sentence to summarize the paragraph’s main points. Is the author’s thesis supported? Is an opposing view introduced?

    6. Write Questions as You Read. Asking questions can help your comprehension. The tactic also works when reading. Ask questions in your notes—who, what, when, where, how—and then look for answers as you continue. That helps you understand what you read.

    7. Look Up Words You Don’t Know. Don’t let unfamiliar words derail you. Look them up in a dictionary before you go any further. It can be hard to recover if you miss the main point because of new words. You may want to bookmark an online dictionary, like Merriam-Webster, so you can easily find word definitions.

    8. Make Connections. Look for links and connections between the text and your experiences, thoughts, ideas, and other texts.

    9. Review and Summarize. After you finish reading, summarize the text in your own words. This will help you understand main ideas and take better notes. If you don’t understand what you’ve read, reread carefully.

    10. Discuss What You've Read. Describe what you have learned to someone else. Talk to your professor or another classmate. Join discussion groups. This will move the information (or content) from short-term to long-term memory.

  • Preparing for and Taking Tests

    Preparing for and taking tests is a key college skill set that students can intentionally improve upon. Here are some ideas for making improvements.

    Test Preparation and Test Taking Tips (with Madison College Counselor, Deb) 

    How to

    University Survival - Studying for a Test