Chapter 1: Starting Smart

Attending College Classes

 Predictions for your semester  

Pull out your MCC schedule of college classes and look at it.

  • In what course do you think you will be most successful? Why?
  • What course do you think will be most challenging? Why?
  • What course do you think you’ll get the most out of? Why?
  • What strengths do you bring to your courses?
  • What areas will you work to improve over the semester?

Learning, Hint, School, Subject

Without education you are not going anywhere in this world – Malcolm X.

Types of Classes

What types of classes are you taking this semester? Did you consider the delivery mode, or instructional method, as you selected your courses? Check out the list below to see the kinds of courses offered at MCC and look for the types of classes in which you are currently enrolled:

Face to Face: Sometimes referred to as a lecture course even though several teaching methods may be used, these courses usually reference traditional classroom instruction.

Lab: Typically a hands-on experience that engages students with applying course concepts to solve problems and/or conduct experiments.

Hybrid: A blend of face-to-face instruction with online learning activities. In a hybrid course, a significant part of the learning is online and seat time is reduced. In a hybrid course, you might attend class from fifty to eighty minutes weekly or monthly and then complete additional coursework online using Brightspace. Hybrid courses are denoted with “BH” of “CH” on MCC’s Master Schedule. Examples: COS 133-BH1 (hybrid course at the Brighton Campus) COS 133-CH1 (hybrid course at the Downtown Campus)

Remote: Remote classes typically have some synchronous activities, meaning you’ll participate in lectures and group activities through remote learning software such as Zoom with your instructor and classmates at specific times. These meetings will occur within the timeframes of the scheduled class meetings to allow for as much participation as possible.

Web-Enhanced: Traditional face-to-face classes that are enriched with online learning activities using Brightspace.

Flexible Pace: Usually a preparatory math course that contains modules and milestones for timely completion. Although the curriculum is computerized and self-paced, enabling students to move more or less quickly through the course, there is a professor available to answer questions, and your physical attendance in class is required.

Fully Online: Course instruction and all learning activities are asynchronous and online using Brightspace, so there is no seat time. Your fully online course may require you to take proctored exams. Fully online courses are denoted with “SL” on MCC’s Master Schedule. Example: COS 133-SL1 (COS 133 course fully online)

While some students prefer the convenience of learning anywhere/anytime with online courses, others feel most comfortable with traditional classroom instruction. If you are already enrolled in different course delivery methods this semester, note the benefits and challenges you are encountering. As you move through earning your certificate or degree at MCC, you’ll likely encounter a variety of delivery modes. You may need to adjust some of your strategies for success based on the instructional method, but many success strategies remain the same across all course delivery methods.

Small group work in college class

The First Week of Classes

Attending class every day is important, but attending the first day of class is especially critical. It is the time when you’ll most likely receive a course information sheet, a syllabus, and important information about the course’s content, the instructor’s approach, and any necessary pre-assessments. In some classes, you may have an opportunity to interact with your classmates through icebreaker activities while in others you may be expected to begin learning new material immediately. If you are enrolled in any online courses, it is equally important to “attend” by getting online and engaging in preview week.

One way to prepare for any of those Week #1 materials and activities is by knowing a little about them in advance:

Course Information Sheet (CIS)

Every instructor in every class at Monroe Community College is required to provide students with a course information sheet, or CIS, within the first week of the semester. If you don’t receive a CIS in any course, ask for one. It’s important to read each CIS thoroughly and keep it in a safe place, at least until after you’ve received your final grades. The CIS is a contract between instructors and students that lists course learning outcomes (what each student will know or be able to do by the end of the course) and important policies (such as if you can make up exams, or how many absences are allowed). The CIS explains how you can contact your instructor, what books and materials should be purchased, how your final grade will be calculated, and what to do if you need extra assistance in any course. The College-wide CIS also has information on class cancellations, emergency school closings, and important policies; therefore, each MCC student is required to sign into Brightspace and agree to the terms of this important document. By making sure you fully understand and can immediately access the CIS for any course, you are taking a fundamental step to getting your semester off to a good start.

If your financial circumstances prevent you from purchasing course materials, please visit the following websites to learn about resources at MCC:


Unlike the CIS, a syllabus is not something you’ll receive in every class, but most instructors give out some type of listing of when assignments are due. Many provide specific pages of the course readings they expect to be completed each day, while others list only the due dates for tests, papers, or projects. All syllabi, whether they cover everything required for the entire semester or only the next week’s assignments, are key documents that you should read carefully, record on your calendar, and keep in a safe and prominent place.

Pre-Assessments or Immediate Learning

Many professors expect their students to read the CIS outside of class, because they want to get right to work either teaching important course content or determining what students know by administering some type of pretest or baseline assessment, such as a writing sample. It’s important to come to the first class with pens, pencils, paper, and a folder so you are prepared to take notes or pretests as necessary.


Even before they start teaching, some professors spend time on icebreaker activities designed to help students get to know each other. These introductory practices, such as name tags, games, or questionnaires, are valuable because they build a community of learners who are more likely to be comfortable and engaged than students who may not even know each other’s names.

Preview Week

It is very common for colleges to offer a preview week and/or an in-person, on-campus orientation for online courses. It is very important to participate in those activities as fully as you are able so you can start the semester prepared and informed. Online courses are generally reading- and writing-intensive and include special processes for submitting work and attaching links and documents. At MCC, you can access your online courses through Brightspace. Brightspace is a course management system used to support web-based teaching and learning. You can expect your online instructors to provide a course information sheet and (most likely) a syllabus, a getting-to-know-you discussion board, and/or pre-assessments.

Drop/Add Period

The schedule adjustment (drop/add) period occurs at the very beginning of every semester. Courses dropped within the first three weeks of the full fall or spring term will not be recorded on your academic transcript. With the exception of online courses, students may add a course during the first week of the full semester without an instructor’s signature. Faculty approval (sometimes still referred to as a green slip) is required to add a class during the second and third weeks. Dropping or adding a course may have financial aid implications, so it’s always wise to check with the Financial Aid office and/or with an advisor before making any final decisions.

Physically and Mentally Prepare for Class

Most students balance a lot of responsibilities, such as work, school, and family. Such competing demands can make it hard to get the most out of class time and assignments. The effort you put in to succeed in college will pay off, though, and there are ways that you can physically and mentally prepare to excel in class. Below are a few suggestions, along with additional health and wellness strategies that can be found later in this text and on the LibGuide (content gathered by an MCC librarian and presented in an easy-to-use format).

Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks

Sometimes students get so busy that they skip meals like breakfast or lunch and then resort to junk food and coffee or energy drinks to get them through. While a candy bar and soda might give you a temporary boost, you’ll soon feel tired and hungry again. Eating healthy meals and snacks that contain lean protein, vegetables, and fruits will give you the energy needed to accomplish all of your daily tasks. The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate site includes tips on healthy eating, especially in the cafeteria setting. We’ll return to this topic later in the course.

Exercise Regularly

In much the same way healthy eating does, exercising can give you energy throughout the day. Physical activity can also help prevent you from getting sick, which can lead to missed classes and work and lower grades. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), college-aged students should get at least 2.5 hours of exercise each week.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleeping is like recharging your personal battery each night for the next day. However, studies show that on some campuses, like the University of Alabama, 60 percent of the student population doesn’t get adequate sleep. Although some students will need slightly more or less sleep, you should aim for eight hours every night. Along with getting enough sleep, you can practice healthy habits to sleep soundly, like avoiding caffeinated beverages before you go to bed and reading instead of using electronic devices before bed to help your body start to relax. [1]

Manage Stress

According to a recent American Psychological Association (APA) study, more than half of college students who used their schools’ counseling services cited anxiety as the reason they sought help. Other stress points included relationship and academic problems. Stress management will look different for each student. For some students, the solution might include exercising, while others might want to make time each week to meditate, go out with friends, spend time with pets, listen to music, or work on arts-and-crafts projects. Regardless of which activities you enjoy, it’s important to make time for stress management in your schedule.[2]

Talk to Counselors, Advisors, or Instructors

Counselors, advisors, and instructors are good resources to help you learn strategies for being successful both in and out of the classroom. Services provided by the Counseling Center and Disabilities Services include individual, group, and crisis counseling, prevention and education, mental health consultation, and referrals. Advisors help students with making decisions, exploring career goals, choosing a major, and selecting courses. Your advisor may be an instructor or a professional advisor in the Advisement and Transfer Services. A great place for students to reach out if they have questions is to go to an instructor teaching their courses. Instructors can often assist in giving additional study tips for the course content they teach, and they can help guide students to other resources across the campus.

Utilize Campus Resources

MCC has many resources to support student success that will be discussed throughout the COS textbook. Here are three you may want to consider accessing right away: free tutoring, the Library, and the Student Technology Help Desk. Free tutoring is available at the Tutoring and Academic Assistance Center (TAAC). The Library is located in the Learning Commons at the Downtown Campus and in Building 2 on the Brighton Campus. The library provides students with quiet areas and spaces for collaboration, reference materials, research help, and more. Students can visit the Student Technology Help Desk for technology help. The Student Technology HelpDesk will assist with connecting to and utilizing MCC technologies, such as resetting your password, myMCC login, MCC Student email, and wireless connections.

Why Go to Class?

You may not always want to go to class, perhaps because you have required classes that you find difficult, or you may feel overwhelmed by other commitments. However, even if your instructors allow a certain number of unexcused absences, you should aim to attend every class session. Online students should participate in class by logging on multiple times a week to complete assignments and to participate in discussions. Check the course information sheet for specific instructor expectations regarding class participation.

Class attendance enhances class performance in the following ways:

  • Class participation: Students who don’t attend class can’t participate in class activities. Class activities are usually part of your final grade, and they can help you apply concepts you learn from lectures and reading assignments.
  • Class interaction: Students who try to learn everything on their own (by doing the reading assignments outside of class, for example) miss out on class discussions with fellow students. Your classmates will often have the same questions as you do, so going to class enables you to learn from them and ask your instructor about topics you all find difficult.
  • Interaction with the instructor: Instructors specialize in the subjects they teach, and they can provide extra insight and perspective on the material you’re studying. Going to class gives you the chance to take notes and ask questions about the lectures. Also, the more you participate, the more your instructors will come to know you and be aware of any help or support you might need. This will make you feel more comfortable approaching them outside of class if you need advice or are struggling with the course material. Getting to know instructors can also help you network for future reference requests, career informational interviews, volunteer opportunities, and more.
  • Increased learning: Because you will typically spend more time on coursework outside of the classroom, class sessions are even more valuable. Typically, in-class time will be devoted to the most challenging or important concepts covered in your textbooks. It’s important to know what these are so you can master them—also they’re likely to show up on exams.
  • Avoiding negative consequences: Missing class can lead to falling behind, feeling overwhelmed, and being confused when going back to class. Consistent attendance helps students stay on track and avoid facing course withdrawal, which can cost time and money. Visualizing the end goal of a specific graduation date can help students stay motivated.
  • Begin building your professional identity: The National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) identifies the following areas as skills needed to be career-ready: career and self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology. Check out the NACE website to learn more and connect the specific behaviors listed to what you are doing in college classes. Think about how you might use your course activities and assignments as practice for the skills you need to develop in your career.

Effective Listening Strategies

Physically showing up to class is important (especially if attendance is taken), but what you do once you’re there is equally important. Getting the most out of class time involves listening effectively, which involves more than simply hearing what instructors say. Effective listening involves interacting with the speaker and material; think of it as active listening versus passive listening.

To maximize the benefit you get from attending class, try to use the following active listening skills:

  • do any assigned reading in advance because prior knowledge helps you acquire new knowledge
  • focus your full attention on the speaker
  • ask questions, either out loud or internally, in response to what is being said
  • paraphrase ideas in notes
  • think about how you’ll be assessed on the information
  • make connections to other classes and your life

Paraphrasing, or restating what you hear, is a powerful strategy for being an active listener, but it’s obviously impractical in a roomful of other students. That’s why taking notes is so important. Think of it as a “silent” way to restate what you’re taking in. Focus on capturing the key ideas and on paraphrasing what you hear (rather than writing things down verbatim). Putting ideas into your own words will deepen your understanding and strengthen your ability to recall the information later.

Refer to the information on note-taking and other read-study strategies in Chapter 5 if you need assistance in any of these important areas yet to be covered in the course.

Effective Participation Strategies

Like listening, participating in class will help you get more out of class. It may also help you stand out as a student. Instructors notice the students who participate in class, and participation is often a component of the final grade. “Participation” may include contributing to discussions, class activities, or projects. It means being actively involved.

The following are some strategies for effective participation:

  • Be a team player: Although most students have classmates they prefer to work with, they should be willing to collaborate in different types of groups. Teamwork demonstrates that a student can adapt to and learn in different situations.
  • Share meaningful questions and comments: Some students speak up in class repeatedly if they know that participation is part of their grade. Although there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, it’s a good practice to focus on quality vs. quantity. For instance, a quieter student who raises her hand only twice during a discussion but provides thoughtful comments might be more noticeable to an instructor than a student who comments on everything that’s said.
  • Be prepared: As with listening, effective participation relies on coming to class prepared. Students should complete all reading assignments beforehand and also review any notes from the previous meeting. This way they can come to class ready to discuss and engage. Be sure to write down any questions or comments you have—this is an especially good strategy for quieter students or those who need practice thinking on their feet.
  • Be an active and engaged remote learner: In remote classes that would mean trying to have your camera on and eliminating distractions during class time. While there may be many valid reasons to need to have your camera off, we have noticed that we tend to pay more attention and are engaged when we have our cameras on. Engagement also includes participating in the chat on Zoom and actively participating in breakout rooms.
Photo of a man reading a book.
Effective listening skills start outside of the classroom with the students coming prepared with questions and comments.

If You Need to Miss a Class

Class attendance is obviously important for academic success, but from time to time you may need to miss a class. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Since college classes have fewer sessions than high school, missing one class means missing more work.

The following strategies can help you minimize the academic impact when you can’t attend a class:

  • Plan in advance: Although nobody can plan to be sick, students should give their instructors advanced notice if they know they will need to miss class for something like a doctor’s appointment. This is not only respectful to the instructor, but he or she may be able to give you any handouts or assignments that you might otherwise miss. If you anticipate that class will be canceled on account of bad weather, etc., make sure you have all the materials and notes that you need to work at home. In college, “snow days” are rarely “free days”—i.e., expect that you will be responsible for all the work due on those days when school reopens.
  • Talk to fellow students: Ask to borrow class notes from one or two classmates who are reliable note takers. Be sure to also ask them about any announcements or assignments the instructor made during the class you missed.
  • Do the reading assignment(s) and any other homework. Take notes on any readings that will be discussed in the class you missed. If you have questions on the reading or homework, seek help from your classmates. Completing the homework and coming prepared for the next session will demonstrate to your instructor that you are still dedicated to the class.
Photo of two young women reading from the same computer
If you have to miss a class, find a trustworthy, responsible classmate who will lend you their notes.  You may also check Brightspace for assignments and class updates. Although these steps can’t replace the kind of interactions you’ll engage in by attending class, you may be able to avoid falling behind, and you can certainly show up to the next class prepared and ready to learn.

Explore MCC Technology:  MyMCC & BrightSpace

Monroe Community College uses an Internet-based program called Brightspace. It is a place where many professors house course documents and other supplementary materials mentioned above, for your reference.

Explore Brightspace in order to answer the questions below, and be prepared to discuss your answers in class with your peers. After you hear some of your classmates’ responses, be sure to note other ways of doing things, as well as any other useful information.

  1. Have you had a chance to explore MyMCC, the College’s portal? What kinds of information does it contain? What’s on the student checklists? Do you have plans to customize the landing page?
  2. Have you had a chance to explore Brightspace for your classes? Do your courses have a preview week? Did you complete the activities in preview week? To what extent are your professors using Brightspace? What is your plan for interacting with Brightspace throughout the semester?
  3. How is this College Success (COS) course space on Brightspace organized?
  4. Besides your classes, what other courses or information did you find in your Brightspace space? How do you think that additional information will help you succeed this semester?

For more information about the portal, check out these videos:

  1. "Sleepy Students Emphasize Studies, Social Activity to Detriment of Health, According to UA Study." UA News. 20 Aug 2014. Web. 10 Feb 2016.
  2. "College Students: Coping with Stress and Anxiety on Campus." American Psychiatric Association Blogs. 27 Aug 2015. Web. 10 Feb 2016.


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