Finding and Understanding Your Academic Strengths and Weaknesses

Let’s face it, school can be challenging at any age.

When a student does poorly in a subject, they tend to focus on the negative.

Those who try to improve will probably spend more time trying to overcome a weakness, such as poor reading skills.

Unfortunately, focusing on weaknesses is not the path they should take.

It leads to a lack of confidence and neglect of their strengths, which is where their attention should be.

What are academic strengths? Academic strengths include; curiosity, creativity, imagination, critical thinking, organization, time management, delayed gratification, and impulse control. Academic strengths are traits and skills that serve students as a strong foundation to excel academically. They are transferrable to knowledge-based careers that require strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

When academic strengths are discovered early it is easier to ensure they mature over time into valuable life skills.

If your child struggles with classwork or wants to get better grades, you can help them find and understand both their academic strengths and weaknesses.

To help them excel, here is your complete guide to honing academic strengths and properly managing weaknesses.

The Importance of Analyzing Academic Strengths and Weaknesses

Whether your child is in third-grade or their third year of law school, a deep awareness of their positive and negative traits/skills will help them understand how to survive and ultimately thrive in school.

It will also help to grow their sense of self-awareness as they become more familiar with the inner workings of their abilities.

Once they know what they are good at, they can spend more time developing their strengths.

Then, they can begin to seek opportunities to grow instead of being held back by challenges.

If you can help your child focus on their strengths you will set them on the path to building confidence and enthusiasm, which will lead to better grades over time.

They will also start to naturally overcome some of their weaknesses as their ability to manage their skillset matures.

If you are ready to begin this journey, let’s start with a simple process to improve academic strengths and compensate for academic weaknesses.

I like to think of it in 3 phases:

  • Discovery
  • Development
  • Application

First, they will need to discover their strengths and weaknesses.

The discovery phase includes learning more about the most common positive and negative traits that students often possess.

Then, you can help them identify which of these strengths and weaknesses exist within themselves.

After identifying their strengths and weaknesses, the development phase is next.

This requires more focus on the positive skills and traits as opposed to the negative.

To do so, it is best that they spend more time on activities that rely on their strengths.

This approach will help your child to build confidence as they develop their skill set, making it more likely they will be strong and will stick to the process when they have to loop back to the negatives and work on them.

Then, during the application phase, they will apply steps for minimizing their weaknesses and relying on their strengths.

These are steps that they will be able to use throughout their academic career, from elementary school to graduate school. 

Before we get to the details on all of that, let’s get through some basics to make sure we are on the same page.

Examples of Academic Strengths

Here is a list of essential academic strengths:

  • Attention to detail
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Enthusiasm
  • Problem-solving
  • Visualization
  • Perseverance
  • Flexibility
  • Organization

Some of these skills/traits develop naturally, while others require practice.

For example, your child may have a natural enthusiasm for learning, but it can take years for them to develop good study habits.

During the early years of academic development, each child needs to work on math and reading skills at home and in the classroom.

Nurturing these intellectual strengths early provides students a strong foundation upon which they can build their additional academic strengths later.

Besides academic strengths, personal strengths are also needed to help your child succeed at each level of education. Traits such as ambition, authenticity, compassion, curiosity, decisiveness, and confidence are helpful in school and the real world. Since they are not technically academic strengths I won’t be talking about them in-depth, but it’s important to remember that they will have a direct impact on your child’s academic success.  

Attention to Detail

A student with good attention to detail are focused and less likely to overlook instructions, resulting in fewer errors that can lead to a lower grade.

Students that pay attention to the details are more likely to remain organized, focused, and engaged in the task at hand.

Creativity

Creativity is a crucial 21st-century strength.

While many people assume that creativity only applies to the arts, students also need creativity for problem-solving and visualization.

Creativity is important for every area of schooling.

It leads to innovation and generates enthusiasm for learning. It also promotes abstract thinking skills.

Critical Thinking

In this context, critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze your way of thinking instead of accepting your preconceived ideas.

As with creativity, critical thinking skills help improve problem-solving skills.

When students develop their critical thinking skills, they learn to reflect, analyze, and plan.

These steps are beneficial in all aspects of life and will serve your child well as they get older.

Enthusiasm

Students with enthusiasm for learning experience less stress and anxiety when studying or learning a new subject.

They are more interested in the material and are more likely to hang in there when they are being challenged until they are able to devise a solution.

Enthusiasm is a trait that students can develop over time, even when lacking any interest in schoolwork.

In many cases, building more confidence is the key to becoming more enthusiastic.

There is magic in knowing that you are good at something.

If you can help your child develop their skills and become good at a few different things academically, they will begin to see their abilities in a new way.

Their self-esteem will benefit significantly and their enthusiasm will grow.

Problem-Solving

Problem-solving skills remain the most essential of academic strengths.

In fact, educators recommend focusing on problem-solving skills at an early age to foster school readiness.

It is also a skill that your child will need throughout their education and later in life.

The basic problem-solving steps include:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Listing the solutions
  • Weighing the possible solutions
  • Putting a solution into practice
  • Evaluating the solution

Even as adults, it is easy to overlook these basic steps.

People often skip toward the end, putting a solution in place without weighing other options.

If students are given the opportunity to become familiar with a decision-making framework like this, they will be more likely to make well thought out decisions.

Visualization

Visualization and abstract thinking are useful skills for subjects that require logical reasoning, such as math and science.

When you calculate figures in your head instead of counting on your figures or using a calculator, you are visualizing the solution.

This type of thinking improves cognitive function, boosting brain power.

Visualization is also becoming increasingly important in the digital age.

Students tend to find programming and coding easier when they have strong visualization skills.

Perseverance

Perseverance is the determination to keep going when things get tough.

Students who persevere are more likely to overcome their weaknesses instead of letting them become major obstacles.

Flexibility

How well can your child adapt to changes?

If they can deal with sudden changes in plans, their flexibility is a strength and will grow into a bigger asset as time passes.

The ability to quickly adapt means that the child likely also possesses good problem-solving skills, because they are poised enough to know that most of the time things don’t work out exactly as planned and adjustments need to be made in the moment.

Organization

As progress is made through high school and college, your child will also to develop strong time management and organizational skills.

These skills apply to school, work, and personal life.

Balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, social responsibilities, and other commitments requires organization.

They may need to juggle multiple assignments or study for a test while completing a project for another class.

These tasks become easier with good time management and organizational skills.

The best way to develop them is through planning, experience, and meaningful reflection.

Activities That Cultivate Academic Strengths

As you think about these strengths, consider how they would apply in your situation.

Think about whether your child possesses any of these strengths and remember the importance of correctly identifying their strengths as an important step in improving their academics.

It may take some time to work through the details and really figure out which traits/skills truly are strengths, but once you do the benefits will definitely be worth it in the long run.

To help this process along, you should think about activities outside of school that are shown to help kids develop intellectually.

You may be surprised to learn how some of these activities can help them along, and they won’t even know they are working! 

Here is a short list of some of the things you can try that will help with all of the academic strengths discussed:

  • Pursue Enrichment Through Music
  • Pursue Enrichment Through Academics
  • Pursue Enrichment Through Athletics
  • Pursue Enrichment Through Responsibility

Enrichment Through Music

Music lessons are shown through research to help kids with a broad array of academic and social skills, attention to detail is just one of them.

Believe it or not, kids who learn an instrument are also likely to be better at math and better able to focus on other tasks.

Enrichment Through Intellectual Endeavors

There are many things a person can do to pursue enrichment through intellectual endeavors.

They include debate, rocket club, building race cars, robotics, coding, and more.

For now I will talk about coding, but the benefits discussed apply to each. 

Coding teaches focus, logic, and problem-solving. It also teaches kids to think before they act.

Small mistakes can cause a program to fail. As they practice, kids learn this over time and figure out how to minimize their mistakes.

The more familiar they get with coding, the better they get with finding and fixing their mistakes.

Not all parents will be comfortable helping their kids learn to code.

Fortunately, there are some great resources out there that handle the hard work for you. 

For younger kids, Lego WeDo 2.0 engages the imagination of the child while starting them on the basic concepts of programming.

You can find it on Amazon here.

For older kids, Lego Mindstorms can keep kids going for hours before they realize they are learning.

You can find it on Amazon here.

Although each set seems expensive, when you consider how many different combinations of programmable robots you can build with each, it comes out to be way cheaper than ordering a single Lego set that can only be built 1 way.  

Additionally, both Lego sets will help to build all of the strengths discussed below.

Enrichment Through Athletics

Joining a sports team is another great way to teach kids how to focus and pay attention to the details.

Kids love to play. If they don’t do what they are supposed to do, the coach is going to give them less playing time.

To earn more playing time, they will have to earn their coaches trust so he knows they are ready for more responsibility.

Enrichment Through Responsibility

Weekly chores build on the responsibility theme covered in sports.

For some parents, tying an incentive to the child’s chores will serve as a needed motivator. Others will choose not to.

Either is OK, as long as the child is learning the importance of their contributions to the environment around them. 

If they forget, try not to do it for them.

They need to learn how to handle their responsibilities for themselves.

As they grow into this role they will take on more, and will have to use their critical thinking skills to solve the problems that arise.

How Students Can Find Their Academic Strengths

The next part of the discovery phase is identifying strengths.

Many students struggle to identify their strengths, spending more time scrutinizing their weaknesses.

Typically, your strengths involve characteristics, skills, or traits that come naturally.

Therefore, developing those first may create some early easy wins that will help the student believe in themselves and build some confidence.

For example, they may be a good problem-solver. When presented with a challenge, they might enjoy solving the issue instead of getting stressed.

Other students remain organized and manage their time well, while some are better at critical thinking or visualizing abstract concepts.

The important thing is that they take the time to learn what their strengths are so they can become more systematic in how they utilize their natural talents and abilities.

The following steps should help your child identify their strengths:

  • Honestly self-evaluate your strengths and give yourself meaningful feedback
  • Ask for feedback from others
  • Take aptitude tests
  • Analyze your decision-making style
  • Determine your organizational style

Self-Evaluate Your Strengths

The first step in identifying your strengths is to consider the areas that come naturally to you.

Review the academic strengths list from above, and decide if you possess any of those skills or traits.

Think of the last several assignments, tests, or projects that you completed. Try to remember what parts were easiest.

Make a list of the skills or traits that you think helped you complete the project.

Ask for Feedback from Others

You can also get feedback from teachers, professors, or parents. Sometimes others have the best insight into your abilities.

Ask for help in identifying your strengths. You may even ask someone to review your list of strengths to verify your self-evaluation.

Take Aptitude Tests

Another option is to take an aptitude test. You can search for aptitude tests online, or ask teachers or administrative staff at your school about available testing.

There are many types of aptitude tests. Some tests help determine whether you are good at problem-solving or visualization, while others may help uncover your emotional strengths, such as enthusiasm or perseverance.

Analyze Your Decision-Making Process

Evaluating your decision-making process also helps uncover strengths and weaknesses.

Some people base their decisions on logic, while others rely on emotion or personal feelings.

If you tend to think logically, you may have good problem-solving skills.

If you tend to focus on your emotions, you may possess additional creativity or visualization skills.

Are you a logical or emotional decision-maker? Think about the last major purchase or difficult decision you needed to make.

If you spent hours considering all possible options, you are likely a logical thinker.

If you decided based on your gut instinct or personal feelings, you are probably an emotional decision-maker. Neither is wrong and we are all a little of both.

Understanding which is your dominant style will help you better understand your natural tendencies so you can use them to your advantage. 

Determine Your Organizational Style

Besides the decision-making process, your organizational style may give you more insight into your strengths.

If you get stressed when you do not have a plan, organizational skills may be one of your strengths.

The lack of organization may prevent you from concentrating and staying focused.

If a strict schedule causes stress, you may prefer flexibility. This shows that you have a stronger ability to adapt to changes.

How to Help Students Understand Their Academic Strengths

Once the academic strengths and weaknesses are identified the meaningful work begins.

Next, you should work with your child to understand how these characteristics impact their education.

This honest self-evaluation will empower them to prioritize their personal development.

Instead of working on every strength and weakness at the same time, it will be best to focus on one area at a time.

As mentioned earlier, start with a list. Begin with an academic strengths list, placing the favorite strength at the top.

The list will help to create a tangible sense of progress for your child and will allow them to remember their strengths even when working on a topic that seems unrelated.

It is easy to overlook a specific strength when feeling that it does not apply to the current subject, but as you know this is often not the case.

For example, when completing a science project, the student may not think that they need to use their creativity.

This is unlikely. Creativity is one of those skills that undergirds everything else.

If they can consciously tap into their creativity they may become more interested in the topic and earn a better grade.  

Tips for Developing Academic Strengths

After the discovery phase, they can begin to develop their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

It is important to start with their strengths, as their strengths give your child the building blocks for improving their academic performance.

If you want to learn more, I wrote an entire article about following through on academic goals.

Here are the top six methods for improving academic strengths:

  • Set SMART goals
  • Receive extra training
  • Find a mentor or tutor
  • Spend more time studying
  • Select classes that highlight your strengths

Depending on their grade level, they may also work with a teacher or instructor to develop their strengths.

Set SMART Goals

When developing any skills, it helps to set SMART goals. These goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Setting a specific goal means choosing something detailed, such as graduating with honors. 

The goal should also be measurable. An example of a measurable goal would be achieving a certain grade. 

Next, goals should be attainable and realistic. This means the goals selected need to be within their reach.

For example, if your child is currently getting a C in their class, it may be unrealistic to want to become the head of the class right away. Perhaps start by aiming for a B. 

Finally, ensure that the goal is timely.

Instead of choosing something that may take an entire school year to complete, help them choose a goal that they can track and measure throughout the quarter or semester.

Ideally, this will build toward a bigger goal by the end of the year.

When choosing a goal, remember they need to select something that uses one or more of their strengths.

If they want to work on their problem-solving skills, they may resolve to get a better grade on an assignment that relies on problem-solving, such as a math test. 

Receive Extra Training

The next step for developing strengths is to consider training.

People often assume that training is only needed in areas where the child is struggling. This is not the case.

Extra training can help them get even better at the things that come more naturally to them.

There are many ways to receive extra training. They can enroll in additional classes, join a workshop, or find online training resources.

Find a Mentor or Tutor

As with receiving extra training, tutoring and mentoring also allow them to work on existing individual strengths instead of just weaknesses.

Most schools and colleges help students find compatible tutors, making it easy to select a qualified guide.

If you cannot find a tutor in your area, there are many online tutoring websites that provide live sessions via web chat.

Spend More Time Studying

Studying is a solution that students often overlook for increasing specific skills or strengths.

Most students only study as much as needed for a given assignment.

This is unfortunate because studying can be a huge asset for students seeking to develop their strengths.

For better results, students should spend some of their free time studying.

They should explore areas not covered in class, so they can figure out what topics truly interest them.

Select Classes that Highlight Strengths

Next, make sure your child selects classes based on their strengths. They should focus on the subjects that they love and are good at.

If they enjoy creative writing, have them sign up for a poetry class. If they are good at math and like problem solving, try a coding class.

Examples of Common Academic Weaknesses

Although it is better to focus on improving strengths, blind spots should not be left to chance.

Students who are honest with themselves about their weaknesses are more likely to successfully compensate for them because they have a plan in place for how to manage them.

While you and your child shouldn’t focus too much on the negative, you should still be aware of it.

Here is a core academic weaknesses list:

  • Procrastination
  • Lack of focus
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Difficulty staying organized
  • Fear of failure

Remember, if they are honest about the areas where they struggle, they can use their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses while they figure out how to improve.  

Procrastination

Many of the most common academic weaknesses are the direct opposite of an academic strength.

For example, procrastination is the opposite of good time management skills.

As you know, when someone procrastinates they tend to put off schoolwork until the last minute, instead of using their time wisely.

This results in rushed, sloppy work and an increased risk for errors.

Lack of Focus

If your child struggles to stay focused or has a short attention span, they may find it hard to study or develop new skills.

When the lack of focus becomes an extreme obstacle, an underlying issue may be to blame.

Some children suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD), which presents additional challenges to education.

Luckily, ADD and other learning disorders are often treatable with help from a doctor.

Lack of Enthusiasm

In some cases, a lack of focus may be the result of a lack of enthusiasm. If your child has no interest in a subject, it will be hard for them to stay focused on it.

Finding ways to make the work more entertaining is often helpful.

Difficulty Staying Organized

A lack of organizational skills will hinder academic performance. If your child cannot stay organized, start small and have them make a list of what they need to do.

They should write down everything they need to accomplish then prioritize the list by starting with the most challenging task and working their way through the list.

Although this may seem obvious to you as an adult, kids often struggle with this process and it can take them years to develop and hone.

Fear of Failure

Besides the weaknesses discussed, there are a few more issues that some students struggle with – fear of public speaking, fear of embarrassment, and fear of asking for help.

These three issues directly relate to a fear of failure.

A fear of public speaking can impact grades during oral presentations or group work.

Fear of embarrassment can impede kids from showcasing their strengths or trying a new solution to a problem.

Fear of asking for help will prevent them from making the connections and find the resources that will allow them to develop their strengths.

How Students Can Find Their Academic Weaknesses

Most students find it easier to identify their weaknesses compared to their strengths.

As people tend to dwell on the negative, these are the aspects of their education that they likely spend the most time thinking about.

When a student identifies their weaknesses, they are one step closer to effectively managing them.

To do so, they can use some of the same steps for identifying strengths.

As the parent, work with them to think back on the last few assignments or tests completed.

Help them consider the areas where they struggled the most. Have them ask themselves these questions:

  • Did I complete the assignment on time?
  • Did I give up and turn in incomplete work?
  • Did I get frustrated trying to solve a problem?

If they answer “no” to the first question, they may need to work on time management and organizational skills.

If they answered “no” to the second question, they may lack perseverance.

If they answered “no” to the third question, they may need additional self-evaluation to uncover their weaknesses.

The frustration may come from difficulty staying organized, a lack of focus, or a fear of failure.

It could also be due to a learning disability or a lack of quality instruction from the teacher.

If at the end of this exercise they still struggle to come up with a list of weaknesses, it may be beneficial to look at life outside of school.

Have them think about the types of tasks they generally dislike, such as:

  • Planning
  • Coming up with new ideas
  • Solving problems
  • Focusing on one thing for too long

When specific dislikes are identified, it may be easier to build links to weaknesses.

For example, if they dislike planning, organizational skills may be a weakness.

If they dislike coming up with new ideas, creativity may be a weakness. 

This exercise should point them in the right direction to identifying their weaknesses. 

How to Help Students Understand Their Academic Weaknesses

Understanding their strengths are only half of the battle.

Your child will also need to understand their weaknesses to see how they impact every assignment and task.

Begin by going through their list of academic weaknesses. Encourage them to be honest with themselves when evaluating their flaws.

Help them understand that their weaknesses should not prevent them from succeeding at school.

They are (hopefully) minor obstacles that can be overcome through hard work.

Everyone has weaknesses and flaws.

When we are honest and open about them with ourselves, it is easier to manage them and possibly turn them into strengths.

Tips for Managing Academic Weaknesses

Overcoming academic weaknesses may help your child get ahead.

However, do not assume that dealing with these weaknesses automatically makes them a better student.

Many people grow up believing that they can be good at anything that they put their minds to.

Unfortunately, some people are naturally adept at certain things and not as adept at others.

None of us can be good at every task or completely overcome all of our weaknesses.

So, although we should always try to improve our weakness, we should also accept that we will not be perfect. 

Here is a quick review of some of the most common academic weaknesses, along with tips for managing them.

First, remember to avoid multitasking. The process of switching tasks repeatedly limits productivity and increases the chances of errors.

How to Avoid Procrastinating

Procrastination prevents students from completing tasks on time.

To avoid this weakness, make sure they are well prepared for their assignments and help them divide their time and work into manageable blocks.

If you think they are ready for it, build some breaks in so they have time to refresh.

After 50 to 60 minutes, let them take a 10-minute break before getting back into their studies.

How to Gain More Focus

The same tips also help with focus. When time and work are divided into smaller blocks the task at hand seems more manageable.

Instead of trying to stay focused for several hours, they just need to stay focused for an hour.

If an hour is too much time, try 30 minutes.

With practice, they may start to increase the amount of time that they can study without a break.

How to Become More Enthused

One method for building enthusiasm is through rewards.

Kids who know there is something worthwhile waiting for them when they reach their goal may be more motivated to push themselves.

Although I don’t think this is a good long term strategy, if used in the short term it can give that extra boost to a student looking to get on track.

The hope is that their brain will connect the accomplishment of the task with the reward, giving them more incentive to complete the task.

How to Become More Organized

To become more organized, students should start with simple lists.

They should write down everything that they need to accomplish, and then select the one main task that if completed will set everything else in motion.

It is often helpful to start with the biggest task because the rest of the challenges are likely to fall under its umbrella, making it easier to tackle complex problems.

How to Get Over a Fear of Failure

Fear of failure or embarrassment can lead to a fear of public speaking and a fear of asking for help. Both issues can keep students from succeeding academically.

If your child has a fear of speaking in front of the class, have them try to practice speaking out loud in front of a mirror.

Once they build up some confidence, have them practice in front of family members in the home.

Remember, the best way to get over a fear is often through stimulation. They need to confront the fear by engaging in the activity they dread.

In class, they should start small. Encourage them to ask more questions in class and take opportunities to speak from their seat.

If they have a question about a problem and need help, prompt them to ask the teacher. Each time they face their fear, it becomes less intimidating to face head-on.

Applying Strengths to Overcome Weaknesses

The application phase is the final step your child needs to take to understand their academic strengths and weaknesses.

After discovering and developing their strengths, they need to apply themselves in the right manner.

Applying strengths goes beyond development. The application of strengths involves hard work, regardless of their level.

It also provides another tool for managing weaknesses.

Let’s use their next school project as a scenario.

When completing the project, have them consider how they can apply their strengths to compensate for a weakness.

For example, if they are not good at math and need to complete a math-related project, they may use their organizational skills to give more structure to the assignment.

They could also use their reading and creativity skills to search for additional solutions that are outside of their perceived boundaries of the assignment.

If they struggle to focus but have a lot of perseverance, they may also decide to use their willpower to force themselves to stay on track.

There are many great examples of high achieving scholars to had to overcome significant challenges to reach the pinnacle of their discipline.

I wrote an article about these inspirational leaders that can help get you motivated. 

Dealing with Basic Academic Weaknesses

For those who are still in intermediate or secondary school, their list of strengths and weaknesses may vary.

Along with the positive and negative traits discussed, they have basic skills to worry about, such as:

  • Math skills
  • Reading skills
  • Spelling skills
  • Science skills
  • Technology skills

When help is needed in any of these areas, the best solution is to talk to the teacher.

The child may not get the instruction that they need in the classroom, so they should not be afraid to ask for additional guidance from their teacher.

They can also find electronic resources that help develop these skills.

School-related computer games present the same problems that are presented in class, but in a more entertaining way with opportunity for repetition.

Last Thoughts on Academic Strengths & Weaknesses

Researchers, educators, parents, and students have devoted endless hours to studying why some students excel and others fail.

Unfortunately, there is no single solution for succeeding that works for everyone.

Working with your child to understand their academic strengths and weaknesses will just be a starting point for improving their academic performance.

You will also need to support their emotional needs as they deal with the adversity presented by the challenge in front of them.

If you are interested in learning some techniques to help, I wrote an article on the topic that may be of service

Remember to have them prioritize their strengths before working on weaknesses.

When they rely on their strengths they will compensate for some of the areas where they need improvement while building confidence and showing grit. 

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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