The MuchSmarter Blog

How Brian Turned a "Weakness" Into a Strength

Steve Schecter
April 4, 2020

When we first started working with Brian, he told us he had a weakness: he worked very slowly.

Brian is a bright kid, and he's extremely thorough. He does not like to make mistakes, and doesn't like to give up on getting the answer to a problem.  In fact, he will typically persist until he has the answer -- no matter how long it takes him. 

As of 10th grade, Brian had strong grades but would have been considered “weak on standardized tests.”  His very deliberate learning and problem-solving style would have been considered part of the problem!  And this challenge loomed large when Brian began practicing for his ACT.  Even though he was allowed time-and-a-half for all standardized testing, Brian still needed MUCH more time than he had when he started.

How much more?  Well...time-and-a-half allows 90 minutes to complete the Math section. Brian needed as much as 110 minutes in his first practice attempts. He also needed 100 minutes to finish the Science section and 140 minutes to finish a Reading section--and he only had 52-and-a-half minutes to do each of those!


It took Brian several months to get his times in line with the time he was allotted by the ACT. His plan was to go a bit faster each week.  Even so, some weeks he would not go faster at all; in fact, some weeks he would go slower.  But, slowly and gradually, Brian did work his times down to the point that, on the eve of his taking the ACT for the first time in June of his sophomore year, Brian could reasonably expect to complete the test on time. 

And he did. And, even better, we also got to see how the very same quality that he -- and everyone around him -- viewed as a weakness, could now be seen as a strength.  

Because of his time-and-a-half accommodation, Brian’s ACT lasted close to six hours. How many kids do you know who could concentrate effectively for that long a period of time? (Heck, how many adults do you know who could pull that off?)

Brian could! His perceived “weakness”’ -- his tendency to work slowly, deliberately, and relentlessly -- was also his strength, because it gave him the ability to focus over extended periods of time.  

So, Brian focused better over a six hour period than the vast majority of students would over a four-hour period.  

And his ACT results tell the story: he scored a 33 the very first time he took the ACT at the end of his sophomore year.   He did wind up taking the ACT again in his junior year to smooth out a couple of areas, but he was already basically done and his goal was achieved, enabling him to move on to other accomplishments in his junior and senior years.   And by the start of second semester junior year, he gained acceptance to his first choice college.   

So, if you feel like you've got a weakness in your skill set that's stopping you from being your best, instead of letting it discourage you, you can ask yourself this question:

In what way is this weakness a strength? In what way can it be turned into a strength?

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