8.1 Assessing Your Strengths and Learning Styles

During the college years, young adults often test and solidify their own set of values and determine what direction they want to take in life. While it is commonly recognized that this self-reflection can be a lifelong process, the college years can be a time when students can develop directions in life based on information gathered in systematic self-exploration opportunities. Understanding more about what you value in life, what interests you, your general personality characteristics, your preferences for methods of learning, your strengths, and your weaknesses can better inform you about the directions that may lead to a more fulfilling life.

General Self-Exploration

According to Clifton and Anderson (2002), successful people leverage their strengths in order to be successful in life. Investigating your strengths can be simply reflecting on those situations in your life in which you felt successful and what contributed to that, or it could be something like a formal assessment that provides you with a profile of yourself. If you joined a Learning Community or enrolled in a freshman seminar, you may have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment that provided you with your Top Five Strengths. Often, our students take the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI; offered in workshops offered by UT Arlington’s Counseling and Psychological Services) or a similar tool like the Kiersey Temperament Sorter®, offered free online as a means of assessing personality characteristics that may indicate how they interact with the world.

StrengthsQuest®  – strengthsquest.com

Kiersey Temperament Sorter® – kiersey.com


Reflecting on life experiences can inform students about their values and about what interests them. Think back to those activities that you remember enjoying vividly. Consider what aspects of those activities contributed to the enjoyment. For instance, if you loved to play a sport growing up, was it the competition that you enjoyed? Was it being outside? Was it working with a group of people? Was it how the physical exertion made you feel? Was it the recognition you received? More structured assessments can also be found for interests and values. Counseling and Psychological Services offers the Strong Interest Inventory in regular workshops that would help you hone in on your basic life interests and how those interests might relate to professionals in certain careers. Other tools could inform you more about your core values and what you might prefer in a work environment. Overall, engaging in these types of self-exploration activities can inform so many aspects of students’ lives—what to major in or how to specialize in a given major, what types of co-curricular activities they might enjoy, the environments in which they might like to learn, and career options.


Activity 8-1:

Take the Kiersey Temperament Sorter II online at kiersey.com by clicking the “Start” circle. Are you an Artisan, Guardian, Rational, or Idealist? Is this consistent with how you see yourself? How might this impact the way you think about college, studying, or choice of major or career?


Learning Preferences

In college, faculty members implement many different ways of sharing material with their students—through readings, class lectures that may or may not include PowerPoint slides or handouts, class discussions, online interactions, and assignments. Think about a student who likes to take in the world visually. For this student, a book without graphs, charts, and pictures and a lecture with a professor simply talking about the information would be less appealing than a book and lecture environment full of visual images. Situations like the one described points to learning preferences—the way that a person learns best—sometimes also referred to as a learning style.

Common scales of learning preferences tend to categorize students into visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners. The VARK also includes Read-Write as a style. Other scales consider other factors such as how students interact with information in terms of their thinking, feeling, and methods

of experiencing the world, such as with the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire. It is no secret that there is disagreement in the academic community regarding how and what should be measured regarding learning preferences (Coffield, Moseley, & Ecclestone, 2004), but what is important is that college students engage in opportunities to learn more about themselves and how they learn.

Students who are more informed about their learning preferences can act more proactively. In some cases, students who know how they like to learn can seek out majors and professions that may suit their styles. They can also select professors who may be more likely to teach a course in their preferred method. The question that you should be asking your classmates is not, “Is that professor easy?” The question you should be asking is, “How does that professor teach the course?” and “What methods do they use to teach the material?” A professor who teaches a course only by talking about the material will be a more difficult class for a visual learner in comparison to a professor who uses more visual elements to teach the same material.

Unfortunately, students do not always have the ability to select a professor that suits their learning preferences, and students cannot expect a faculty member to adjust their teaching style to suit the needs of one individual student. Students who are successful in college are able to adapt material to their own learning preferences. For instance, if you are a visual student, create ways to turn lecture notes into visual materials using the visual organizers discussed in Chapter 5.

Table 8-1. Activities for Different Learning Preferences
Adapted from the University of Western Ontario Student Development Centre (2009). Learning Styles.
Retrieved from sdc.uwo.ca/learning/index. html?styles on March 24, 2010.
Auditory Learners Visual Learners Kinesthetic Learners
Read out loud. Create charts and diagrams of concepts. Ask questions in class or discuss material in a study group.
Talk about the main points that are being expressed in diagrams and pictures. Review all of the pictures and charts while reading and relate the visuals to what you are reading. Engage in lab classes or courses in which service learning is an option as a way to “live” what you are learning about.
Sit in front in class so that you can hear clearly. Avoid busy visual environments while concentrating, as they are distracting. Have something small that you can play with in your hand while concentrating or take notes on a laptop.


Activity 8-2:

Take the VARK Learning Styles Inventory online at:

Are you multimodal, or do you have a single strong preference? Go to the help sheets for your learning preferences to find out more about the learning strategies you can implement given your learning preferences. Read through them and commit to trying a couple of the strategies in your next study session and reflect on how those strategies worked for you.

To get another point of view on your learning preferences, take the Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire online at:

What did you learn about your learning preferences? What activities can you engage in while studying that will help you learn new information?


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