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Assessing One and All

By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz

Myers-Briggs can help you understand your students—and colleagues—better.

To teach or communicate effectively on campus you must account for natural differences among your students. The theories behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality assessment test can provide a better understanding of those differences. They can also help you connect with students who think, feel, and learn differently than you do. The MBTI classifies people on various scales.

Everyone takes take in information (“perceives”) and then acts on it (makes a decision or “judgment”). Perception can occur by sensation (S) that focuses on immediate realities, the facts of the situation, or by intuition (“N” from “intuition”) that looks for new possibilities, implications. So called “sensing” students learn best inductively and prefer to work through problems step-by-step. They often have acute powers of observation and a memory for details. Sensing students want to be shown and practice every step in derivations and problem solving. They would prefer tests to be similar to homework. Intuitors, on the other hand, often skip steps and anticipate patterns, tending to become future-oriented, abstract, and theoretical. N's see a path to the solution—but don't always pay attention to the details—and consider multiple, similar problems to be busy work. They don't mind tests that are similar to the homework, but it's not important that they are.

All of us use both styles, but tend to prefer one over the other. Extreme sensing and intuition styles are very different. Sensors can be horrified by the ad hoc and sometimes sloppy nature of N's work, while N's may think S's are slow. Conflict may be inevitable because the majority of engineering professors are intuitive and the majority of engineering students are sensors.

Differences in how each of us makes decisions can also be problematic. People who prefer a feeling process (F's) tend to prioritize by weighing the relative values of issues and are more likely to take personal values into consideration—desiring harmony and affiliation. People who prefer a thinking process (T's) make logical, usually impersonal judgments. T's may think F's are wishy-washy while F's might conclude that T's are heartless. A teacher with a T preference, for example, can seem quite cold in the grading process.

Extraversion (E) and introversion (I) form another dichotomy. E's are energized by working with people, are action-oriented and communicate easily. I's like to work by themselves and lean toward contemplative detachment. E's function well in study groups and their grades improve. The grades of I's usually don't change if they're in study groups; however, their social, teamwork, and leadership skills can improve significantly. Introverted professors might think their E students are wasting their time socializing while the students may think their professors are aloof.

The final pair—Judging (J) and Perception (P)—express how individuals primarily direct their energy. J's—those who prefer to live in a decision-making mode—want to control time and are deadline oriented. P's are interested in gathering more data and sensory input, and are more willing to go with the flow. J's may seek closure quickly, possibly missing needed information. P's may brainstorm without end. A professor with clear J preference probably believes that a deadline is absolute and projects should be turned in on time. P students will probably take the deadline less seriously and feel hurt when penalized for being late.

It's important to note that all kinds can make useful engineering contributions. Typically, engineering students are over-represented in the TJ modes and under-represented in the NF modes, while intuitive professors are over-represented.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is much richer than can be explained here. If we have piqued your interest, check out and


Phillip Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail at

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