Using the Myers-Briggs Test to Become a Better Tutor

Every student is unique. The challenge for many tutors, then, is to modify their teaching approach to the student while maintaining fidelity to the material at hand. This is no easy task; indeed, many would probably argue that it is the greatest challenge for a tutor, teacher, or parent. Can this problem be ameliorated? It can, actually, thanks to a personality test used by prestigious universities, colleges, corporations, and the US government. I am talking, of course, about the Myers-Briggs Indicator, or test.

The Myers Briggs Indicator is a psychometric questionnaire that was created by the mother and daughter duo, Isabel Briggs and Catherine Briggs Myers, during World War II. Catherine Briggs’ interest in personality began when she noticed the personality differences between her daughter’s husband and his family. From here, she set out to broadly categorize human nature. The test itself was created in an effort to understand the natural proclivities of other women, which, it was assumed, would help them find ideal employment during the war. The test was influenced by Carl Jung’s landmark book, Psychological Types, and owes much to Jung’s philosophy on human nature.

The Myers-Briggs test divides human personalities into four categories, each of which is a dichotomy: Extroverted/Introverted, Intuitive/Sensory, Thinking/Feeling, Perceptive/Judging. There are sixteen possible personality combinations. Each type is distinct in the way it processes information, reacts to the world, and, most important for our purposes, learns. The sixteen types are (with their most commonly used label provided in parentheses), ISTJ (Inspector), ISFJ (Protector), INFJ (Counselor), INTJ (Mastermind), (ISTP (Crafter), ISFP (Composer), INFP (Healer), INTP (architect), ESTP (Promoter), ESFP (Performer), ENFP (Champion), ENTP (Inventor/Visionary), ESTJ (Supervisor), ESFJ (Provider), ENFJ (Teacher), ENTJ (Fieldmarshal).

According to the Myers-Briggs Indicator, extroverts tend (note I say tend) to seek breadth of knowledge, while introverts tend to seek depth of knowledge. Extroverts are often action oriented and prefer more frequent interaction with people; introverts, while not necessarily shy, do not seek as much interaction and are less action and more thought driven. Keep in mind, however, that these are broad terms. They are not meant to pigeonhole, and they vary greatly from personality type to personality type. The Myers-Briggs Indicator does not test ability, but preference. Everyone is capable of learning; how that happens, however, depends on personality type.

The intuitive/sensory functions tell us how an individual understands and interprets new inform. Sensing individuals are more likely to imbibe information by using their five senses. Details, inductive data, and facts are important to them; “gut feelings” are not trusted. Sensory kinds tend to live firmly in the present. Intuitive folk, on the other hand, enjoy the theoretical, the abstract, especially when it can be associated with patterns, and tend to be extremely interested in possibilities that lay in the future.

The thinking/feeling dichotomy governs how an individual makes rational decisions. Thinking types are naturally “objective”, and like to distance themselves from any attachment in a decision-making process. Logic, causality, consistency, etc. are their tools for reaching a decision. Feeling types, however, are quite the opposite; they apply sympathy to something in order to make an assessment of a situation and come to a decision. Feeling types tend to value harmony and tend to empathize greatly other individuals when they make decisions (this is not to say that thinking types cannot empathize with other individuals!); thus, when making decisions, they might value what would make a person comfortable, whereas a thinker would value what s/he perceives to be objectively proper course for that person.

The judging/perception functions usually dictate the comfortability an individual has with decision making. A person who is a J usually likes to come to swift conclusions, and might be seen as imperious. A P prefers to keep options open, and is more comfortable with ambiguity; indeed, they often thrive off of it.

I imagine that readers can already see the value of such a system in tutoring. Know what kinds of functions a pupil has can help a tutor understand whether a pupil enjoys the theoretical or is more “hands-on”; whether a pupil would respond analyzing information in a way that is removed from human experience, or would like to be taught in a way that seems more “down to earth”.  A student who can’t seem to sit still might be an extrovert, and might need more time socializing before being tutored, or may need to engage in discussion with a tutor, rather than in lecture.  An extrovert might also enjoy learning about many different kinds of subjects, though they might not show much interest in becoming experts in a particular field; an introvert, on the other hand, would enjoy studying a very specific aspect of a field. The strengths and weaknesses of each proclivity would be for the tutor to find and to adjust their pedagogical approach accordingly.

Tutors would be wise not only to have their pupils take the test (be sure to ask parents if you’re the tutee is below the age of 18) but to take it themselves. In this way, they would understand how to improve their teaching method. Indeed, I would recommend tutors advertise their personality type on their TutoringMatch profiles and elsewhere, since it would give prospective pupils and parents a reference point for understand the tutor. Many teachers in higher education are of the intuitive type, as they are delighted by the abstract and the theoretical. Many who have passed through universities and colleges will be surprised to hear this, as they will remember classes that were organized and taught in a manner that reflected these proclivities. Nevertheless, not all personalities learn best by interacting with theories and abstractions, and some personalities are not at all suited for this kind of learning. For these reasons, tutors should be especially keen to discover both the personality type of themselves and their pupil. The less theoretical a student is, the more creativity a tutor might have to apply to his/her pedagogical method.

Tutors interested in applying the Myers-Briggs Indicator to their pupils will find a wealth of information on the subject online, including the Myers-Briggs Indicator test, detailed explanations of each type (including learning styles), and the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each personality. A Google search of these keywords should light the way.

Other personality tests exist, such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or the Personality Assessment Inventory, each of which tutors might find useful in understanding their pupils. Again, a Google search will provide a rich trove of information!

Submitted by Taylor Barnett

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