myersbriggs
Photo: Alana Shukovsky

In less than 30 minutes and fewer than 100 questions, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is supposedly able to sort a person’s personality into one of 16 categories.

Most experts agree that the assessment of the MBTI test is inaccurate. A 2009 study published in the academic journal "Teaching and Learning in Medicine," wrote that descriptions from the MBTI test were "not only unnecessary but also misleading." 

Despite this, many professional companies, including 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies, use the test to analyze an individual's career compatibility. Closer to campus, Counseling and Psychological Services and Career Services have also made use of the test for decades. 

For at least 20 years, CAPS has held a Personal Wellness and Career Workshop together with Career Services, CAPS Executive Director Bill Alexander said. At the workshop, all students take the MBTI and occasionally the StrengthsQuest questionnaire in a group setting that is monitored by a CAPS psychologist and a Career Services representative. The aim of this exercise is to help students better assess their personal career interests.

“We use [MBTI] to start discussions,” Alexander said. “It’s a nice way to [help] people think about what their strengths and weaknesses are.” 

However, many professionals argue that the MBTI is not only ineffective, but can also be harmful.

Wharton professor Adam Grant is a strong opponent of the test, and has argued in multiple articles that the test is unreliable and that its outcomes are insignificant and inaccurate.

“There is no convincing body of evidence that types affect job performance or team effectiveness,” Grant wrote in Psychology Today. “Palm readings and horoscopes can spark insights too. That doesn’t mean we should talk about them in our work teams.”

Alexander conceded that before giving the test, CAPS and Career Services tell students that the MBTI is more of an exploration rather than a diagnosis or definitive result.

“We would never use it in a psychological assessment,” Alexander said. “The psychologist who runs it usually says this is more like a parlor game. It’s a fun exercise that gets you thinking.” 

Third-year government administration and educational policy graduate student Abigail Dym, who is running a MBTI training session next Thursday, agreed with Alexander.

“I found it to be incredibly useful primarily as a tool to understand my work style,” said Dym, who first encountered the test in her early career.  “It really helped me to think about my own preferences and my own expectations about working.”

Students who have taken the exam said the results were often inaccurate and seemed to be a waste of time.

College junior Elena Prieto, a history major who paid $25 to take the test her freshman year at Career Services, said the test reported that she is best suited to be a biochemical engineer. 

“Being at Penn, taking a test like this doesn’t help because so many courses that you would do well in at other schools are weed-out courses here," Prieto said.

She added that due to the difficult nature of Engineering introductory classes, she would not have been able to tell whether she could succeed in that field.

Penn Benjamins member and College sophomore Camila Johanek also said her results were inaccurate, and that she was surprised to learn CAPS still invites students to take the test.

“I can understand if they’re using questionnaires for research, but using one that has been proven to be false and ineffective really jeopardizes their overall credibility,” Johanek said. “I’m really shocked that they’re still using this and think this only adds to people’s hesitation in going to CAPS.”

In response to these student comments, Alexander said he stands by the use of the test. 

“Students feel, for many different reasons, pressured or obligated into a certain career track,” Alexander said. “It’s nice to explore what are your interests and what you are thinking about.”

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