What’s Your Learning Type: Part 2 – The MBTI Approach to Learning

By Mark Ard

What’s Your Learning Type Part 2This is the second part in a series on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Read part one here.

Last time we talked about Extraversion vs. Introversion and Judgers vs. Perceivers. The key message was that we tend to be more comfortable in either action and expression or reservation and contemplation. We are energized when we seek environments that harmonize with our preferences. Furthermore, we tend to thrive in either chaos or order and seek to organize our lives in patterns that bring us peace.

Now we move to the Sensor vs. iNtuitive dichotomy. This is a question about how you gather and relate to information and therefore is the single most important learning type to understand for the preclinical years.

My first experience with the difference between S and N types was waiting to start an anatomy quiz. Some students were naming all the structures we’d covered, their innervation, action, insertion, and origin. I couldn’t name three muscles. I was going to fail. Then I started taking the test, and once I saw the questions, the answers just came to me. I am an N type, and until it was explained to me, I went through medical school feeling stupid, despite doing pretty well on tests.

Sensors take in information in a logical, sequential manner. They are tactile, literal, and experiential. They start at the beginning and work through until the end, and then they can play it back in the same linear fashion. iNtuitors are figurative. They think in abstract theoretical frameworks, relationships, meanings, and possibilities. Studies vary in their results about who does better as undergraduates, but in general, you could get into medical school by neglecting what doesn’t come naturally to your type.

If you are a Sensor, lists come easy to you. Your safety is rote memorization. You probably like to read notes, highlight the notes, then reread your highlights. There’s a peace in the order of outlines. Your problem will be integration questions. Furthermore, a poor test writer may lull you into thinking you’re good with concrete, straight recognition questions.

How to succeed as an S type:
• When studying, learn the facts, but spend the majority of time integrating them.
• Draw diagrams. Study non-linearly. Make concept maps!
• Answer open-ended questions that start with “explain the relationship between…” and “How does [blank] work”

If you are an iNtuitor, the sheer volume of knowledge in medical school will seem (extra) overwhelming. You came in thinking you were going to be House, MD, instead you’re drowning in minutia. You might get those esoteric questions that an S –type might stare at blankly for 10 mins, but God help you, you can’t remember the name of the big bone in the thigh.

How to succeed as an N type:
• Really review multiple-choice questions. Don’t just say, “I get it”. Make a list of concepts and facts you keep getting wrong
• Study open-ended questions that ask you to recall facts and lists. “What is…” and “Name 5 things…”
• Don’t study with S types…they will make you feel dumb

Some studies show N types succeeding better on standardized exams, but honestly, I think that’s because they are reassured by multiple choice questions, and therefore go to them more during study time, which ultimately is the most important part of any study strategy. Still, an S type who has spent the time and effort integrating the facts will beat an N type who just takes tests all day without hammering in the details.

For more information, I encourage you to look for the book “Success Types in Medical Education” written by Pelley and Dalley. It’s a bit outdated since the invention of, well, the internet, but the information is golden.

Next time we will finish up with Thinkers vs. Feelers and a rough guide to figuring out what you might want to do as a specialty.
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