Why Academia Values Analogical Thinking and the MAT

The Miller Analogies Test (MAT) is a standardized test normally used for graduate school admissions. The test is composed entirely of analogies. But why does graduate school test your ability to solve analogies? Why is such an ability important?

Standardized tests have included analogies for almost 100 years. Studies have shown that skill with analogies is connected to intelligence, analytical ability, and higher thinking that extends beyond simple memorization. Prospective schools find these traits desirable in their incoming students.

Graduate programs require a standardized test score so that they have some basis for comparing your application to others. Many factors influence grades, so schools use tests like the MAT because they stick to a standard. The MAT you take is most likely the same MAT that someone else across the country took, or at least very similar.

So, for example, if two applicants have the same GPA but different MAT scores, an admissions committee can more easily decide which applicant to accept. Schools also tend to put more stock in concrete data, like a numerical MAT score, than they do subjective data, like a teacher’s recommendation letter. After all, you can bribe a teacher to write you a good letter, but you can’t bribe the MAT.

Schools like the MAT because it tests your ability to think in terms of analogies. Admission boards want to know that you can think and reason. If you perform well on the MAT, they know you can determine relationships in many different situations.

This skill is particularly valuable in fields like science that often require analogical thinking. For example, if adding acid B to chemical C produces an explosion, then adding acid B to chemical D, which is in the same chemical class as chemical C, will probably also produce an explosion.

This inference uses an analogy to predict that a similar situation will produce a similar result. In this example, analogical thinking may save your life!

In a similar vein, schools want to see that you’re well rounded. Many programs that accept MAT scores for admission are in education-related fields. If you’re going to become an educator, it makes sense that you need a broad spectrum of knowledge, to explain concepts to your future students.

A good MAT score most likely means that you have a basic level of knowledge about the humanities, sciences, and so on, making it more likely that you can explain a concept in more than one way. And using analogies is a great way to teach, especially if you can make an analogy using a concept the student is comfortable with.

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