It is with great sadness that we note the passing of the Miller Analogies Test. Introduced in 1926 it will be administered today for the final time, if anyone bothered to sign up. Created by W. S. Miller of the University of Minnesota to assess applicants to graduate schools, it was offered (for that purpose) by a series of owners, including the Psychological Corporation, Harcourt and (finally) Pearson.

It’s a weird little test. People used to have such faith in analogies as a tool to predict graduate school performance. And the MAT was nothing but analogies. 

On the MAT you might get a question like this:

Plane : Air :: Car : (a. motorcycle, b. engine, c. land, d. atmosphere)

Or something like this:

Seek : Find :: (a. locate, b. book, c. retrieve, d. listen) : Hear

Those are decent measures of one’s intelligence.  But you might also get something like this:

Salt : Hypertension :: Sugar : (a. cholesterol, b. carbohydrates, c. hyperthyroidism, d. diabetes)

Funny, right?

Or your might get this:

Frost : Poetry :: Miller : (a. grain, b. drama, c. literature, d. bard)

Does one’s knowledge of the Western canon predict one’s success at graduate school?  More on that later.

These are all taken from the Official MAT Study guide.  Here’s my favorite:

Napoleon : Pergola :: (a. baker, b. general, c. lumber, d. trellis) : Carpenter

Give yourself a moment to think it out.  I’ll put the answer at the end of this post.  

The best discussion of this test might be in the pages of Barron’s “How to Prepare for the Miller Analogies Test” by the esteemed Robert J. Sternberg.  He quotes the test’s technical manual as saying that “the test items require the recognition of relationships rather than the display of enormous erudition.”  Alas, he suggests… that might be an overstatement.  He suggests:

“The test measures the extent to which an individual has become acculturated to the concepts of Western (and particularly white middle class American) civilization”

This seems like a test specially designed to amuse Stephen Fry.

Is it a valid predictor of success in graduate school?  Says Sternberg: “the MAT generally affords a low level of predictive accuracy to those who use it.”  But also:  “the MAT is about as good a predictor of graduate school performances as any other test around.”

I chuckled.  One of the knocks against the SAT has always been that you can replace it with just about anything that is mentally challenging and can be studied for and the scores will be just about as useful. Sternberg’s observation (written before I was even born)  hints at that reality.

Here’s the answer to the above question:  This analogy makes no sense if you think of Napoleon as the French general and emperor. However, a napoleon is also a pastry. Therefore, a napoleon (the pastry) is made by a baker (option a), just as a wooden pergola (a trelliswork arbor or patio covering) is built by a carpenter.

Here’s one more:

Sinanthropus : Pithecanthropus :: (a. Peking, b. Hong Kong, c. Cairo, d. Kabul) : Java

Think you can figure it out?  The answer is in the study guide.

I emailed Pearson about getting a copy of the MAT Technical manual before they all get pulped but, sadly, they didn’t write back.

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