"Hmm," said a small voice in his ear. "Difficult. Very difficult. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There's talent, my goodness, yes - and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that's interesting.... So where shall I put you?"
Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, not Slytherin, not Slytherin.
"Not Slytherin, eh?" said the small voice. "Are you sure? You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that - no? Well, if you're sure - better be GRYFFINDOR!"
I doubt JK Rowling had Isabel Briggs Myers in mind when she imagined the sorting hat. Yet, unwittingly, she created a perfect symbol for personality testing. Like the sorting hat, the questions of a personality quiz are designed to probe your mind, behaviors and preferences and sort you into one of 16 houses based on your answers. But just as Harry Potter realized, it's a self-reported test. If you really, really don't want to be an ISFP, ENTJ or Slytherin, you can always tweak your answers and get sorted into a different house.
Even if you answer the questions honestly, the fact is that some of your personality traits – your "courage," for example, or your "nice thirst to prove yourself" – can place you into well over half the houses. The 16 types involve a complex constellation of characteristics that layer and interact, and are actually quite tricky to separate out from each other. This explains why the fandom really can't agree whether Harry is an ISTP, INFP, ISFJ, ISFP, INFJ, as his observed behaviors make a strong case for each of these types and more.
So don't be surprised if you're also drawn to several "best fit" profiles, all of which describe you to a T – or if you type in the middle with no firm profile at all.
Fifty Shades of Myers and Briggs
Everyone of us is an Extravert and an Introvert, an Intuitive and a Sensor, a Thinker and a Feeler, a Judger and a Perceiver. Whenever we take a test, all we are measuring is our preference on each of the four spectrums. For each scale, there's a numerical value for how strong your dominant trait is compared to its opposite number, ranging from 51 percent (very weak) to 100 percent (totally dominant). So, you could be an ESTJ scoring Extravert (98 percent), Sensing (75 percent), Thinking (88 percent) and Judging (100 percent), or you could be an ESTJ scoring 51/ 58/ 53/ 52.
Superficially, both ESTJs have the same label but psychologically, there are going to be massive variations in how these people express themselves. We just conveniently dump all these different personalities into the house of ESTJ because that code is the best fit compared to the other houses (and a system with hundreds of codes would be impossible to manage). "Best fit" does not mean "perfect fit" – that's important. Most people will agree with some aspects of their personality profile and barely recognize themselves in others. Which is a rambling way of saying – an ESTJ is not an ESTJ is not an ESTJ.
In terms of the numbers, most people type somewhere in the middle for each scale. The graph looks like a bell curve, with most of us clustered around the 50 to 65 percent mark. So, if you score 48 percent Introverted/ 52 percent Extraverted, for example, that's normal. It's actually pretty unusual to find someone who tests in the outer reaches of the scale; say 95 percent or even 100 percent for a certain letter. Only a tiny percentage of outliers will score large percentages, showing a massively dominant preference, on any of the four scales.
Why? Because humans are diverse and adaptable creatures. None of us lives in a silo, and we adapt our behavior according to the circumstances. We learn and we grow. This sometimes means that a parent, for instance, will observe in a test that she "makes sure everyone is taken care of" – a behavior that's associated with a Feeling preference –because that's what she does every day. It comes with the territory of parenthood. In other situations, her Thinking preference might give the opposite answer.
What If I Type in the Middle?
It's really unusual to get an exact 50/50 split for every letter unless you've put the middle (neutral) option for every single question. If you're truly coming up with nothing, try re-taking the test and ask if you're being really honest with yourself. There should be some lean to one side or the other, no matter how small.
That said, personalities tend to be inconsistent and not all of us will color precisely within the designated type lines. It's very likely that you'll test "in the middle" for one or two letters, or that one or more of your traits come up very weak, say 55 percent or less. If that's the case, you may be left wondering what the heck is your personality type?
Here are some techniques for figuring it all out.
1. Miss out the weak letter
Try replacing the weak trait with an "X" and then read up on all the profiles that could potentially fit. For instance, you could get ENTX, which would imply that you type as ENTJ or ENTP. These two profiles are actually quite distinct, so you should get some clues about the right one very quickly.
Obviously, this method is not foolproof. Often, you'll get a result that sounds like you – and then get another result that also sounds like you, but is for a completely different type. Now you need to.....
2. Look at the cognitive stacks
The cognitive stacks deserve an article in their own right so instead of reinventing the wheel, I'll refer you to this article over on Thought Catalog and this one on Personality Hacker, both of which do a good job of explaining this complex system. Essentially, what we're looking at here is the order in which you use your cognitive functions, starting with the two letters in the middle of your four-letter code, which are considered the core of your personality. Every four-letter code contains a dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior function – and these functions make a massive difference to how your personality type stacks up.
Here's an example of how it works: I type INTJ with a very weak "I" of around 52 percent. So, there's a fair chance I could be INTJ or ENTJ. Certainly when I read those profiles, I can see aspects of myself in both. Looking at the cognitive stacks, we can break down each type as follows:
INTJ: Dominant Introverted Intuition - Auxiliary Extroverted Thinking - Tertiary Introverted Feeling - Inferior Extroverted Sensing
ENTJ: Dominant Extroverted Thinking - Auxiliary Introverted Intuition - Tertiary Extroverted Sensing - Inferior Introverted Feeling.
In other words, INTJs develop their traits in the following order: Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, Sensing. Dominant Intuition means they're always looking for patterns in things and apply insight into how systems are connected. But an INTJ's Intuition is Introverted (Ni), which means that all this innovative pattern-seeking happens in their heads – it's hidden or turned inwards. Outsiders might only ever see their auxiliary or second-best function, Thinking, which is extraverted or turned outwards. This is why so many INTJs are confused for ENTJs.
ENTJs operate in a slightly different order: Thinking, Intuition, Sensing, Feeling. Their dominant trait is Thinking, which is best described as logical reasoning or the ability to see the most effective outcome in any situation. And their logical reasoning is extraverted (Te), meaning they'll put their plan of action out there for the world to see. Everyone knows what an ENTJ is thinking and what is expected of them. It's why ENTJs make good, if domineering, leaders. (That's how I think-JME;)
Even from this woefully brief analysis, you can see that INTJs and ENTJs approach problems in different ways. The INTJ has a strong desire to gather as much information as possible and use that information to create a vision or goal (Ni), before they will take action (Te).
ENTJs focus first on the goal (Te – decide, decide, decide!) and then analyze the steps they might take to accomplish that goal (Ni). The difference is subtle, but it can shed a bright beaming light on your personality preferences when your code is stuck in the middle – if you can decide which cognitive functions you lead with.
Still with me?
Good, because my INTJ/ENTJ example is actually a poor illustration of how the function stacks work as these two types are very similar (E and I are generally the hardest traits to differentiate using function stacks). Running this exercise can shed much more light about your true type when the types you're testing out have very different function stacks. For instance, look what happens if you type ENTX. The difference is jarring:
ENTJ: Dominant Extroverted Thinking - Auxiliary Introverted Intuition - Tertiary Extroverted Sensing - Inferior Introverted Feeling: Te, Ni, Se, Fi
ENTP: Dominant Extroverted Intuition - Auxiliary Introverted Thinking - Tertiary Extroverted Feeling - Inferior Introverted Sensing : Ne, Ti, Fe, Si
What you're looking at here is not only two completely different function pairs, but ones that are also in a different order. The dominant preference for an ENTP is Intuition, and her Intuition is extraverted. This means that an ENTP is going to spend an awful lot of time gathering and testing out ideas in an outward-facing way – if you're a Ne dominant, it will be really obvious to others that you like to bounce ideas off others, think aloud, and have multiple interests that you're trying to feed at once. Your Thinking, by contrast, is introverted, so people won't see how you process all that brainstorming; they'll just see your final conclusions as a flash of brilliance.
Long story short – if you are typing in the middle of a scale, learning the cognitive function stack of the two relevant types may cast a pretty clear beam on which way you lean.
3. Take a different test
The final option for getting clarity on your personality type is to take a different test. That might be another 16-type test created by a different author, an in-depth (typically paid) test issued online, or an in-person assessment administered by a qualified practitioner. It's a good idea to repeat the test at different times, in different situations, as your position can change according to the environment, your mood and the people around you.
What you're looking for is patterns of behaviors, not absolutes.
Another good option is to take a complementary test such as the Big 5 Personality test. This is a completely different tool with a distinct mission, but there is a degree of translation between the two systems – scoring high on agreeableness correlates to a preference for Feeling, for example, and scoring high on Openness can be predictive of Intuition and/ or Perceiving. Try running both tests and drawing merits from both to give yourself the bigger picture.
Or Just Let It Go?
If you can't quite pin down your type or you legitimately fall between two personality stools, then more power to you. People don't fit neatly into boxes, and personality typing was never meant to be an exact science. It will always oversimplify your characteristics and tie them up in neat blue ribbons. Our personalities are more complicated than that! I cringe when someone insists that I can't be an INTJ because of an idea I've expressed, or the way I've phrased something in an article, as if there's only one version of each type and you must be completely wrong about your personality if you don't exactly match the "official" descriptions.
Bottom line: take the tests, check out the cognitive stacks and see how it all shakes down. If you're still coming up with two or more types, be both!
You may be a wonderfully rounded and developed person with no strong preference between Thinking and Feeling or whatever the pressure point may be. Take what fits and throw away the rest. The idea behind these assessments is not to nail down every facet of who you are but to start a lifelong quest for knowledge about yourself. The four-letter code simply starts the conversation, so you can work with the traits you do recognize and apply them to your advantage. The rest is just window dressing.