Can You Study for the MAT?

Unlike other graduate admissions tests with very limited subject areas (GRE and GMAT, I’m looking at you!), the Miller Analogies Test draws its content from a vast range of topics, running the gamut from astronomy to anthropology. At first glance, it may seem hard to see how such an exam could ever be tamed: it’d be like studying for Trivial Pursuit, or Jeopardy! But the test’s broad scope doesn’t mean you can’t study for the MAT – just that you need to think strategically about what’s worth studying.

Cram-Proof Does Not Mean Study-Proof

Pearson, the makers of the MAT, argue that their exam is resistant to cramming because it tests general skills and broad knowledge. In a sense, they’re right: you can’t copy down an exhaustive list of names, places, and terms, flip through them on index cards in one grueling Rocky montage of a weekend, and then walk into the testing center expecting to know every word and concept on the MAT.

The good news is that this kind of subject-matter cramming matters less than you might think. This is because, if you’re applying to grad school, you are already an expert in at least a couple of the MAT subject areas. Take a moment to look over the subject list (page 5 in Pearson’s official MAT booklet), and you’ll likely find that the subjects can be broken down into a few different categories:

  • Subjects you’ve studied for years. If you majored in art history, for example, or minored in chemistry, then those topics will hold very few surprises for you on test day. In fact, your knowledge of these areas will probably be far deeper than anything the MAT might ask about them.
  • Subjects you’ve studied more casually. You might have taken a semester survey course in economics, or read a few books on philosophy just because you find it intriguing. These areas are your biggest opportunity for improvement, because you’ve already laid the groundwork for any subsequent study.
  • Subjects you know next to nothing about. No matter how well-rounded we are in our studies, we all have areas like this. If you haven’t taken a biology class since freshman year of high school, then biology belongs in this category for you.

It’s okay if a few subjects seem to be between categories. Maybe you took two semesters of physics during your freshman year of college, but you’ve been out of school for a year or two and feel a bit rusty on that subject. That’s fine. The important thing here is to recognize that you’ve already begun to study for the MAT, whether or not you knew it at the time.

High-Leverage Studying for the MAT

Now, as you prepare for the exam, you can focus your efforts on that middle category: subjects where you have a basic map and just need to fill in the finer features. You may have noticed that, in learning a language or studying vocabulary, it’s much easier to remember new words if you can use them in a sentence. We can use a similar principle in other subjects: it’s easier to recall the name “Alfred North Whitehead” when you know a little about his contemporaries, his students, and his ideas. It’s easier to remember the title of Mary Cassatt’s The Boating Party when you know even a few facts about Cassatt herself.

But how do you study for the MAT? Flashcards and other mnemonic aids are important tools for organizing the names, titles, and terms that you can expect on the MAT. There are some fine points to getting the most out of study tools – even tools as simple as flashcards – and I’ll have a lot to say about those in future posts.  In the meantime, Bertrand offers some great ideas for memorizing difficult MAT vocabulary in another post on this blog. Although these tips are geared toward vocabulary, the same principles and techniques can be adapted to work with equations, dates, or any of the other fine-grained facts that the MAT format naturally emphasizes.