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A built-in self-test technique that is applicable to symmetric microsystems is described. A combination of existing layout features and additional circuitry is used to make measurements from symmetrically located points. In addition to the normal sense output, self-test outputs are used to detect the presence of layout asymmetry that are caused by local, hard-to-detect defects. Simulation results for an accelerometer reveal that our self-test approach is able to distinguish misbehavior resulting from local defects and global manufacturing process variations. A mathematical model is developed to analyze the efficacy of the differential built-in self-test method in characterization of a wide range of local manufacturing variations affecting different regions of a device and/or wafer. Model predictions are validated by simulation. Specifically, it has been shown that by using a suitable modulation scheme, sensitivity to etch variation along a particular direction is improved by nearly 30%.