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Gamification—All Fun and Games?

Gamification and game-based assessment have evolved with technology. What does the science have to say?

Assessments have been used in the selection context since the early 20th century. For the vast majority of the history of selection assessment, no one particularly cared what candidates thought of the experience. Candidates were completing long, boring assessments in testing centers with paper and pencil. Assessments have evolved quite a bit since those early days along with our ideas about candidate experience.  

How a candidate feels about their experience when applying to an organization has a significant impact on how that candidate feels about the organization going forward. While we are in the middle of the Great Resignation, candidate experience is also extremely important for attracting talent. A recent trend that hopes to improve the candidate experience (with the added benefit of improved measurement!) is the introduction of gamification and game-based assessment. 

Gamification vs game-based assessment—what is the difference? 

Gamification and game-based assessment are often confused with one another, but they are actually distinct concepts. Gamification involves adding elements associated with games (e.g. leaderboards, trophies, levels) to traditional assessments to enhance the experience. On the other hand, game-based assessments start with what appear to be more traditional games and use those to measure any number of psychological traits. It may not be at all apparent what is being measured in some game-based assessments. Because the two main categories of game-oriented assessment differ substantially in how they are developed, there are different pros and cons to each. 

Gamification and game-based assessment are often confused with one another, but they are actually distinct concepts.

Do gamification and game-based assessment work? 

Gamified assessments tend to start with existing tests that are enhanced with game elements to make them more engaging or easier to use on different device types. Adding select game elements to an established assessment can be done without substantial programming or design effort, and since these assessments generally have been established as psychometrically sound (reliable and valid), there is no cost for developing new content. Assessment developers are advised to make sure that the psychometric properties of the assessment are not affected by the added game elements. Research is still nascent in the game realm, but preliminary research has shown that adding game elements has a positive impact on the candidate experience. 

Game-based assessments are typically built as completely new entities. They can be created to measure specific competencies, or they can be developed with no specific goal, and competencies are identified after the game is developed and data has been collected. In both cases, game-based assessments are quite costly to develop and require more maintenance than other assessments. It is also important that assessment developers consider the audience when developing a game; candidates may react negatively if they are applying to a role and the game seems silly or lacking in face validity. They have great potential as highly engaging ways of capturing multiple competencies within a shorter period of time. 

Preliminary research has shown that adding game elements has a positive impact on the candidate experience. 

What is next?

The research in the area of gamification and game-based assessment will continue to grow. To learn more about the pros and cons of these assessment types and the current state of the research, take a look at SHL’s recent white paper on this topic. 

SHL has successfully applied gamified elements to some of our flagship products like OPQ and Verify Interactive. We are also now developing game-based assessments! With SHL Labs, we will continue to grow and evolve the assessment experience. Look for exciting innovations from SHL in the near future. 
Download our latest whitepaper: Gamification and Game-based Assessments for deep insights into gamification and game-based assessments as well as some helpful tips! 

headshot grelle darrin


Darrin Grelle

Darrin Grelle is a Principal Research Scientist for team Digital at SHL with more than 10 years of experience in the talent assessment industry. In this role, he is responsible for the growth and development of one of the largest cognitive ability testing programs in the field of talent assessment. His primary areas of expertise include innovating traditional cognitive assessment formats, design, and development of assessments for mobile delivery, and application of item response theory for computer adaptive testing. Darrin holds a Ph.D. in Applied Psychology from the University of Georgia, with a focus on psychometrics.

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