Should We Be Gamifying Our Assessments?

For this month’s blog, I will look at what is one of the hottest questions in private and public-sector personnel selection – “Should we be gamifying our assessments?” In my opinion, the answer is “Yes!” and I will take this blog to explain why.

“Gamification” falls within the larger topic of “how should I incorporate emerging technologies into my assessment strategies.” Now, one might legitimately ask how it is that someone who started doing math on a slide rule can claim to be an expert on emerging technologies. I will simply remind you that Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Paul Allen, Bill Gates, and I were born at roughly the same time. So, despite huge differences in our net worth, we do share a similar generational zeitgeist.

What Does Gamifying Mean?

Gamifying is one type of Technology Enhanced Assessment (TEA). Related types of TEA include:

  • games (so obviously there is a difference between games and gamifying).
  • enhanced item types.
  • the use of avatars.
  • virtual reality.
  • big data and advanced algorithms.

Gamification (or gamifying) is defined as “the application of game mechanics, elements, and features to non-game environments,” or in this case “the application of game-type elements to assessments used in personnel selection.” This differs from the use of true games in selection, although the difference is probably more of a continuum than a sharp distinction, as both games and gamification can be used in personnel selection. The differences between games and gamification can be summarized as:

  • With games, the person knows they are playing a game, whereas with gamification, the applicant still knows they are taking a test.
  • Games are meant to be fun and are structured to have clear rules that define the game play; gamified tests are seen as a more serious activity.
  • Games have different play sections and winning is the goal; gamified tests are structured similar to traditional assessments and getting hired is the goal.

When you play Candy Crush or a first-person shooter, such as Call of Duty, you know you are playing a game. Of course, games such as Call of Duty can be used to select individuals for police work or for the military. Such games can also be used in a combination of training/assessment, as in the book and movie Ender’s Game. There are various issues that arise in the use of games in selection, but our focus today is on gamification.

As mentioned previously, gamification involves adding game like elements to a traditional test. This is made easier by the computerization of such tests. So, a standard cognitive ability test or personality test can be easily “gamified.” What are these game type elements? Well, a short list of game type elements might include:

  • Placing the test in a context, story or in the form of a quest (ex., “The crime boss has escaped from prison, to capture him you must answer 15 out of 20 questions correctly”).
  • Putting each item in some context (ex. “You are walking down the street when you see a house on fire…”)
  • Showing point totals or other feedback (basically showing the number of correct answers).
  • Showing how your point total compares to others taking the test or to some standard.
  • Adding badges or rewards based on scores or test completion.
  • Adding music or songs (think Candy Crush).
  • Adding colors.
  • Adding timers.
  • Adding graphics or pictures.
  • Allowing test takers to manipulate a cursor, joystick, or mouse.
  • Adding the ability to discuss or chat about questions or answers (ex., “I see the correct answer is B to Item 5, but I would argue it is A because….”).

Thus, in gamifying a test we are leveraging technology to make our traditional test or assessment more game like and more fun. The content of the items may even change slightly but the construct does not. If we create a gamified math test, the test takers are still adding two-digit numbers, we are simply finding a way to make performing simple addition more fun in the eyes of the job applicant. A gamified personality test is still a personality test; a gamified intelligence test is still an intelligence test. It is not a game where we are developing some special algorithm to estimate your intelligence and personality based on the large amount of data which has been collected.

The in-basket can be thought of as falling on our continuum between gamification and games. Thus, the idea of using games in selection and of making traditional assessment more fun is hardly new, but has been going on since the introduction of psychological tests. Games are a type of work simulation. However, the last 20 years has seen an increase interest in gamifying assessments, as we try to improve the “candidate experience.”

Why Should I Gamify?

So, why the sudden popularity of gamification? As mentioned above, attempting to improve our assessments by making them more fun ties into the overall, recent emphasis on improving the experience for job candidates. There is also a natural connection to the movement of the job application and testing process to mobile devices or smartphones. Of course, some would argue the current generation of applicants expects to be entertained and we better give job candidates what they want or they will simply migrate to other careers, employers, or job portals.

What then is the theory behind gamifying assessments? The basic theory is a simple one; applying game principles is seen as leading to increased engagement and test taker motivation. Increased test taker motivation leads to increased test completion rates, more involvement, and potentially higher test scores, especially for under-represented groups. Increased engagement leads to a more favorable attitude toward the selection process, greater satisfaction with the potential employer, the perception of a forward-thinking organization, and a higher likelihood of taking the job if one is offered.

Is there any evidence to support these proposed benefits? Other than anecdotal and some surveys, there is not much solid support. Of course, the downside is that gamifying does increase the cost of testing and, in some cases, the time required to complete an assessment.

But Why in Public Safety Assessment?

Why should public sector assessment professionals be aware of the gamification trend? Why is IPMA-HR looking to adding gamification to assessments, including those for public safety?

The reasons can be found in three very different type of headlines. One, the unemployment rate is down and fewer individuals are looking for jobs, which means we are going to have to do more to retain current employees but also make applying for jobs easier. Second, some individuals are reconsidering their previous decisions to seek out a career in police work. Third, the ways in which individuals look for and apply for jobs is changing and technology is a large part of the shift in tactics.

Thus, public sector jurisdictions are going to have to work harder to attract and recruit applicants for public safety jobs. The new generation of applicants is also more technologically savvy and has grown up playing computer games. Gamifying assessment allows us to continue to attract the best and the brightest to public safety jobs.

If you have any questions or thoughts for me, please, email Dennis Doverspike at dennisdoverspike@gmail.com. As always, if you have a question you would like to see addressed in a future blog, including additional blogs on technology issues, please let me know.

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About Dennis Doverspike

Dennis Doverspike, Ph.D., ABPP, is President of Doverspike Consulting LLC. He is certified as a specialist in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and in Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), serves on the Board of the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, and is a licensed psychologist in the State of Ohio. Dr. Doverspike has over forty years of experience working with consulting firms and with public and private sector organizations. He is the author of 3 books and over 150 other professional publications. Dennis Doverspike received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983 from the University of Akron.

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