Competitive and Gamified Quizzes

kahoot! logo
“Kahoot! logo” by Retrieved June 27th 2019.

Over 65% of faculty at Conestoga use competitive and gamified quizzes, like Kahoot! or Socrative. These add a bit of competition and engagement to review periods and retrieval practice activities. But what does the research say about competition, games, and learning? How do they impact student outcomes?

The Research

Gamified and competitive quizzes can renew interest and curiosity in course content. This is likely because games affect us right in the endorphins, giving us a positive boost to the confidence and a new enjoyment of the content (Yee 2006). In a wide literature review on game based learning in higher education, Subhash and Cudney (2018) found that that the key benefits to competitive quizzes were increased engagement and interest in content, spurring learner’s motivation to study. Sanchez, Langer and Kaur (2019) found that competitive quizzes bring novelty to the learning experience, temporarily improving student performance on assessments.

But while these quizzes may help with rote memorization, the effects may not translate into long term learning. Quizzes improve performance if they directly precede a test (Faghihi et al 2014; Whitman, Tanzer, and Nemec 2019), but doesn’t seem to correlate with increases in assessment performance over the long term (Sanchez, Langer and Kaur 2019; Stachowski & Hamilton 2019). Competitive quizzing, while fun, may not sustainably improve student retention.

Research may also offers a cautionary lesson about which students are advantaged by game-based quizzes. Sanchez, Langer and Kaur (2019) found that it’s often the learners who are already successful who benefit from the repeated practice of quizzing. Mark Rober, in the following TEDxTalk, shows an informal study he conducted which demonstrates this phenomenon in action.

Mark Rober. “The Super Mario Effect – Tricking your Brain into Learning More.” by TedxTalks Penn, May 31st, 2018. Retrieved from TEDxTalks YouTube channel October 15th, 2019.

Interestingly, timed competition and point loss actually lower engagement and interest from struggling learners. Failure in quizzing may confirm existing feelings of inferiority and performance anxiety. Learners with exceptionalities may also be excluded from the benefits of retrieval practice: if quizzes are run too quickly, too noisily or too competitively. If questions are not read aloud, at an appropriate pace, it may exclude learners with language processing or visual support needs.

Instead, learners most deeply benefit from game elements like multiplayer experiences, chat or discussion, variety and repetitive play. Multiplayer experiences where students partner or group up to discuss questions before answering, even for simple multiple choice questions, constructs learning as fun, collaborative and dynamic.

Key Tips

The most directly observable benefit of game-based quizzing is an improvement in learners’ intrinsic motivation to study.

  • Since much of the beneficial impact of game-based quizzes comes from their novelty, the same tool shouldn’t used repetitiously (Sanchez, Langer and Kaur, 2019).
  • Bellotti et al. (2014)  found that variety and breadth of question types support concept attainment, especially in complex content topics.
  • Adding in opportunities for discussion, like Turn & Talk or Think, Pair, Share, deepen student understanding of concepts and improve motivation and duration of studying time (Clark, Kehoe and Broin, 2018).
  • Once most learners have attained the concepts, quizzing can become more of a retrieval practice effort, imitating (but not replicating) types of questions from upcoming tests or exams (Sanchez, Langer and Kaur 2019).

Best Practices

The value of game-based quizzing as a learning strategy can be improved by

  • removing time constraints, allowing time for processing;
  • bringing in variety in the quizzing activities;
  • keeping the activity lighthearted, low-stakes and fun;
  • removing point values, unless learners in groups are blended across levels of achievement;
  • giving the chance for a short team discussion before submitting an answer;
  • adding a debate dimension, when answers are split between two plausible correct answers;
  • having students create and share their own review and study tools, learning from each other’s games, flashcards and quizzes.

Quizzing Tools to Try

Here are some well loved options educators use to do game-based quizzing in their classrooms. For some apps, some features are behind paywalls – try to leverage the free features extensively.

PowerPoint-based Jeopardy Games

jeopardy template
Click through for a downloadable template.

Bring in a new take on a classic trivia game by using a Jeopardy PowerPoint deck to gamify a review or test prep period. Use your best game-show presenter voice to add some levity to the experience and reduce anxiety. Let learners play as pairs or small teams and track their own “points”. Offer a small token or reward for them to achieve. Try using our downloadable template.


quizziz logo
“Quizizz logo” by, 2018. Retrieved October 15th, 2019. Click to visit the site.

For self-paced quizzes, with positive scoring and sharing potential, try out the free Quizizz app. Educators and students can make quizzes and flashcards, and there is no paid version to the service. These review tools can be built and shared among students as study and review tools before an exam.


quizlet logo
“Quizlet logo” by Retrieved October 15th, 2018. Click to visit the site.

Ask learners to create and share flashcard sets as study aids with this free and popular app. Search from the many available previously created sets, or make some yourself in just a few clicks. Learners can study in a variety of ways, including by looking, listening, reading, spelling and testing themselves on key terms and concepts.


socrative logo
“Socrative logo” by Mastery Connect, 2019. Retrieved November 5th, 2019. Click to visit the site.

Socrative is a popular quizzing and questioning tool, free for audiences of up to 50 students. Many educators create multiple choice or true or false check ins, but the real asset in this app is the Exit Ticket, which lets you create in-the-moment consolidating questions to ask learners. (Read these aloud to support students in need of language processing support.)

Socrative is less gamified than other quizzing tools, and this advantages students who truly need the practice. Once most learners are approaching an appropriate degree of mastery, try out a Space Race, which groups learners into teams to compete for the win as a unit.


kahoot! logo
“Kahoot! logo” by Retrieved June 27th 2019. Click to visit the site.

Make fun and interactive multiple choice quizzes to run live in class, or invite students to make them for each other. Over 65% of Conestoga faculty already use Kahoot! in their teaching and review periods.

Be aware of the limits. A free Kahoot! account lets you build an unlimited number of quizzes, with a maximum participant list for each of 50. If your class list is over 50, partner students up into pairs.


Clarke, G., Kehoe, J., & Broin, D. Ó. (2018). The Effects of Gamification on Third Level Motivation Towards StudyingProceedings of the European Conference on Games Based Learning, 819.

S. Deterding, D. Dixon, R. Khaled, L. Nacke. From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “gamification.MindTrek’11 proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference: Envisioning future media environments, ACM, Tampere (2011), pp. 9-15.

Faghihi, U., Brautigam, A., Jorgenson, K., Martin, D., Brown, A., Measures, E., & Maldonado-Bouchard, S. (2014). How Gamification Applies for Educational Purpose Specially with College AlgebraProcedia Computer Science41, 182–187.

Sanchez, D. R., Langer, M., & Kaur, R. (2019). Gamification in the classroom: Examining the impact of gamified quizzes on student learning. Computers & Education144.

Stachowski, A. A., & Hamilton, K. L. (2019). Comparison of three “gamified” exam review activities. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

Subhash, S. and Cudney, E. (2018). Gamified learning in higher education: A systematic review of the literature. Computers in Human Behaviour v. 87. 192-206.

Whitman, A. C., Tanzer, K., & Nemec, I. E. C. (2019). Gamifying the memorization of brand/generic drug namesCurrents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning11(3), 287–291.

N. Yee. (2006). The psychology of MMORPGs: Emotional investment, motivations, relationship formation, and problematic usage. Avatars at work and play: Collaboration and interaction in shared virtual environments, Vol. 34 (2006), pp. 187-20

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