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Can Gaming Developers Make Better Digital Exams?

Paper behind glass. It’s often what exam owner’s try when moving to digital exams. The same questions (usually multiple choice) with the same format, and same rubric.

But could exam owners harness the skills of the gaming sector for better digital exams and assessment? And increase learner engagement?

At first glance, gaming and exams seem poles apart. But delve deeper, and a surprising connection emerges.

At first glance, gaming and exams seem poles apart. The former pulsates with pixels, avatars, and power-ups. The latter evokes ink-stained fingers, plastic-wrapped scripts, and bare-bones, click-box interaction. But delve deeper, and a surprising connection emerges. Both gaming and exams are about meeting challenges, gaining reward, and feedback.

A great game hooks you with a compelling narrative, throws obstacles your way, and rewards mastery with a satisfying sense of progression. Exams do the same, albeit to test a learner’s knowledge, verify understanding, and push critical thinking.

As digital exams for schools picks up speed, should exam owners be getting to know the gaming industry? Here’s how gaming and exam designers compare:

Game Designer

Exam Designer


Job Task Analysis

Data Structures

Exam Blueprints



Networking Protocols


Version Control

Version Control

Art and Design


Common Ground Game developers meticulously introduce new mechanics and challenges to keep players engaged. Exam designers do exactly the same. Questions are crafted to stretch the able student, encourage the late developers – defining competence and ability. The perfect exam question, just like a boss character fight in gaming, demands focus, strategy, and mental agility.

Progression and Feedback Games and assessment (especially formative) offer feedback loops to help drive progression. In a game, beating a level unlocks new areas and abilities, reinforcing the feeling of accomplishment. Similarly, answering an exam question correctly validates a learner's understanding, motivating them to tackle the next one.

Engagement Gaming excels at immersive engagement. Visuals and soundtracks pull you in. Exams and tests, however, are inherently less engaging. Paper exams lack the sensory and cognitive levers that digital can offer.

Personalisation Games adapt to a skill level, offering customized challenges or difficulty settings. Exams, for the most part, are standardized: everyone gets the same questions. But digital exams, especially Linear-on-the-Fly adaptive/ branching ones, can adapt to the learner’s level.

Why should the gaming and exam worlds connect? The gaming industry and qualifications sector are world-class UK plc success stories. The UK gaming sector is bigger than the film or music industries at £16.7bn annual turnover, and is Europe’s largest. Names such as Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, CD Projekt RED, and Electronic Arts are probably better known to school exam candidates than the exam owner whose exams they’ll be taking.

Early trail-blazing attempts in the 00s evidenced the appetite for gaming techniques within education.

While dwarfed by the UK education sector (£118bn GVA), early trail-blazing attempts in the 00s, including the Serious Games Institute, evidenced the appetite for gaming techniques within education.

Given the recent layoffs in UK gaming, exam owners should consider hiring gaming professionals. A wonderful pool of programmers, software developers, animators, marketers, and graphic designers. I look forward to an exam owner announcing a digital exam designed with a gaming engine such as Unity, Unreal Engine, or Godot. Or how about the exam tech sector hiring gamers, and achieving some competitive blue water?

Both sectors are striving to create engaging, rewarding experiences that test and develop cognitive skills. While their methods differ, give or take a psychometrician or two, the underlying principles are remarkably similar.

Exam owners only have the people and skills for ‘paper behind glass’ and ‘portfolio on a PC’.

But the fact remains. Exam owners are endeavouring to digitise. But they only have the people and skills for ‘paper behind glass’ and ‘portfolio on a PC’. The real digital-first skills are in the gaming industry.


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