Competitive and Gamified Quizzes

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Over 65% of faculty at Conestoga use competitive and gamified quizzes in apps like Kahoot!, Mentimeter or Socrative. These add a bit of competition and engagement to review periods and retrieval practice activities. They help space out information so that it is revisited and recalled frequently in the semester. 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 refreshing our 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 engagement and interest were the key benefits to competitive quizzes, spurring learners to study more. Sanchez, Langer and Kaur (2019) found that competitive quizzes bring novelty to the classroom, temporarily improving student performance on assessments.

But while quizzes may help with short term 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 do not correlate with any significance with longer term improvements in assessment performance (Sanchez, Langer and Kaur 2019; Stachowski & Hamilton 2019). Competitive quizzing, while fun, does not seem to have impact beyond the next test.

Research also cautions about which students are advantaged by gamified quizzes. It’s often already successful learners who benefit most from the retrieval practice of competitive quizzing, while struggling learners are left behind (Sanchez, Langer and Kaur, 2019). Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer and current inventor, discusses the phenomenon of retrieval practice in action, and how game design supports this.

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.

Importantly, timed competitions and losing points de-motivate struggling learners. Failure in quizzing can confirm feelings of failure and performance anxiety. If quizzes run too quickly or too energetically, many learners who need processing time may also be excluded. If questions are not read aloud at an appropriate pace, it may exclude learners with language processing or visual support needs. Fast-paced and exciting games sound great, but they often act to reinforce exclusion and anxiety for the students in need of the most support.

Instead, learners most deeply benefit from game elements like:

  • collaborative multi-player teams,
  • time to discuss before submitting an answer,
  • variety in the question types, and
  • repeated attempts.

Multiplayer experiences where students partner or group up to discuss questions before answering, even for simple multiple choice questions, constructs quizzing as collaborative, thoughtful, fun and dynamic.

Best Practices

The most directly observable benefit of gamified quizzing is an improvement in learners’ intrinsic motivation to study (Clarke, Kehoe & Broin, 2018). The value of game-based quizzing as a learning strategy, then, can be improved by:

  • removing time limits;
  • bringing in variety in the quizzing activities;
  • keeping the activity lighthearted, low-stakes and fun;
  • removing point values, unless learners are in groups blended across levels of achievement;
  • using near-questions – ones that are like the test questions, but not the same;
  • giving the chance for a short pair or team discussion before submitting an answer;
  • adding a debate dimension, when answers are split between two plausible answers;
  • giving an “extra life” or “One Quick Google” as a reward for a special question, perhaps to the team that needs it the most;
  • 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 gamified 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
Jeopardy PowerPoint deck. 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 this 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 their own 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 for 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. Retrieved from

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

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. Retrieved from

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. Retrieved from

Yee, N. (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.

Jess Wilkinson

Jesslyn is the Educational Technology Officer at Conestoga. An Ontario Certified Teacher, and holding a B.A. and B.Ed., Jesslyn researches and promotes new technologies for faculty to enhance pedagogical practices. She brings to the role her experience as a Google and Microsoft certified technology trainer and as a classroom teacher in South Korea, Mongolia, and Ontario, focusing on special education and assistive learning technologies. She is available for workshops, consultations, and support with using technology in higher education contexts.

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