Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Play for Performance: Using Computer Games to Improve Motivation and Test-Taking Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Play for Performance: Using Computer Games to Improve Motivation and Test-Taking Performance

Article excerpt


With the increased use of tests in academia, especially certification exams and high-stakes tests such as the SAT and ACT (Linn, Baker, and Betebenner, 2002), it is increasingly important to ensure that students perform at their best in test situations. Individual test-taking behavior is affected by both ability and motivation (Deci et al., 1991). Most prior research has focused on improving students' abilities, so we chose to examine the other, less studied, component influencing performance: motivation (Custers et al., 2010; Radel et al., 2010).

How can we increase a student's motivation to perform? Much research has focused on using computer games as a way to engage students and motivate them in learning (Gunasekaran, Ronald, and Dennis, 2002; Ricci, Salas, and Cannon-Bowers, 1996; Susi, Johannesson, and Backlund, 2007). These games, often called serious games, are used for purposes other than pure entertainment (Susi, Johannesson, and Backlund, 2007). Serious games enable educators to provide an engaging learning environment in which students can experience situations that were previously impractical due to cost, time, or safety. Serious games are used in a variety of education contexts, including information systems education (Ben-Zv, 2007; Leger, 2006; Seethamraju, 2011). Much of the research on serious games has focused on facilitating learning outcomes (Amory, 2007; Kiili, 2005). This research has highlighted benefits from playing serious games, such as an increased ability to mentally rotate objects and improved spatial reasoning (Cherney, 2008; Subrahmanyam and Greenfield, 1994).

Our study investigated the use of a simple serious game designed to improve test-taking performance by increasing motivation. Motivational theories contend that motivation is a function of the importance of a goal and the expectation of attaining it (Deci et al., 1991). Most students understand the importance of doing well on tests, especially certification and other high-stakes tests; fewer students expect to attain that goal (i.e., actually do well). Thus if we increase a student's expectation of success, we may increase their motivation and ultimately their performance.

In this study, we use the psychological technique of priming, which involves the activation of mental representations to affect an individual's subsequent mood, attitudes, goals, or behavior (Bargh and Chartrand, 2000). We developed a simple computer game designed to prime the concept of "achievement" to improve the performance by increasing an individual's subconscious expectation of success (Bargh et al., 2001). There is considerable evidence that priming can influence individual behavior (Bargh and Chartrand, 1999), but we are aware of no studies that delivered priming via a computer game in an attempt to improve test-taking performance.

We hypothesize that achievement priming delivered through a computer game will enhance test-taking performance. A key point that differentiates this study from previous studies examining the use of serious games in education is the purpose for which the computer game is used. Most prior games have focused on improving students' abilities. Our game strives to subconsciously increase a student's motivation to achieve, which should improve his or her performance. While the student is aware of the game, he or she is unaware that priming has increased the activation of a goal to achieve. (Bargh et al., 2001).

We begin by summarizing prior research on test-taking and the use of priming to increase motivation, before explaining how achievement priming could increase test-taking performance. We then present our game and the methods we used to test our hypotheses. Next, we present the results, then discuss them and draw implication for research and practice.


2.1 Test-taking

Test-taking performance is a joint function of motivation and cognitive ability (Chan et al. …

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