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Game-based assessment has been a buzzword in the HR space for a few years now, and its use in employee selection has been steadily increasing. Initially, HR practitioners saw game-based assessments as an attraction tool, a unique way to introduce a unique component to the recruitment process.

They also offer a more engaging and interesting testing experience for candidates, whereas traditional assessments are seen as rather dry and boring.

In recent years, however, it has become clear that game-based assessments offer a wide range of benefits than previously understood. As the body of research behind game-based assessments increases, it paints a clearer picture of what game-based assessments can (and can’t) do, helping to shape evidence-based practice. Concurrently, the inherent drawbacks of traditional assessments are becoming clear and harder to ignore, making game-based alternatives seem even more attractive.

But what are game-based assessments, and how are they used in employee selection?

section one

A brief introduction to game-based assessments

Game-based assessments are psychometric tools designed to measure workplace-relevant psychological constructs via a gamified format. They measure the same constructs that traditional assessments are designed to measure, but they employ game mechanics, behavioural incentives, and animations to enhance the testing experience. Not only do these features enhance the testing experience for candidates, but they are also designed to address the known disadvantages of traditional pre-employment testing, improving selection processes overall.

Psychometrically speaking, the literature on game-based assessments is small, but growing. Overall, the research suggests that game-based cognitive ability tests are at least as effective at measuring general cognitive ability as traditional assessments, making them effective alternatives to traditional testing methods. Naturally, gamification suits cognitive ability testing well, as many puzzles are both fun activities and powerful assessments of a person's cognitive horsepower. This makes developing game-based ability tests considerably easier and more evidence-based, making them better suited to pre-employment testing.

Behavioural game-based assessments, however, are not as well supported by the academic literature. Attempts to measure personality traits via a game-based assessment format have thus far failed, resulting in low-validity measurements or unreliable scores. Generally speaking, the inferences made by these assessments do not align well with more proven measures of behavioural constructs and are thus not recommended for use in employee selection and assessment. Consequently, this article will focus mostly on game-based cognitive assessments and their relative advantages.

"Gamification suits cognitive ability testing well, as many puzzles are both fun activities and powerful assessments of a person's cognitive horsepower."

- Ben Schwencke

Although more research is required to fully explore the implications of game-based assessments in selection and assessment, several major advantages have arisen compared to traditional assessments. In this article, we will outline four key benefits of game-based assessments over traditional assessments, along with the practical implications of these advantages in recruitment.

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If you would prefer to watch a video, here is Ben Schwencke talking about the benefits of game-based assessments:

section two

Benefit 1: Engagement

The first and most obvious advantage of game-based assessments is that they are inherently more engaging than traditional assessments. This is the primary selling point used by providers and is usually the first advantage mentioned in any sales pitch, and for good reason. In recent years, candidate experience has become a key metric when evaluating the effectiveness of selection processes. Not only does this help retain candidates, minimising the impact of candidate attrition, but it also eases the candidates' transition into the organisation itself. Naturally, when candidates become employees, they will feel resentment if treated badly during the recruitment process, reducing their job satisfaction and, eventually, their performance.

In this section, we will outline the key reasons why game-based assessments are more engaging than traditional assessment formats, along with the key implications for recruitment.

What is a general ability test?

The most commonly cited advantage of game-based assessments is that they are simply more fun. Indeed, games are synonymous with fun, representing leisure activities that are completed purely for their enjoyment. Indeed, many of these games already measure the traits and abilities sought after by employers i.e. crosswords (verbal reasoning), Sudoku (numerical reasoning), and Tetris (logical reasoning).

"Game-based assessments simply utilise these principles which make these tasks inherently enjoyable, turning a previously mundane activity into something which people enjoy."

- Ben Schwencke

For example, game-based assessments are generally far more interactive than traditional assessments, giving users more breadth to explore the mechanics. Additionally, game-based assessments tend to be more immersive, creating a hypothetical context in which the user can get invested. Lastly, game-based assessments can be designed to provide rewards and incentives for continued participation, stopping candidates from getting bored.

By making the assessment process more fun and enjoyable, you improve the candidate experience considerably. Not only are candidates more likely to follow through with the recruitment process, but they may also become advocates for the organisation itself, helping to recruit others. This is particularly useful in emerging talent recruitment, as high volumes of applicants are required. Consequently, you can think of gamification as both a recruitment strategy and an attraction strategy at the same time.

Less anxiety-provoking

As well as being inherently more fun, research also shows that game-based assessments are less anxiety provoking than traditional assessments. Traditional assessments, especially numerical reasoning tests, are particularly prone to causing test anxiety in nervous candidates. Not only does this harm the candidate experience, but it also increases the probability of candidate attrition, limiting your applicant pool. This represents a major barrier to adoption for many organisations, that are hesitant to adopt ability tests for fear of significant candidate attrition.

They also offer a more engaging and interesting testing experience for candidates, whereas traditional assessments are seen as rather dry and boring.

Game-based assessments, however, invoke far less test and performance anxiety than traditional assessment modalities. Although the reasons for this are not well understood, it is believed that traditional assessments are superficially more similar to high-stakes educational assessments, which caused test anxiety in the candidate's childhood. These traumatic memories then flood back, and candidates begin to feel like nervous school children again, resulting in test anxiety.

Game-based assessments, however, look nothing like educational assessments, and will not invoke the same traumatic memories of educational testing. Instead, they will liken the assessment to a game played for leisure, easing their nerves. This effect is likely to be strongest in emerging talent populations, many of whom are still in formal education. Consequently, when testing future talent, you can expect far lower attrition rates, and far higher level of engagement when using game-based assessments compared to traditional assessment formats.

Easier to hold attention

Perhaps a less commonly recognised advantage of game-based assessments is that they can hold a person's attention both for longer and with greater intensity. With traditional assessments, which tend to be comparatively long and repetitive, candidates quickly lose their focus, resulting in silly mistakes and unintended errors. Although many employers will simply write this off, blaming the candidate for not taking the process seriously enough, research does should that our attention spans are finite, and psychometric assessments must take this into account.

Game-based assessments, however, are inherently more immersive, engaging, and cognitively complex, holding a person's attention for longer. Additionally, the tasks themselves tend to be comparatively quick, requiring less time from candidates. This means that candidates are less likely to expend their attentional resources, keeping them focused for longer.

Consequently, employers can expect higher-quality results from game-based assessments. This is especially true if the previous assessment process was particularly dry and onerous, as the final assessments in the process were likely to yield poor-quality information. Candidates are also less likely to simply give up on the assessment process due to boredom, which although rare, does happen on occasion, especially with candidates in high demand among employers.

section three

Benefit 2: Accessibility

One of the more unexpected benefits of game-based assessments is their accessibility. At first, one would think that game-based assessments would be less accessible than traditional ability tests, owing to their increased technical complexity, but in fact, the opposite is true.

Traditional assessments are, by their very nature, more rigid and less flexible, making them less accessible. They tend to rely on information sources that are text-heavy and utilise static images, requiring a desktop or laptop device for optimal use. Consequently, game-based assessments tend to be easier for people to complete and are accessible on a wider range of possible devices, including mobile devices and smartphones.

In this section, we will outline three ways in which game-based assessments can be more accessible than traditional assessments in recruitment and employee selection.

Mobile friendly

One of the primary advantages of game-based assessments from an accessibility perspective is their mobile-friendliness, which is not only advantageous but is now expected by the modern job candidate. Traditional assessments tend to perform poorly on mobile devices, as they rely on large blocks of text and static images, requiring users to scroll and zoom. Consequently, traditional assessments tend to require either a desktop or a laptop device, putting mobile-only users at a comparative disadvantage.

"In particular, this harms candidates from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, as they may not have convenient access to such a device."

- Ben Schwencke

Game-based assessments, however, can be designed with mobile usage in mind, ensuring they can be completed conveniently on a mobile phone. By utilizing game mechanics, game-based assessments can avoid relying on large blocks of text or static images, freeing candidates from using larger (and more expensive) devices. Indeed, many game-based assessments are designed with mobile usage in mind from the outset, providing a significantly better user experience compared to traditional assessment formats.

Not only does this improve the candidate experience, but it also expands the scope of your applicant pool. Without the unnecessary device barrier, you encourage applications from a diverse group of candidates, particularly those from varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Naturally, diversity and inclusion initiatives often struggle to attract candidates from these demographics, but game-based assessment represents a convenient and effective way to remove these barriers to entry.

Reduced reading requirement

Another key disadvantage of the traditional assessment format is its reliance on text, especially large bodies of text. This can pose challenges for neurodiverse candidates who may struggle with extensive reading tasks. While these candidates may be granted additional time to complete the assessment, it does not fundamentally address the issue at hand, resulting in an uncomfortable and jarring testing experience for them.

In contrast, game-based assessments utilize complex game mechanics, animations, and images instead of relying heavily on text. This reduced reading requirement makes the experience more pleasant for neurodiverse candidates, enabling them to showcase their true potential.

It also helps minimize candidate attrition during the assessment process, as fewer neurodiverse candidates are likely to give up midway, thereby supporting diversity and inclusion objectives.

Furthermore, the decreased emphasis on reading can benefit candidates who are less proficient in the assessment's primary language. Traditional verbal reasoning tests, especially in English, pose significant challenges for candidates whose first language is not English. Even numerical reasoning tests often place considerable focus on verbal skills, exacerbating the language barrier. By reducing the reading component of the task, opportunities for candidates are not limited by their level of reading comprehension, irrespective of their language proficiency.

Device friendly

Traditional ability tests typically require a desktop or laptop computer, owing to their use of static images and blocks of text. Although many can technically be completed on a mobile device, the candidate experience is often poor, requiring users to excessively zoom and scroll. This puts them at a significant disadvantage compared to candidates on larger devices, creating an unfair barrier to employment. This is particularly problematic for candidates from lower socioeconomic static backgrounds, as they may not have access to larger devices, unfairly disadvantaging them.

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Game-based assessments, on the other hand, are either device agnostic or are designed with mobile in mind. Game-based tasks are far easier to display on a mobile device, as they have reduced requirements for large static images or blocks of text, making them ideal for mobile testing. This ensures that everyone can participate in the assessment process, and virtually everyone has access to a smartphone.

By making game-based assessments more mobile-friendly, you also increase the flexibility of the assessment. Even those with a desktop or laptop device may struggle to find a quiet location to complete their assessment, hampering their performance. Mobile readiness ensures that candidates can complete their assessments anywhere, granting unrivaled flexibility. This can be particularly helpful for candidates in shared accommodation or large households, giving them more options regarding assessment location.

section four

Benefit 3: Validity

Questions surrounding validity rank among the most common concerns regarding game-based assessments in the recruitment space. Naturally, not all test publishers are equally versed in psychometric theory, and many publishers push assessments that lack validity and reliability.

However, for ability testing specifically, game-based assessments have the potential to exceed the validity of traditional assessments. Traditional assessments, which lack complex mechanics and animations, are limited in scope regarding the complexity of their tasks, and the number of different tasks which can be employed. Additionally, traditional assessments typically require more time to complete, limiting the information gained per-unit time.

In this section, we will discuss the ways that game-based assessments have the potential to increase validity when compared to traditional ability tests.

Increased task complexity

When it comes to measuring general cognitive ability, task complexity is essential. Many psychometricians and cognitive psychologists define cognitive ability as a person's ability to work with complexity, highlighting the importance of task complexity. For example, simple addition and subtraction require little reasoning or critical thinking, making them cognitively simple tasks (Regardless of difficulty). Numerical reasoning tasks, however, often involve numbers, graphs, tables, text, and hypothetical situations, making the task more cognitively complex.

"Numerical reasoning tasks, however, often involve numbers, graphs, tables, text, and hypothetical situations, making the task more cognitively complex."

- Ben Schwencke

Game-based assessments can employ complex mechanics and functions, giving an additional layer of depth to the tasks' complexity. This means that game-based assessments have the potential to offer greater task complexity than any static, traditional ability test, improving validity. Consequently, when designed well, game-based assessments test to represent more pure measures of general cognitive ability than traditional ability tests, boosting their validity.

Psychometrically speaking, this increases the assessment "G-loading", i.e. the extent to which scores on the assessment load onto the general cognitive ability factor under factor analysis. Given that g-loadings are the primary determiner of a cognitive ability test’s predictive validity, this will result in greater levels of predictive validity for cognitively complex game-based assessments. This, in turn, increases the overall return on investment associated with cognitive ability tests, improving the quality of hire for subsequent employees.

Increased content validity

The underlying mechanics behind game-based assessment can also increase the content validity of ability tests i.e. allow assessments to measure cognitive ability with greater breadth. For example, traditional numerical reasoning tests are highly focused on numerical reasoning, with little scope to measure additional facets of cognitive ability. However, through gamification, additional facets of cognitive ability could be measured alongside numerical reasoning i.e. spatial reasoning, inductive reasoning, or working memory.

Owing to the nature of general cognitive ability, which by definition is an extremely broad cognitive capability, content validity is a major concern.

In the educational and clinical space, cognitive ability tests are often extremely varied, comprising batteries of 10-20 different tasks. This maximises the content validity of the assessment, improving that assessment's measurement of cognitive ability. However, in the commercial and occupational space, candidates are expected to complete a smaller subset of assessments, reducing content validity by comparison.

By adding more components to a task and increasing its content validity, game-based assessments can maximise their predictive validity. It also provides an avenue for measuring certain cognitive aptitudes which are simply inaccessible using traditional formats, improving the measure of general cognitive ability. This boosts the return on investment associated with selection decisions, as employers will receive more accurate estimates of the candidate’s cognitive capability and overall mental horsepower, improving selection process validity.

More tests per unit time

Game-based assessments, compared to traditional assessments, are typically much shorter and quick-fire. By reducing reliance on large blocks of text and complicated static images, information can be presented to candidates much more efficiently using game-based assessments, speeding up administration times. Whereas traditional ability tests typically take 15-30 minutes to complete, game-based assessments can often reach comparable levels of reliability in 3-10 minutes, speeding up the process considerably.

Consequently, a wider range of game-based assessments can be completed per-unit time, further boosting the content validity of the assessment process. Naturally, a candidate's time is limited, and employers can reasonably expect up to an hour of assessments from each candidate, or else they risk increasing attrition rates. Rather than giving candidates three traditional assessments in that hour, they could provide 6+ game-based assessments, allowing them to measure a wider range of cognitive aptitudes.

This is especially helpful in early-stage selection and short-listing, where administration times must be kept to a minimum. In these situations, candidates may only be willing to spend 20-30 minutes on assessments and will avoid participating in selection processes that demand more than this. Whereas with traditional assessments, this limits you to a single test, game-based assessments can provide a sizeable test battery within this time limit, offering substantially more predictive validity as a consequence.

section five

Benefit 4: AI-Proof

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more complex, adaptable, and able to reason, they are increasingly getting used for cheating in online assessments. Traditional verbal reasoning tests are especially vulnerable to AI-based cheating, as they rely on static blocks of text which can be easily parsed by AI-based language models.

Although not commonly recognised as an advantage of game-based assessments, by using complex game mechanics they are almost impossible for AI to complete effectively, making game-based assessments perfect for preventing cheating. Many savvy employers are adopting game-based assessments specifically for this purpose, as they are concerned about the impact of AI on pre-employment testing, and do not want to give unscrupulous candidates an advantage in the recruitment market.

In this section, we will discuss how game-based assessments are more robust against AI-based cheating than traditional assessments.

Game mechanics are too complex for AI

The most obvious advantage of game-based assessment in this domain is that game mechanics are inherently complex, and AI-based language models cannot interact with them. In traditional assessments, candidates could simply copy and paste the text into a chatbot and ask for the correct answer, which is becoming increasingly effective given recent advances in AI. The chatbot would then, based on the instructions and the information presented, deduce the correct answer in a fraction of the time required from a regular human being, providing an unfair advantage.

"Game-based assessments, however, rely on moving animations and complex mechanics which cannot simply be copied and pasted into a chatbot, eliminating this avenue for cheating."

- Ben Schwencke

Consequently, the results from game-based assessments are considerably more indicative of a candidate's actual ability and will be less impacted by AI-based cheating compared to traditional ability testing methodologies. Not only does this improve the quality of hire on average, but also doesn't unfairly disadvantage candidates who choose to play by the rules.

Ultimately, if AI reaches the stage where game-based assessments are vulnerable to cheating, this means that AI has become so advanced that no aspect of the recruitment process is safe anymore. Indeed, likely the workforce itself would be changed forever given the presence of such powerful AI, and would likely begin replacing workers themselves, making the issue of cheating on pre-employment tests moot.

Short time limits discourage cheating

As mentioned before, game-based assessments have the potential to significantly reduce administration times, speeding up the testing experience. This also impacts cheating via AI, as short question time limits leave less time for candidates to cheat. When using chatbots, one must copy and paste data into the user interface, along with the required prompts.

Although traditional ability test time limits typically allow for this level of activity, the quick-fire questions of a game-based assessment do not.

Consequently, would-be cheaters won't have time to cheat using AI during a game-based assessment, further discouraging its practice. Indeed, if they attempted to do so, they would likely find themselves unable to answer questions within the time limit, harming their performance overall. Chatbots typically require a non-trivial amount of time to provide answers to questions, particularly when using more powerful models, further increasing the time required to engage in AI-based cheating successfully. This serves as a powerful disincentive to attempt AI-based cheating, helping to preserve the integrity of the assessment process.

Naturally, test publishers seek to balance the advantages of quick time limits with other factors, particularly the candidate experience and the assessment's validity. Test providers will generally avoid shortening time limits excessively, as this could result in a more stressful candidate experience, or it could encourage guessing, reducing the utility of the assessment itself. As a result, time limits are something to be optimised, not shortened as much as possible.

Harder to cheat on mobile

When it comes to cheating prevention, mobile assessment offers some advantages to the employer. More technical approaches to cheating, including AI-based cheating, is simply easier to complete on a desktop or laptop device, as they have access to a keyboard, multiple browser tabs, management consoles, browser extensions, etc. Mobile devices, however, are optimised for ease of use, at the expense of overall technical control, limiting avenues for cheating.

Game-based assessments are often mobile-first, offering the smoothest and most natural testing experience on a mobile device. This results in a greater uptake of mobile completions, which limits a candidate's ability to cheat using AI. Navigating between tabs on a mobile phone requires more time and effort compared to an equivalent administration using a larger device, making it less viable. Even if the candidate uses a desktop or laptop device in conjunction with their mobile device, they won't be able to pass information from one device to another easily, limiting the scope of AI-based cheating attempts.

Traditional assessments on the other hand, which are almost always exclusively for desktop and laptop devices, are far more vulnerable to AI-based cheating. Copying information from one browser tab to another is easily done, especially if the device has multiple monitors. Although some test providers offer invigilation software to track a user’s browser (or even track the user using their camera), this harms the candidate experience and reduces trust. Overall, we believe that game-based assessment represents a more equitable solution to this problem, saving organisations from employing more draconian measures to prevent cheating.

section six

Conclusion and final thoughts

When it comes to cognitive ability assessment specifically, game-based assessments offer myriad advantages in the pre-employment testing space. They have the potential to be more engaging, valid, fair, and accessible, benefiting a wide range of stakeholders in the process. In many ways, game-based ability tests represent the natural progression of the ability testing market, and their market share is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

However, not all game-based assessments are valid, fair, or accessible, and employers must perform their due diligence when adopting any new pre-employment testing tool. In particular, asking for evidence of reliability, validity, and fairness should be the number one priority when engaging with a provider, ensuring that any selection tools you adopt are evidence-based. Many providers of game-based assessment come from general tech backgrounds and lack the required psychometric expertise to bring a true game-based assessment to market. These providers often double down on exciting gameplay mechanics and powerful technology but fail to show evidence of actual utility in recruitment.

Nevertheless, we believe that game-based assessments represent the future of pre-employment testing, and when done well, they can outperform traditional assessments in many domains. Therefore, employers should not shy away from game-based assessments in recruitment, and should instead work with providers who do have the necessary expertise to create psychometrically robust tools. Such providers are likely to significantly improve your selection processes in multiple ways, more than justifying the swap from traditional to game-based assessment in recruitment.