Gamifying Test Prep

That time of year is here. Time to button down the hatches and prepare for the big test. Whether you are taking the STAAR, the PARCC, or some other test, there are always days devoted to test prep. You can break out the worksheets and then hope for the best, or you can really, truly engage your students through gamification.
Are you looking for test prep motivation? These ideas and tips for turning test prep into games are sure to have your students begging for more! The 3rd one is my all time favorite!

Gamification is a long, funny sounding word that in the end just means you make a game out of something, and it works, oh baby does it work! It has been proven time and time again in my classroom over the years that making a competition out of anything instantly raises engagement. Now, I am not saying that everything needs to be a competition, but variety is the spice of life after all! Also, don't feel the need to make everything a competition amongst students, but instead give them the opportunity to top their own personal best! This is where the real magic happens.

You're on board with gamifying test prep? Great! Here are my absolute tried and true ways to make a less than appealing task gain instant engagement. I have broken them down into categories of no prep, a little prep, and a whole lot of prep (but totally worth it!)

No Prep Games

Partner Points
Take that regular old worksheet that you have and partner students up. Have them work together to answer the questions with the option of asking you for help. For every question that they answer correctly on their own they get two points. If they answer correctly with your help they get one point. An incorrect answer does no receive any points. This encourages students to not only pick each other's brains, but to ask for help when needed, because I am very insistent in telling them that one point is better than no points at all! 
This game can be played on the fly, and bonus, you only need half as many copies as you normally would! That is what I call a win, win!

Test Prep Biathlon
Are you familiar with the winter sport biathlon? Basically you ski a lap and then shoot at targets. If you make the target you continue on, if you miss the target you have to take a penalty lap before trying again. Test Prep Biathlon has king of the same feel to it, except I would never call it a penalty lap. 
Again, you start with your regular run of the mill worksheet. I especially like to do this one with reading passages and questions or editing and revising passages. Every student starts out by doing a predetermined exercise for a specified amount of time. I usually stick with something in place such as high knees, jumping jacks, push-ups, or something of that sort. Then they read the passage. If you are using content without a passage they can go straight to the question. 
After they have answered the first question they come check in with me. If they got the question correct I congratulate them and they repeat the same process. If their answer was incorrect we talk it out and then they also repeat the process. 
As students complete the assignment they become my helpers, and students can also go to them to check answers and talk them out. 
My students have always loved this one, I'm pretty sure because of all the movement they get to do! 

Low Prep Games

Stinky Feet
My all time favorite review game. No one will ever be able to change my mind. Ever!
The rules are so simple, you answer questions in teams using the Numbered Heads Together structure. Any and all teams whose answers are correct get to choose a sticky note from the Stinky Feet poster.Each sticky note has a point value on it, but this is where the game gets a little stinky. Some sticky notes have positive points, and some have negative. 
Continue to play the game until you run out of time, sticky notes, or questions. As you go, each team keeps a running tally of how many points they have. I like to have this tally on the board and have each team update it after each turn. That way, I can keep an eye on it and there is no funny business. Plus, I have students immediately put the sticky notes above the poster so that I can reuse them and they don't get torn up as they tend to do when they take them to their seats. 
In the end, the team with the most points wins! Sometimes I like to switch it up and have the team with the least points win. If I do this, I add extra negative points stickies to the poster so that it is seen as a reward for answering correctly, not missing a question. 
Basically, once you make the poster, this game also becomes no prep aside from cutting up questions, but does that even count as prep?  My original post on Stinky Feet can be found here.

Treasure Hunt
This is another low prep game that breaks up the monotony of doing a worksheet while still essentially doing a worksheet. Your prep here is to cut apart the questions and hang them around the room. I like to hide them just a little bit so that students truly have to search. 
Students then travel around the room looking for questions to answer. I give them each a clipboard and their response sheet and they go to town. Depending on how many questions there are I will put limitations on how many students can be working on the same question at a time. 
This game is great if you are also pulling a group, or doing something at the same time, because your whole class does not have to participate and it tends to be a bit quieter than many others. 

Mystery Draw
This one is also exceedingly low prep in that you cut the questions apart and fold them up before sticking them in some sort of container. I usually use an empty manipulative container, but it could be a bowl, or jar, or just about anything else that will hold them. 
Are you looking for test prep motivation? These ideas and tips for turning test prep into games are sure to have your students begging for more! The 3rd one is my all time favorite!
Each student then draws a question and answers it. They check in with me, and then draw another question. This process continues until time is up or all the questions are gone.

A couple of variations of this game would be to place a container on each table and have the table group work together to answer the question. Another is to have students return their question to the container after answering it. 

I love this one, because students can work at their own pace and won't feel discouraged if they are taking longer than their teammates on a question because no one knows who has what question and how difficult it is. 

A Whole Lot of Prep (But Totally Worth It!)

These are the games to really get students pepped up. I definitely wouldn't recommend playing them every day, or even every week for that matter, but they are crowd pleasers and great for a morale boost!

Egg Hunt
This is just what it sounds like. You take questions and cut them apart, then fold them inside of plastic easter eggs and hide them. I love to do this one outside and really, truly hide them so that students have to search in order to find the questions. Each student has a clipboard with the response sheet and they just go to town. 
My students have always LOVED this one. I usually break it out the week before the big test, but sometimes we throw it in there at other times too. 
Personally, I don't care if it isn't seasonal, because I am all about engagement, and this does the trick!

Vocabulary Relays
This is a great game for practicing vocabulary, and another one that is best for outside or a large space. I line students up in teams at one end of the space. At the other end of the space are cards or pieces of paper with vocabulary words on them. I give the definition of a word then the teams confer and send their first person in line to go find the described word and bring it back. Just to make it fun I will specify how they have to get to the cards such as they must skip or walk backwards. After the word has been found we talk it out as a class. 
A variation of this game is to have enough cards with each word for each team to be able to find it. This encourages students to keep looking even when someone has already found a card that may be incorrect instead of just running back to their team. 

This one doesn't need a whole lot of explaining, because I have faith that you have heard of it, and probably played it before. This one takes some prep to make either cards, or complete a template for a PowerPoint, but students always get super excited about it, so I find it to be worth it. 

What Am I Missing?

I know this can't possibly be all the ways to gamify test prep, so I want to hear yours in the comments below! 

Structured Test Prep

If you are still on the fence about review games, or maybe you need some more data on your students, give the Test Smash Series a try! This daily spiral review is perfect for identifying gaps that students may have and help them to gain confidence ahead of the big test. 


  1. Love these ideas! I can imagine egg hunt would be a hit. Fun quiz games are also good ( or are great as you can enter your own questions and answers). Thanks for sharing.


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