Test preparation software BenchPrep has formed a partnership with one of, if not the leading name in professional test preparedness materials, the Princeton Review. The first result of their partnership is GRE ScoreQuest, an iPhone and iPad app designed to help students get ready for the Graduate Record Examination, which is used in the U.S. as part of admission standards for graduate degree programs. BenchPrep CEO and founder Ashish Rangnekar believes it’s an important milestone in the development and use of game-inspired mechanics in a learning environment.
In an interview with BetaKit, Rangnekar said that despite BenchPrep’s core mission of providing prep course materials with gamification elements the web, iPhone and Android devices, he’s well aware that the question of whether those kind of play mechanics are actually beneficial to students is far from settled in the academic community. And that’s exactly why he believes this Princeton Review partnership is so critical, both for his company and for the industry.
“We deal [with this debate] on a daily basis. It’s the right question to ask, ‘Does gamification really help or not?,’ because decisions need to be based on data,” Rangnekar said. “So we need data before we start gamifying all elements of education for 17 million students all across North America. However, the only way to get that data is to experiment. So we need to make sure that the best elements of that experiment are coming together.”
That’s why this partnership, which pairs Princeton Review’s trusted test preparation content with BenchPrep’s pioneering mobile and digital electronic delivery methods are so important, according to Rangnekar. “The way [Princeton Review] has been delivering it is a human teacher standing in front of fifteen students and teaching it. That modality may be changing, but the content still remains really powerful,” he said.
It’s early yet for Rangnekar to make any firm pronouncements about the efficacy of the app in general, but he did share that the early data is promising. “About 5,000 students have used it, and every time they’re using it for about 10 minutes. The average increase in score day-to-day is about 20 percent,” he said, while also cautioning that it’s early days (the app quietly debuted on the App Store two weeks ago) and that the goal of both companies is to eventually draw from a pool of at least 20,000 students and start making hypotheses about why exactly those scores have gone up and how success relates to specific aspects of engagement with the app.
At this early stage in the partnership, the GRE ScoreQuest app is free for students, though it does carry an interesting in-app purchase: for $0.99, students can reset their scores and the app to wipe the slate clean and begin again. Rangnekar said that’s mostly an experiment to see whether students are dedicated enough to take advantage of that kind of option, and how that correlates with increased scores.
BenchPrep competes with a number of startups, including Grokit and Schmoop, but Rangnekar says that while those companies try to do everything, BenchPrep believes that the best strategy is for companies to focus on what they’re good at, which is why it concentrates on delivery and leaves content to partners like Princeton Review. That’s the surest strategy for discovering how well new delivery methods can work, he suggested, since it uses tried and tested content and eliminates that particular variable in the equation.
Khan Academy’s Shantanu Sinha recently wrote about how gamification can be used in education, and where it might and might not be effective. Long story short, he essentially argued that while it carries risk and may not work with every student, it’s at least a valuable feedback vector for teachers, tutors, parents and students themselves. BenchPrep and Princeton Review’s new partnership could help educators, companies and students alike reach more definitive, stats-based conclusions about how game mechanics affect learning, with a specific focus on test-preparedness.