Simulations and games

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Simulations and games are generally seen as experiential learning activities, but they can also be used for formative and summative assessment. Assessment in this context can take the form of class participation, student presentations or policy papers. Simulations as a form of assessment are educational games that are played in teams, usually involving role-play where the player is immersed in a situation (virtually or physically). As with other assessment forms, simulations and games should have clear learning objectives.

Advantages of simulations and games

  • Simulations and games can be authentic forms of assessment as they test the student’s knowledge and skills in a simulated real-word situation.
  • They allow for assessment and feedback on a range of higher order skills – application, problem-solving, evaluation and synthesis to name a few.
  • Various parts of a simulation including the preparation and post-reflection (journal/blog) can be assessed.
  • It is a progressive example of how formative and summative assessment can be aligned in the same learning activity.
  • As it is a form of continuous assessment and some of the assessed parts are based on classroom interaction, it is a good example of how academic misconduct can be designed out of an assessment.

Challenges of simulations and games

  • Not being a commonly used form of assessment, there may be some resistance and hesitation from students (and faculty) regarding its adoption.
  • It is important to have clear, well-thought through marking criteria or rubrics as these increase the reliability and validity of a tool.
  • Initially, outspoken students may get more speaking time (however, clear criteria that place an emphasis on active listening skills would help balance this out).
  • The preparation required before class (and after) might make it more suitable for students with greater intrinsic motivation (such as Master’s level students).
  • It can be time and effort-intensive, requiring significant preparation and organisation by the lecturer. 

How students might experience simulations and games

Initially, it might take students time get used to the use of games and simulations as an assessment tool on account of the regular preparation and high level of in-class participation involved. Managing expectations at the outset, sending reminders and doing mini-trial runs occasionally might help.

Reliability, validity, fairness and inclusivity of simulations and games

Using well-thought through rubrics and marking criteria and discussing them with students at the beginning of the course and throughout would increase the validity. An assessment mix that comprises various components of the simulation (oral and non-oral) would ensure these principles are met. Giving students the choice of which parts counted towards their grade (e.g. eight out of ten journal entries) would ensure that those who are new to the assessment or need more time to adjust are not unfairly penalised. Lecturers can also offer regular feedback to students to improve their performance.

How to maintain and ensure rigour in simulations and games

Lecturers have explained how they keep reiterating that student contributions need to be thoughtful, reflective and analytical. Assessment conducted in-class (class participation, student presentations) and outside class (journals, etc.) will not meet the required standard if points are merely reiterated: student contributions need to be formulated within the framework of the course and theory and move the discussion forward. Explicit marking criteria and rubrics which outline what comprises a ‘good’ contribution should be discussed with the students and referred to throughout the course. Consider how games/simulations can be fairly moderated, and how the external examiner can evaluate the process.

How to limit possible misconduct in simulations and games

If a simulation is designed as an iterative or progressional assessment, where the various parts that feed into the simulation (such as the preparatory work, class participation, presentations and post-journals) are being regularly reviewed, there are fewer possibilities for academic misconduct to occur. As with case studies, if using commercially available simulations, it is a good idea to vary the key issues to be considered from year to year, and occasionally insert at least one original question or task, the solution or response to which is not available online or from previous students.

LSE examples

MG473 Negotiation Analysis

Kay Inckle, Sociology, Game of Research: (with video)

Gustav Meibauer and Andreas Nohr, Simulations (with video)

Further resources


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