7 Ways to Gamify Your Studies to Make Learning More Fun

There’s no two ways about it: sometimes studying can feel like a bit of a struggle.

Everyone goes through phases when a piece of work or a particular topic feels impossible to master, impossibly dull or impossible to complete in time for a looming deadline. In such situations, and sometimes just in general, what’s needed is a more powerful means of motivating yourself to conquer your workload. One way of doing this is to use the principles of ‘gamification’. If that word is alien to you, read this article and find out how gamifying your studies can help get you working more productively than you’ve ever worked before.

What is the gamification of learning?

Image shows a still from the game Tomb Raider.
Video games are designed to keep you entertained; you can apply the same principles to your studies.

Have you ever experienced the addictive qualities of video games? Perhaps you’ve been hooked on Tomb Raider or know what it’s like to become immersed in the world of Super Mario. When you become absorbed in such games, motivating yourself to work your way through them seems effortless. You’re compelled to continue and before you know it, hours have passed and you’ve worked your way through numerous levels. Now, if only there was a way to make studying as effortlessly compelling as video games are…
The good news is that there is! It’s called ‘gamification of learning’, and it involves applying the principles of video games to studying. Incorporating the elements of video games that make them so interesting, such as design, narrative, leaderboards and reward schemes, is a way to make studying more fun, increase your motivation and develop superior productivity. We devote the rest of this article to the various ways in which you can apply gamification to your everyday studies and reap the benefits.

1. Incorporating a narrative into your studies

Image shows someone in a black hood holding a die, with a table covered in dice in the foreground.
Roll D6 to figure out how many irregular verbs you have to conjugate.

A strong element of video games that makes them so compelling is the narrative. There’s a storyline that carries you along and makes you eager to find out what happens next. It’s not immediately obvious how this principle can be applied to learning, and it’s probably more suited to some subjects than others. One way of incorporating a narrative into your studies involves learning via invented scenarios. For example, this might involve some kind of historical reenactment to help you learn about a particular battle for history.
Alternatively, creating a narrative (not necessarily directly related to your subject) that acts as an umbrella for a series of learning tasks may have the ability to sustain your attention for a longer period of time. For example, you and your friends could invent a Dungeons and Dragons type scenario in which you’re undertaking a journey, perhaps through a fantasy land such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and instead of fighting off monsters, you have to learn certain topics in order to progress through this imagined land. It takes a bit of creativity and imagination to make this work, and therefore a fair bit of effort, but it would certainly make studying more fun and communal. What’s more, becoming fully immersed in what you’re learning in this way will help it stick in your mind clearly and strikingly, making it much easier for you to recall when you get to the exam room.

2. Making use of reward schemes and leaderboards

Image shows the House Points counter at Hogwarts, with beads in red, blue, green and yellow representing the scores of the different Houses, from the set of the Harry Potter films.
You’ve cracked quadratic equations? 5 points to Gryffindor!

Leaderboards are a common feature of video and online games, and they are a powerful motivator because we all want to see our names at the top of the board. It’s a little like the continual house points contest in Harry Potter, in which the four Hogwarts houses all compete to have the highest number of points to win the House Cup. Scores are kept by means of large hourglasses displayed to the whole school, which provide a visual record of who’s winning, encouraging students to do even better and win more points. The most obvious setting in which leaderboards could work effectively in real life is in the classroom, but if you wanted to implement one of your own outside school, you could instead set one up between your group of friends. It could work, for example, by implementing a points system in which you are awarded a certain number of points for an ‘A’ grade in an essay, then progressively fewer for a ‘B’, ‘C’, and so on. Across a term, you keep a running record of who’s on what number of points and the person with the most at the end of term wins a prize (perhaps the rest of the group clubbing together to buy a meal for the winner).

3. Changing the way you refer to things

Image shows shelves full of glass jars with mysterious contents, from the set of the Harry Potter films.
In Potions classes, Harry, Ron and Hermione combined weird substances to have astonishing effects – which, when you think about it, is exactly what we do in Chemistry.

One way of making your studies seem more exciting is to change the terminology you use to describe various tasks. For example, using Harry Potter as an example again, we’d all love a place at Hogwarts Witchcraft and Wizardry. So why not pretend that that’s where you’re studying? You could call Biology “Herbology” or “Care of Magical Creatures”. GCSE exams could be O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) and A-levels could be N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests). It may sound a little childish, and we’re not suggesting that you should go round school referring to them in this way, but this change of mindset could be just what you need to see your schoolwork in a fresh new light that makes things a bit more fun.
In a similar way, if there’s a topic you’re struggling to get to grips with – let’s say a chemical formula – you could rename the things involved to characters from a favourite book, film or video game. In the chemical formula, for example, each element gets named after a character in the story of your choice, and you invent a scenario in which these characters interact in a way that represents what reactions take place in the formula. Not only will this help you understand the process when you’re initially learning it, but it will make it much easier to remember when you’re trying to recall it in the exam.

4. Getting instant feedback

Image shows a cute kitten looking at the camera.
You could also use a site like Written? Kitten! which rewards you with a cute cat picture when you write a certain number of words.

One of the things that makes video games so addictive is that they give you instant feedback on how you’ve done. You earn points as you go along, pick up extra bonus items to help you in your journey through the imaginary world, upgrade instantly to a tougher piece of armour, that kind of thing. It’s not like an exam, where you might have to wait months for the results, or even handing in a homework assignment, which the teacher has to go away and mark. In the age of the internet, we’re used to instant gratification, and that’s something video games offer in abundance. So how can this principle be applied to learning? There are a few possible contexts in which this idea can fit in. In the classroom, it might involve your teacher issuing points on the spot to reward a good piece of work or an articulate comment. Sound effects could also be used in this way, such as the teacher sounding a chime for a correct answer or a ‘fail’ sound when you get a question wrong. Nobody will want to get issued with the ‘fail’ sound in front of the whole classroom, so it’s an incentive to work hard and get questions right.
You could also implement the instant feedback principle when you’re studying on your own, by giving yourself rewards in the form of edible treats each time you reach the end of a chapter or solve a problem. This gives you an instant reward and something to work towards. While we wouldn’t necessarily advocate this practice for every single thing you study – it might not be too healthy in the long run to eat that much! – it could be a good way of motivating yourself to get through a topic you’re not particularly enjoying.
Another form of studying that gives instant feedback is online quizzes and tests, which work by multiple choice questions and give you a computer-calculated result as soon as you complete them. You should be able to find a variety of such tests online, particularly those that test things like grammar and foreign language vocabulary. If you can’t find one for a particular subject, you could always group together with your friends and make up quizzes to test each other, giving each other the results straightaway.

5. Creating a gamified study environment

Image shows a painting of three philosophers - one young, one middle-aged and one old - by Giorgione.
Test out your knowledges of philosophy with role-plays.

By the time you get to GCSE level you’re probably going to consider yourself too old for childish games, but there are nevertheless a few things you can do to ‘gamify’ your study environment. This works particularly well when you do it with friends. One way of doing it is that each person takes on a persona, as they would in a video game. You could do this with a theme, which might be based on what you’re studying. For example, if you were studying philosophy, you could each take on the persona of a different philosopher and conduct a philosophical discussion in which each of you represents the views of the philosopher whose persona you’ve taken on. This is a bit like the narrative elements we spoke of earlier, only it involves learning in depth about a real-life character and their views, and taking on their persona when speaking aloud – just as you would if you were playing a character in a murder mystery party.

6. Working in teams

Image shows a group of students engaged in a study session, seated around picnic tables.
Group study works particularly well for competitive types.

We’ve already highlighted the virtues of working with your friends to gamify your studies; collaboration is a well-known study method that can be particularly beneficial to those who may experience feelings of isolation if left studying on their own for too long. With this in mind, another way of gamifying your studies is to introduce a competitive element by splitting into teams with your friends. As we mentioned earlier, it might help to think of setting out on your learning task – a particular topic – as being like embarking on a mission, in which you must reach the goal before the other team, utilising teamwork skills by delegating learning tasks to each person. This lessens your workload and you all work together within your team to help each other solve academic problems before the other team. This is probably not something you’ll be able to do for every task, but it is good for giving yourselves something fun and educational to do when you meet at the weekend.

7. Mastering a subject

Image shows a 1Up extra life mushroom from Super Mario.
Written a great essay? 1Up!

One of the key components of video games is that they have levels. You complete a level and then you move up to the next one, in which you’re perhaps a slightly stronger character presented with more difficult obstacles to overcome. The same idea can apply to learning, as you work through increasingly difficult academic problems, and your experience is increasing – perhaps without your even realising it – all the time. It could be something you could suggest to your teacher, or alternatively work out between your friends, or even just reward yourself with. You could start out, at the beginning of the school year or at the beginning of a task, as a Level 1 Novice, and, for each topic you master, you can ‘level up’. What level will you be able to get to by the end of the year? The challenge is on!
So, next time you’re struggling to keep yourself motivated and you’re in need of some extra impetus to help you get back on track, have a think about your favourite video games and see if you can make your learning a bit more like them. While many of the suggestions in this article have involved grouping together with friends, you don’t have to involve anybody else if you don’t want to (or if you’re too embarrassed to suggest playing such games!). But ‘gamifying’ your studies alters your perspective on your learning by equating it with something more enjoyable, thereby making even disliked subjects seem more of an interesting challenge. If you have any other suggestions for gamifying your studies, we’d love to hear them in the comments box below!

Image credits: Tomb Raider; dice; House Points; Potions; kitten; philosophers; study group; 1Up