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BenchPrep Teams Up With The Princeton Review To Gamify Test Prep

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For awhile now “gamification” has largely existed as a buzz word. It’s felt just as ridiculous to write the word as it is to read it. However, as Tim Chang pointed out this weekend, although it’s important to avoid thinking of “gamification as the panacea,” it’s real, it’s moving beyond media and fitness, and it needs to be taken seriously. When it comes to educational tools, gamification has real value in its ability to make learning more fun and engaging. But as with all emerging trends, it can’t be applied willy-nilly.

BenchPrep, a young edtech startup backed by $2.2 million from Lightbank, launched last year to convert content from big educational publishers, like McGraw-Hill, into interactive web and mobile courses. While the startup expanded beyond college admission test prep in January, today it’s announcing that it is teaming up with Princeton Review to contemporize test prep for students, using game mechanics, leaderboards, and social features to make the tedious and teeth-grinding process of test prep more engaging and, hopefully, more effective.

BenchPrep CEO and co-founder Ashish Rangnekar tells us the startup’s core mission is to take the multitude of quality educational content out there — on a host of subjects — and transform it from static, linear material, into an experience that’s engaging, and personalized. Gamification of education is severely undercooked — like entertainment was 15 years ago, the CEO says, as the big publishers are, by and large, hesitant to experiment.

The high cost of education is just one of the industry’s many problems, but the real problem, he says, comes from a dearth of sticky, engaging experiences. Long term, the co-founder tells us, BenchPrep wants to become a platform where any student can go to study for an exam, using material from any publisher on any device. The content is out there, but the rest isn’t.

BenchPrep is already working with Princeton Review, Jon Wiley, McGraw-Hill and others, and the CEO believes it’s among the first to focus on building an interactive learning platform in which students can study on the Web, iOS, Android, and tablets.

So, the startup has teamed up with Princeton Review to launch GRE ScoreQuest, an iOS app that gamifies the study process for students taking the GRE. Obviously, the target audience is fairly limited, as it is intended for those studying to take the standardized test to get into grad school.

But the BenchPrep CEO calls the app “a bold experiment,” which takes the reputable content-heavy world of the Princeton Review and attempts to stretch the boundaries of test prep by bringing in social analytics and gamification. The company wants to use the app to prove that the model works, to validate the idea, and then apply this model to the content from all the big publishers, for all forms of test prep.

And so far, the experiment is showing positive results. In the two weeks since launch, 300+ students signed up, and 99 percent have downloaded the app and are spending more than 30 minutes a day in the app. Those students who used the app regularly over those two weeks have seen a 20 percent rise in performance.

So, how does the app work? Rangnekar, although he hesitates to use the analogy given the implications, likens the experience to that of Angry Birds. The app presents the test prep content through storyboards, like Angry Birds, there are a series of rooms in which there are 9 or 10 quizzes, ordered in level of difficulty.

The average number of questions per quiz is about five, with each quiz taking about 10 minutes to complete. If the student answers four questions correctly, they move onto the next quiz. If they fail to answer four correctly, the app explains the answers, including each part of the multiple choice answers, why each was incorrect, and so on.

Besides this process of leveling-up, BenchPrep wants to give context — something that’s extremely important for a sticky experience. So, the app allows students to see how their test results compare to all those studying for the GRE, as well as to break it down to compare only to those studying for their specific test, like Arts & Humanities, for example.

So the app offers tests in a bunch of different categories, from text completions and sentence equivalence to Algebra and Geometry, with more than 300 practice problems. Students unlock new problems, levels, and boards based on their performance, with this intelligent report card that analyzes each test.

For a free app, the GRE ScoreQuest is off to a great start. There are a huge amount of explanations so that students can understand what they’re getting wrong, they have a valid score card, and then get to compare to local and national leaderboards, which makes the experience that much more engaging. It’s the kind of experience you react to with, “I wish they had this when I was studying for the SATs.” I’m not even studying for the GREs, but I found myself taking the quizzes nonetheless.

Typically, the BenchPrep CEO says, students are opening the app at least twice a day, which he says has been great early validation on this model. Going forward, BenchPrep wants to focus on being the tool, or platform that enables these mobile and web experiences for educational publishers. It’s a complementary gamification service to the approach Inkling and Boundless Learning are taking to eTextbooks, for example.

There’s plenty of opportunity for tools like this in higher education, especially in test prep, and BenchPrep obviously hopes that this is just the beginning.

For more, find the app here, and BenchPrep at home here.

What do you think?