Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
This study will test the impact of a game-based approach to whole-class teaching, developed by researchers at the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), which uses uncertain rewards for correct answers. Questions, posed using an online platform, are integrated with class teaching in Year 8 science lessons, and students work in teams to answer these. The study explores three approaches to learning content: game-based (questions with uncertain rewards, where points are awarded for correct answers but teams can choose whether to keep their points or to risk doubling or losing them based on the chance spin of a wheel); test-based (questions with fixed rewards, i.e. a pre-determined number of points for being correct) and conventional teaching (teacher’s usual practice). Although the points are not linked to any material reward, the state of heightened excitement over whether or not pupils will gain or lose points in the “uncertain rewards” condition may increase their receptivity to learning.
Who can participate?
Year 8 students at schools where at least 20% of students receive free school meals
What does the study involve?
Year 8 science classes are randomly allocated to one of three groups: game-based approach, test-based approach, or conventional teaching. Participating year 8 students are tested before the intervention begins and at the end of the intervention (summer term 2017) with the Progress in Science Test.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
Participants may benefit from potentially improving their attainment in science. There are no notable risks involved with taking part in this study.
Where is the study run from?
The study is run from York Trials Unit (Department of Health Sciences, University of York) and takes place in secondary schools located within the UK.
When is the study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
December 2014 to March 2018
Who is funding the study?
Education Endowment Foundation (UK)
Who is the main contact?
Independent evaluation of Sci-napse: engaging the brain's reward system - a three-armed within-school randomised controlled trial
Testing the impact of game-based rewards in secondary school science classes.
The trial is designed to establish:
1. The impact of the game-based teaching versus conventional teaching on academic achievement in science?
2. The impact of the test-based teaching versus conventional teaching on academic achievement in science?
3. The impact of the game-based teaching versus test-based teaching on academic achievement in science?
4. How the two approaches are enacted and received in the classroom, and how this compares with “business as usual”?
School of Education, University of York, 08/12/2015, ref: 15/039
Three-armed within-school randomised controlled trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Randomised controlled trial
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format, please use contact details to request a participant information sheet
Pupils in Year 8 science lessons
A minimum of three classes were recruited in each school. Classes within schools were randomised 1:1:1 using block randomisation with a block size of 3 to ensure balance as far as possible of the three allocations within each school.
This project will test the impact of a game-based approach to whole-class teaching, developed by researchers at the University of Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), which uses uncertain rewards for correct answers. Questions, posed using an online platform, will be integrated with class teaching in Year 8 science lessons, and students will work in teams to answer these. The study will explore three approaches to learning content:
Intervention 1: game-based. Questions with uncertain rewards, where points are awarded for correct answers but teams can choose whether to keep their points or to risk doubling or losing them based on the chance spin of a wheel
Intervention 2: test-based. Questions with fixed rewards, i.e. a pre-determined number of points for being correct
Intervention 3: conventional teaching, teacher’s usual practice
Primary outcome measure
Attainment in science, measured using the GL Assessment Progress Test in Science (PTS13) at baseline (before the intervention begins) and at the end of the intervention (summer term 2017)
Secondary outcome measures
No secondary outcome measures
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
1. State secondary schools around Manchester and Bristol
2. At least half of the recruited schools should have 20% or more pupils with FSM
3. A minimum of 3 year 8 classes available to take part in the evaluation
Target number of participants
Main trial: 64 schools, 9600 pupils
Participant exclusion criteria
Schools that have not participated in the Sci-napse pilot trial
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
York Trials Unit
University of York
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)
Funding Body Type
Funding Body Subtype
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
1. Protocol can be found at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/our-work/projects/engaging-the-brains-reward-system/
2. Publication of a final report by the Education Endowment Foundation and openly available on their website (Summer 2018)
IPD sharing statement
The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study will be deposited in the EEF Data Archive (in association with the Fischer Family Trust). Enquiries to FFT’s Datalab can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Stored in repository
Basic results (scientific)