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How Minecraft can be used in assessment


Minecraft can be used as a psychometric assessment platform, and this holds potential to complement traditional testing and lower test anxiety, finds study co-authored by Professor David Stillwell of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Artwork from the game Minecraft Legends.
Artwork from the game Minecraft Legends
David Stillwell.
Professor David Stillwell

Parents around the world know that the videogame Minecraft is a wildly popular pastime, with 238 million copies sold. A study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School shows that the three-dimensional game also has potential in psychometric assessment of cognitive abilities.

The study in the academic journal Computers in Human Behavior finds that Minecraft – a game in which 3D worlds are designed and simulated – could be a useful complement to conventional assessments that have long been used around the world by schools and workplaces.

Reasoning tests in 3D game environment

“We have shown for the first time that Minecraft can be used as an assessment platform and that reasoning tests can be implemented in the three-dimensional game environment,” the study concludes.

Furthermore, the study finds that young children “are not necessarily distracted by the game-like features of Minecraft and genuinely engage with the assessment task” – and it found anecdotal evidence that a student with autism enjoyed the game-based assessment whereas the same student found paper-based assessments difficult to complete.

Gaming offers way to overcome test anxiety

The study points out that motivation or test anxiety have long been identified as obstacles to even high-ability students scoring well on tests, and it suggests that videogames may be a way of overcoming such obstacles if participants are enjoyably engaged in an activity that also helps in cognitive assessment.

The study is based on 129 Australian children aged 10 to 12 who took Minecraft-based tests as well as conventional pen-and-paper tests, with the tests administered in classroom settings of about 25 students per session as part of the students’ normal school day.

Three types of tasks examined, including spatial construction

The study examines three types of tasks: project completion tests (to measure inductive reasoning), and mental rotation and spatial construction tests (to measure spatial ability).

We caught up with study co-author David Stillwell, Professor of Computational Social Science and Academic Director of the Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School, to discuss some of the study’s findings and implications:

In any situation in which people make choices and the data is stored electronically, those choices will say something about their personality. The Minecraft study in some ways follows previous research into other choices, be it Facebook “likes” or credit card purchases, but there are also important differences between the Minecraft study and some previous Big Data research.

It’s important to remember that prediction is different from assessment. Technology has been used in recent years to predict psychological traits, because the Big Data generated can be used to make predictions about future behaviour based on past behaviour. But these are generally low-stakes situations such as deciding what sort of advert to show someone.

Assessment is high stakes and has to be explainable. You need to be able to explain why someone got a high score or a low score, and this Minecraft study does that in the context of someone taking certain actions in the game. Because Minecraft is explainable we can say that it represents a new form of assessment.

Previous studies have looked at the use of videogames in psychometric assessment, but those games have been inflexible in terms of design and exporting of data. This study’s breakthrough is to use Minecraft in combination with Project Malmo, an API (application programming interface) that allows full control over task design and the game environment, which allows implementation of reasoning tests.

The study

The study – entitled “Construction and validation of a games-based intelligent assessment in Minecraft” – is co-authored by Heinrich Peters of Columbia Business School; Andrew Kyngdon of the New South Wales Education Standards Authority in Australia; and Professor David Stillwell, Professor of Computational Social Science and Academic Director of the Psychometrics Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School.