Are you a good test taker? Doing well on an exam often requires more than knowing the material – test technique is a separate, but important, skill. Good test-taking skills won’t mask poor subject mastery, but poor test technique can obscure actual knowledge. Exam Elf was designed to address that problem, and teach exam-taking skills via a mobile app rather than expensive tutoring sessions. Exam Elf uses questions from Kaplan Test Preparation and presents them across six areas of drills – Timing, Focus, Quality, Strategy, Vision, and Grasp – that teach students different test-taking skills. The questions currently support Grades 4-6, and will include Grades 3 and 7-8 sometime in the future.
The game is filled with bright colors, theme music, cute characters, and customizable avatars, all designed to be very appealing to children. The questions are tied to Common Core math standards, but the set-up is designed around testing skills. The different levels of play explicitly and implicitly teach test-taking skills by forcing students to deal with common exam hurdles: time pressures, trick questions, distractions, checking work, etc. The math concepts aren’t the main point of the game, but Exam Elf uses questions from real tests – as a result, students end up strengthening math skills as well as practicing test technique.
The extraneous features, like the boosts and power-ups, are the main weaknesses of this app. There’s a level of opacity (how many stars are needed for a power-up, for example) and seemingly inessential elements (e.g., recruiting boosters) that don’t appear to contribute much to the overall learning experience. Jimmy-the-distracting-hamster is a clever way to teach students to ignore interruptions, though it seems like users could become acclimated to the character specifically rather than the different kinds of disturbances taking place in the classroom.
There are enough friendly characters and game elements to make this fun for young students, but ultimately it is a lot of drilling – it might not be any kid’s first choice game. On the other hand, it does seem more fun than just taking practice tests, so maybe it is “edutaining” enough for students. Exam Elf also does a good job acknowledging that some test-taking struggles (distractions, questions you can’t answer) are inevitable and it’s best to have a strategy in place to deal with it and move on. The app itself is free (iOS only), and has the potential to close the gap between students who can afford private test prep and everyone else. Exam technique alone isn’t enough, but learning how to take tests well can save students from the silly mistakes that cost them better grades.