Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Liven Up Review Sessions with an Escape Room

01 May 2020 8:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Jessica A. LaPaglia (Morningside College)

            You walk into a dimly lit room. The door slams behind you. A timer counts down from 60 minutes. Escape or die.

            Okay, you won’t really die, but this scenario illustrates a typical escape room. People pay to be trapped in a room with their friends and find clues that will lead to their escape. When gamifying my general psychology class, I sought to make each review session unique. We played review jeopardy, bingo, pyramid, and trivia… but I needed an idea for the last exam. Then I remembered the local escape room in town and “Escape the Evil Professor” review game was born. I learned a lot from creating my first escape room. Students want to be challenged, move around the room, and solve puzzles. In this essay, I will describe the escape room that I created in my Research Methods course as an approach to review material prior to an exam. I will also discuss alternative ways to incorporate escape rooms into the classroom.

            Research Methods in Psychology is not a favorite class among my students. Their eyes either glaze over or show sheer panic when we cover statistics. I typically use an exam review session to provide students with a practice exam and cover their muddiest points. However, with the buzz surrounding course gamification, I wanted to try something different. Jeopardy review is always fun, but is limited to testing students on key words and concepts. I needed a method that allowed students to practice skills like running statistical tests and interpreting data. An escape room, which can involve both practicing skills and retrieving key concepts, seemed like a great option for a review session.

Sixteen students (primarily 2nd and 3rd year psychology majors) walked into the review session and took their seats. Projected on the screen was a torture room scene and several students laughed. As soon as class began, I shut the door, pretended to lock it, and gave my best evil laugh… something like “Bwahahaha!” The goal was to sing a specific song to me, the evil professor, to appease me and escape the room. Students were instructed to get into groups of three or four to solve my riddles. Each group had a slightly different set of clues (and a different song to sing) so that the escape room was not over once one group finished, but instead each group had the opportunity to escape the room. Although it is fine for all groups to have the same clues, different clues for different groups can reduce the likelihood of cheating. Below, I briefly describe each of the challenges that students completed to escape the review session.

Challenge 1 covered scales of measurement. Students identified the scale of measurement from each example. The responses were a clue to identify your next challenge.

Rating happiness on a scale of 1 to 7: ________

The order that students completed an exam: _______

Number of friends that one has: _________

Gender: ________

Responses to the above items corresponded to a code on one of ten envelopes scattered throughout the room. Each group had a different order for the items above. For instance, the correct code for the puzzle above was IORN (for Interval, Ordinal, Ratio, and Nominal). Within the envelope was the next challenge.

Challenge 2 was a crossword puzzle that covered threats to internal validity. At the top of the crossword read “Once completed, an author will be revealed. This is your clue to access the next challenge.” The highlighted letters in the crossword were an anagram for one of the authors of one of several research posters hanging in the room. When they looked behind that poster, they found an envelope with instructions for the next challenge. Each group had different letters highlighted, and therefore a different poster, to look behind.

Challenge 3 allowed students to practice their skills analyzing data in Jamovi (a free statistical program). Each group was provided with a different data set. The instructions are below.

The Evil Psychology Professor wants to find the best way to torture her students. She sets up and experiment in which students were either given complex homework assignments or boring instructional videos to watch at home. These assignments/videos either covered research methods concepts or statistics concepts. She had them then rate their dissatisfaction with the course on a scale from 1 (this class is great) to 10 (this is the worst class I have EVER taken).

Open the data set on Moodle called “Torture” and use the data set in the “Torture 1” tab. Analyze the data with the appropriate statistical test. When you are done, examine the data and find the cabinet with the results that most closely match your own. Your next challenge will be in that cabinet.

Challenge 4 gave students practice with ANOVA tables. Within the correct cabinet, they were provided with an ANOVA table with several values missing. Students solved for F which was the password to an online quiz. Once again, each group was provided with a different ANOVA table.

Challenge 5 was an online quiz that tested students on types of validity. Each group had their own unique quiz. They could take this quiz as many times as was required to get 100%. Once they received 100%, the song that they needed to sing to the evil professor was revealed.

To ensure that students completed every challenge, there was a 2-min penalty if students found clues meant for a different group. Each group received two hint cards in case they got stuck on a particular challenge. All groups finished within 30 minutes. We spent the remainder of the class period reviewing the correct responses for each challenge. Following the review, I measured student perceptions using a subset of questions from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Self-Determination Theory, 2018) and five days later, student learning was measured in a short-answer exam worth 70 points.

The escape room was well perceived by students with overall enjoyment mean rating of 6.47 out of 7. More importantly, the escape room led to better performance on the exam. Exam items that had been included in the escape room (48 out of 70 points) were compared to items that had not been included in the escape room (22 points).  Students performed significantly better on concepts included in the escape room compared to those that were not. This effect persisted into the final cumulative exam. See LaPaglia (2020) for full results.

It is well documented that testing students is a powerful way to enhance retention of course material (Roediger et al., 2011; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006; Rowland, 2014). Furthermore, testing makes it more apparent what students do and do not understand (Balch, 1998). Delivering this benefit in an exciting way can improve enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. Since creating this escape room activity, a colleague of mine tried it out in her own classroom. She brought in props (such as color-coded picture frames with clues embedded in the frames themselves) to enhance the escape room experience. Monoghan and Nicholson (2017) created an elaborate escape room within a pathophysiology course. The goal of this escape room was to diagnose and properly treat a patient in under an hour. This activity combined team-based learning with the pressure and puzzles associated with escape rooms. It may be necessary to have students adequately prepared for the activity to ensure participation by all. Borrego et al. (2017), for instance, required students to complete specific assignments prior to entrance into the escape room to ensure they were prepared.

I have had several individuals comment on how difficult this might be for an instructor to develop such an elaborate review session. However, the escape room challenges could be substituted with simple review questions or “stations” around a room. Ragan (in press) had introductory psychology students complete a series of stations that involved engaging in an activity, completing questions about the activity that corresponded to a code on a lock box, then combining clues within in each lock box to escape the classroom. Additionally, any one of the challenges described in this paper could be used on their own; for instance, a crossword puzzle to review key concepts from that week (there are free crossword puzzle creators available online). It might also be advantageous to have students develop their own escape rooms to test their peers over the material (Nicholson, 2018). Students in a cognitive psychology class could use insight problems and logical fallacies to challenge peers in an escape room. Whatever the method, using an escape room is a fun way to incorporate testing to enhance learning of the course material.


Balch, W. R. (1998). Practice versus review exams and final exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 181–185.

Borrego, C., Fernandez, C., Blanes, I., & Robles, S. (2017). Room escape at class: Escape games activities to facilitate the motivation and learning in computer science. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 7, 162-171.

LaPaglia, J. A. (2020). Escape the evil professor! Escape room review activity. Teaching of Psychology, 47(2), 141-146.

Monaghan, S. R., & Nicholson, S. (2017). Bringing escape room concepts to pathophysiology case studies. Journal of Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, 21, 49–62.

Nicholson, S. (2018). Creating engaging escape rooms for the classroom. Childhood Education 94(1), 44–49.

Ragan, C. (2019, June 27-28). Escape the (class)room! [Paper presentation]. Psychology One Conference, Durham, NC, United States.

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