The learning game

Sollicitor Lorraine Finney and her husband have created a board game based on CATs.

Lorraine Finney’s son George had to sit three cognitive aptitude tests for his secondary school. She didn’t want to make a fuss about them, but also wanted him to understand what the questions were getting at. You can’t revise for CATs, but you can improve your scores a little by being familiar with them and realising what the questions are asking.
She and her husband did some research and found that by improving her son’s test scores by a few points it could make all the difference to whether he got into the school or not.
The only way to familiarise him with the tests was to buy test papers and sit down and do them, but her son didn’t want to do it so his parents ripped up the papers and took a boardgame out of the cupboard. George and his brother were happy to play the game as they were used to playing boardgames as a family. “They are both competitive so they wanted to win,” says Lorraine.  They had a timer which gave people 50 seconds to answer each question.
Fast forward two years to this May and they launched the game, Cognosis, at the Games Expo. After friends started playing the game and word of mouth built, Lorraine and her husband decided to invest in bringing it to market. They created a limited company and wrote a business plan with the intention of trying to get the bank interested. However, it proved too difficult because they needed funding upfront to produce the game and have an idea of the potential market so they self funded it from their savings.
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They created a colour-coded board game, called Cognosis, where the different colours represented the different types of cognitive test questions, such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning. There were also blank white squares which were safe havens and challenge squares where you can challenge an opponent to answer a question of your choice. If you get the question wrong you have to return to the last blank square. The higher up the board you go the longer the distance back to a blank square.
They added a second timer which only gave people 30 seconds to answer questions and this was for adults and children over 12 to level the playing field.
 
Research
They researched and wrote 200 questions for each type of question. They sourced British manufacturers and found that it worked better to have the different elements sourced individually so one supplier provided the plastic components, another the board, another the outer box and a different company made the cards. The games are stored in a friend’s house and Lorraine and her husband pack the different elements into the boxes. They had not anticipated how much space the games would take up. “My husband thought we could store them in the spare room, but when the games were ready for delivery we were rung and told there were five pallets and asked if we had a forklift truck. We went white. We hadn’t really thought that through,” says Lorraine, who adds that there were other learning curves for the couple such as understanding how VAT affected their ability to sell the game in local toy shops in Derbyshire.
She and her husband reckoned there was a potentially large market for the game, given the 750,000 11 year olds in the country. CATs are used not just for entrance exams but also for setting children once they arrive at secondary school or for decided which will become part of the gifted and talented group. “It was a risk to invest in it, but a risk we were willing to take. It was more about a love and belief that we could help people with it,” says Lorraine.
The game, which costs £29.95 [cheaper than a set of past papers], has been bought by 11 plus tutors and other teachers plus some local stores, but Lorraine admits she and her husband have been more focused on producing the game than on marketing it and says they are now focusing on this. She says parents can just take elements of the game with them so that it is more mobile for car journeys and trips, for instance, a set of questions and a timer. An app based on the game may also be developed.
Lorraine, a sollicitor, has been working on processing orders during evenings and at weekends and on her day off on Fridays. She works four days a week during school hours so she can be around for George, now aged 14, and Harry, aged 12. Her husband works full time. Eventually Lorraine would like to work more flexibly or even full time on the game. The couple would also like to donate games to local schools. “We’re very proud of the game,” says Lorraine. “It’s very exciting.”

 





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