A simple game for monitoring and analysing changing career aspirations of secondary school students.

Second draft, 31 October 2013.


The primary purpose of the game is to collect data from secondary school age students to inform monitoring and evaluation of structured activities (such as those organised by Ablaze) intended to broaden their career aspirations, alongside their motivation and capacity to turn them into reality.

The monitoring tool also needs to be (a) quick, easy and fun for students to play and for non-specialist researchers to use; (b) open-ended and non-directive, so as to elicit students’ own thoughts and feelings about preferred and possible career options.

While the task should do no harm it is not primarily intended to be a learning or educational game, because if it has a strong formative impact then this will limit its neutrality as a tool for monitoring the impact of other activities. 


A stack of blank index cards, a note pad, marker pens, mobile phone with camera (optional).

Core exercise

  • The primary exercise is carried out with students on a one-to-one basis with you as the researcher. This can be combined with an appropriate group activity in the same room being led by another person (e.g. a teacher), with students being taken aside in turn to carry out the exercise then returning to the main group. First you and or the teacher will need to explain that the one-to-one game is for research purposes and that the students will not be required to explain their responses to anyone else. It also important to emphasise that there are no right or wrong answers to the questions.
  • First introduce yourself, ask the student their name and note it down (this is to permit collection of secondary data about the student for purposes of analysis). 
  • Now present the student with XX blank index cards and uses the following prompt question. “I am interested in finding out what you would most like to be doing after you leave school. To help me do this please write on each card the name of any person who you have dreamt of being like in the future. This can be someone you know personally, someone famous or even someone who isn’t real. Also write down on the card what they do.”
  • Allow the student exactly YY minutes to fill out as many cards at they want (up to a maximum of XX). When they stop, or the time is up, ask the following: “Can you now rank the cards in a line, starting with the person you would most want to be like in the future, then the next best and so on until you end with the least best. Don’t think about which option is most realistic - just which you would most prefer.” If you can note down any questions or comments they have about the task as they are doing it. When they have finished note down the order [alternatively take a photo using your phone that can be downloaded later].
  • Next ask them the following: “I would now like you to rearrange the cards in a different way, this time starting with the card for the person and role you think you have the best chance of copying in the future, then the next most realistic and so on finishing with the one that is least possible. In other words we are now ranking them according to which is most realistic for you to become, not which you most want to become” Note down any questions or comments each student has about the task as he or she is doing it. When they have finished note down the order [or take a photo to be downloaded later].

Group extensions.

  • When all the students have been interviewed and results recorded. Put all the cards together in a single pack and shuffle them thoroughly.
  • The cards can now be used to play a variety of large and small group games, starting by inviting groups to sorting them into sets of cards that they think are similar. For example a simple way of doing this is to ask groups to divide the role models represented by the cards into four using a 2x2 classification: desirable and realistic; desirable but unrealistic; less good but realistic, less good and unrealistic. This can then be used to stimulate discussion of what makes different cards more or less desirable and realistic. The purpose of such games is educational. 
  • However, our prime concern here is to monitor the impact of other teaching activities, and for this purpose the group activity that is most useful is one that enables us to draw up a common list of role models that enables us to compare the individual student rankings that we have already collected to be compared. A simple way of doing this is to ask the group to sort all the cards into up to ZZ groups by similarity of role and role model. The individual rankings can then be mapped onto these categories and an index of the relative desirability and feasibility of each group category constructed from the individual responses.

Options for data analysis

  • Students’ aspirations can be analysed both for the range of role models they identified, and with respect to their coverage of the group based typology of career possibilities. For example, this might identify some individuals who did not come up with any role models in the categories that were collectively ranked highest by their peer group. Such variation could be analysed against other characteristics of each student (e.g. gender, academic ability or whether eligible for free school meals).
  • The closeness of ‘fit’ between value given to roles as aspiration and perceived feasibility of achievement can also be compared and analysed. 
  • The exercise can be repeated at a later date with the same groups of students to monitor change. 
  • The data can be used to assess impact of intervention activities by applying it to students who were participated in different activities (including a control group who participated in none). 
  • Comparability analysis can also be extended to looking at results across groups in different schools or areas with a view to assessing inductively the extent to which there is commonality in the way roles are classified, ranked and rated for feasibility.
Prof James Copestake of Bath University - this is a response to our request for hep in developing a tool for multiple dimensional measurement of aspirations
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