MSEF Judging

Judges should take a look at the various sections of this book for information what and how to judge. The Senior division section includes ISEF's recommendations.

We will be adding more material here as it becomes available.

Become a Judge

Looking to help out with the Mercer Science and Engineering Fair? If so, then send an email note to Bob Bushar, our judge coordinator.  We might be able to use your expertise as a judge.

All judges should sign up for an account on this website. Please include contact information including your phone number. Ignore the school field since this is for students and teachers. As part of the account creation process you may indicate that you want to be a Judge (the other option is teacher). The account creation is automatic but the judge approval is done manually so it may take us a little while (a day or two at most) to respond. Contact Bob if you do not get a response or have issues creating an account.

Once you have been approved as a judge you can enter additional information when you log in. This information is about your background and what types of projects you can judge. Please enter this information as soon as possible because we use it for assigning judges just before the fair. You should also indicate if you can judge this year. Normally this will be the only item you need to change after your first year of judging.


Judges will also have access to all the research plans and abstracts for projects entered in the fair. This will allow judges to prepare before they arrive at the fair.


Judge Requirements


Judges should have at least a bachelors degree and/or work experience in a scientific or engineering field. Judges will judge projects within their area of expertise, although it might be wider than you might think.

Judging takes place on a Sunday evening (optional) and a Monday morning. Check out the events list for the dates and times.

The only restriction we have is that you not judge any division in which you have students who are related to you in some fashion. This means parents, teachers, and mentors. You may judge divisions in which you do not have such a relationship. For example, if you have a child who is participating in the Senior division but none in the Elementary division, then you could be a judge in the Elementary division.

Judge Profile

Judges should sign up for an account on this website and then edit their user account. This is done by viewing the user account and clicking the Edit tab. The Judge Info will be listed below in a secondary tab list along Account and Personal Information. The Judge Info tab will be visible only if you have been assigned the Judge role. You may also apply for this using the Apply for Role tab. The judge role requires approval, so send an email to the webmaster if you have not been approved.

The Judge Info fields let us know things like if you can judge this year and what areas you can judge or want to judge. In general, you need to fill most of this in only once. Whether or not you can judge this year will obviously change from year-to-year. We will reset your judging availability selection after each fair so you only need to log in and indicate whether you can judge before the next fair.

The Judge Info fields are divided into three sections. The top is when you can judge. The next provides us with your general background. The last section provides your preferences for judging specific categories. For the latter, you may indicate your preference for a category, your ability to judge a category, or your preference for one of your other selections.

We will try to assign you to judge a category that you prefer, followed by one that you are able to judge. In general, every judge can judge the Elementary or Junior division. Elementary division judging occurs on Monday. Junior division judging occurs on Sunday. Senior division judges should plan on attending both the Sunday and Monday sessions. Senior judges MUST attend the Monday session because this is when the students will be available for interviews. Judges who can attend both sessions will be given preference for judging the Senior division if that is their highest preference.

The Elementary division has a single category. The Junior division is divided into Physical and Biological. A Junior division judge will be assigned to only one of these categories.

The Senior division has a number of categories. A judge may be expected to judge multiple categories because the distribution of the student projects varies each year. Senior division judges will be assigned to a judge group. Each judge in the group will judge the same set of projects. Each group will look at all the projects within one or more categories. For example, the Engineering judge group might judge the mechanical and electrical engineering projects that are in different categories. Typically, environmental and biological topics are grouped together. The idea is to keep the number of judges in the judge groups about the same so they judge about the same number of projects. This allows everyone to maximize the amount of judging time for each project.

Judging Assignments

Your judging assignments are may by the judge coordinators based on your preferences (see Judge Info), background and the students that entered the fair.
If you are a judge and have logged in then you can view these lists:

You will be in these lists if you are a judge and have indicated that you will judge this year's fair. Assignments are made close to the fair so don't worry if you are in the list but have not been assigned yet. This is especially true for the Senior division judges because we try to balance the number of judges each student will see.
Note: Senior division judges are required to attend the Sunday and Monday judging sessions. Junior judging occurs on Sunday. Elementary judging occurs on Monday. Junior judges that can also attend the Monday session will judge the Elementary division as well.
If you are interesting in being a judge then check out Becoming A Judge. We can always use more and it is a very rewarding job. 

How to Judge

Judging methodology and criteria differ depending upon the division (Elementary, Junior and Senior). Elementary and Junior division judging is similar, given that judges can consider the project based only on the display board and any other artifacts, such as a lab notebook. Senior division judges can interview the students, so more importance is given to the interview.

Recommendations for judging for MSEF awards are divided by division. Speciality judging awards are covered in a separate discussion.

Evaluation Criteria

The attached file outlines the general judging criteria for all divisions.
Elementary and Junior divisions are judged solely on the presentation board and artifacts such as lab notebooks.
Senior division judges will have early access to the presentations on Sunday and the opportunity to interview the students on Monday. The bulk of the results should be based on the interview.

Evaluation Criteria for Judging.pdf9.15 KB


The Elemenary division has only one category: General Science. It also has the largest number of projects. Like the Junior division, it has a fixed number of MSEF awards, and all of these are awarded each year. Judging is based on the project display and any artifacts (including lab notebooks).

The judging procedure and a sample judge sheet for the this division are linked below. Judge sheets will be provided to judges when they arrive at the fair.

Essentially projects are divided into groups. A pair of judges will start with one group and generate a judge sheet. This will be given to another pair of judges that will review the same group. There are usually enough groups that we need to repeat the process. It this case the subsequent groups will only include the those projects on the judge list. The lists are eventually paired down to a single list of the final winners.

Judges work in pairs. We normally pair new judges with experienced judges. Each project will be seen by at least four judges. Winning projects will be seen by many more.

Elementary Judging Instructions.pdf8.24 KB
Elementary Score Sheet.pdf42.3 KB
Elementary Score Sheet.pdf42.3 KB


The Junior division has two categories: Physical and Biological. It also has the next largest number of projects after the Elementary division. Like the Elementary division, it has a fixed number of MSEF awards and all of these are awarded each year. Judging is based on the project display and any artifacts (including lab notebooks).

Each judge will be provided with a score sheet where they will pick their top projects. These will be combined to create the final list of winners. Judges do not have to worry about which award will be given to a project since the combined results will be prioritized and all awards will be given out. 

All judges for a specific category will be looking at every project within that category. We recommend that judges take a look at the research plans and abstracts for their category prior to coming to the fair.

Junior Physical Score Sheet.pdf39.49 KB
Junior Physical Score Sheet.pdf39.49 KB
Junior Result Sheet.pdf39.43 KB


The Senior division is divided into a number of categories. Senior division judges will be part of a judge group that will judge one or more categories.

Unlike the Elementary and Junior divisions, Senior division judges will get to interview the students. Also, MSEF Senior division awards are based on merit. This means that some categories with projects may have no MSEF awards given to students in the category if none meet the judges requirements for Honorable Mention (the lowest award). Likewise, awards are given with respect to categories, not the judge group. Finally, Senior division judges will need to determine the Grand Prize winner and runner ups, based on the 1st place award winners of each category.

We try to restrict the number of 1st place awards per category to one. We have given more than one under special circumstances.

Senior division judges will be given access to the students' research plans and abstracts prior to the fair. These will be on display with the projects but we highly recommend that judges check this out before the Sunday judging sessions.

Senior division judges will also be asked for feedback for a number of special awards. These are category dependent and are also awarded on merit. They are not given if there are no projects that meet the necessary criteria.

Senior division judges will be provided with a judge board that includes rating and result sheets as well as information on any special awards. Each judge group will have a head judge who will hand in the final results. These will be determined by the group.

Interviewing Students

It is critical that the student interview process be as positive as possible. The range of expertise among the participants may vary greatly from those well versed in their field and able to deal with interviews with adults. Others will be new to the process as well as new to the field of research they have chosen.

All recommendations, criticism and comments need to be given in the most positive manner possible. A good way to provide feedback is to recommend future avenues and methods of research. Detrimental comments should never be given to the student. Any major negative feedback should be routed to the fair director who can contact the student's teacher or mentor.

Students should not be given any indication of award consideration. They will be expected to attend the award ceremony where all awards will be announced.

Judges should determine the student's level of expertise and involvement with their project and research. We do not allow team projects but students may participate in larger or assigned projects where they are doing their own work and presenting their own results. Students should be rated based on their work including the quality and complexity of the project. 

In theory, Senior division students should be doing new research. In practice, many will be repeating well known experiments or projects. These will usually not warrant a first place award but a well executed project may be worth an Honorable Mention or more.

Projects should not be discounted just because they generate negative results. This is a reasonable result. Judges will have to consider the initial hypothesis as well as how the experiment was constructed and executed.

Intel ISEF Judging Guidelines_2013.pdf103.14 KB

Special Awards

There are a number of specialty awards given at the fair with different criteria and restrictions. Some, like the Intel Computer Award, are given to the winner of another award. In this example, it is the 1st place MSEF Senior Division winner in the Computer Science Category. The award is not given if the MSEF award is not given.

Some specialty awards require a dedicated judge. This is the case for the military awards given by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and U.S. Air Force. The number, divisions, and categories for the awards differ and will be provided to the judges.

The remaining group of awards target very specific requirements. For example, the Metric award can be given only to Senior Division projects that utilize the metric system. Like the MSEF awards, these are given by merit, so they may not be awarded if no projects meet the award requirements. Most, but not all of these kinds of awards, are for the Senior division. Typically, a judge will be assigned responsibility for one of these awards, in addition to being in a judge group. This judge may ask other judges to recommend projects for the award when they are caucusing. The judge assigned to the award should make the final selection of the winner, if any.


Judges will have the opportunity to check out the research plans and abstracts for the Junior and Senior divisions. This can be done because the students have posted this information online and the judges should have their division and category assignments. We do not do this for the Elementary division at this time because of how the Elementary division is judged and how the Elementary judges are allocated.
Junior and Senior division judges will be able to view the research plans and abstracts only after they have logged in. They are not accessible to others although a student will have access to their own application that includes the research plan and abstract. Check out the Judges/Research Plans and Abstracts menu item.
Projects are not soley judged on this information and each project will have their research plan and abstract on display. Early access to the information is designed to help streamline the judging process by providing judges with more time to evaluate the projects. They can make notes based on this information that may allow them to more quickly evaluate the display board or to prepare questions for the Senior division interviews.
Note, reseach plans should be available early since they must be done before the project is started. Abstracts are done after the project has been completed so they may not be available until just before the fair.