What Judges Are Looking For
Before Judges interview you, they will review your finalized project. This includes your Research Plan, responses to Standard Questions, and any other items you have uploaded. For a virtual competition, this includes a slide show you create. For an in-person event, this includes photos of your display board.
Judges will evaluate all your submitted materials, including how you got started, i.e., your hypothesis/project purpose and a Research Plan. These should outline, in some detail, what you planned on doing before you began experiments or building your project. The Research Plan is important, because it shows how you planned to do your project. Judges don’t simply want to know what you proposed and what your final results are. They want to know that you have researched your topic, so you understand what you are working on, as well as what you consider important in your project and its execution.
A Project/Lab Notebook is another important item. It should be a kind of journal that covers what you did, when you did it, and what happened. In general, it would follow the outline you propose in your Research Plan, but would also document any adjustments or changes you decided to make along the way, and why you made them.
How you work with and present your data and results, such as assessing reproducibility, population size, and accuracy, will be evaluated by the judges. For example, running an experiment just one time would usually not be sufficient to provide valid results. Likewise, projects that involve people or animals typically require a sufficient number of trials to provide useful information. Accuracy and precision should be based on the tools you are using and what you are measuring. For example, reporting a result to ten decimal places would be inappropriate if the precision of the measurement device is to only two decimal places.
Analytical methods you use need to be described, as well as the results of the analysis. For engineering projects, the important measurements of success should be outlined.
In summary, Judges will be looking to see 1) your hypothesis, 2) what you did, 3) how you did it, 4) why you did it, and 5) what you learned from your results and analysis. Remember, disproving a hypothesis is not a failed project – such a result may be just as valuable, if not more so, than one that proves a hypothesis. For an engineering project it is a matter of determining how well the final result performs compared to the desired results. Again, not meeting the projects initial projections is not a failure.
Judges understand that Junior Division students are just learning about what is involved in a science or engineering project, and expect the amount of support provided by teachers, parents and mentors to be higher than for the Senior Division.
A project in this division could repeat work that has already been done (as opposed to a more original research project). Judges would evaluate how well you performed the project and how well the results are documented, analyzed, and presented.
Judges need to understand what you did, versus what might have been contributed by others. This does not mean you have to do all of the project without assistance, but rather that you need to explain clearly what you did.
Awards in the Junior Division are based on comparison with other projects presented across the entire division. There are a limited number of top awards and unlimited Honorable Mentions.
Judges expect Senior Division students to be doing original science or engineering projects. This might be a proposed improvement to existing work, or exploring or building something new. Students may have support by parents, mentors, or teachers. However, the more you do on your own, the better. You should make it clear in your Notebook and presentation to the Judges what you actually did in your project, especially if your work is contributing to a larger, on-going program.
Senior Division projects will be initially evaluated within their designated Category. Category Awards are based on originality/creativity, scientific basis, thoroughness, skill of execution, and clarity of presentation. A Category could have no awards given, or possibly multiple First Place awards, depending on the pool of projects, how well these have been performed, and how clearly they are presented to the Judges, including interviews.
First Place winners in each Category are considered for the Grand Prize and Runner-Up Awards for the Fair. The Senior Division Grand Prize winners move on to compete in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).