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Judging Tips for Top Science Competitions

By Amber Hess


To win at one of the top fairs you need to have both a great project and you must communicate effectively during the judging interviews. Being strong in just one area won't cut it.

Different fairs have different emphases on presentation:

The bottom line is that you should investigate how the judges will review your work and adjust your presentation accordingly.

Besides having a well-thought-out and nicely presented project, judges normally emphasize creativity, originality, understanding about the research of others in your field, and thoroughness. For almost every top fair you can obtain the judging criteria ahead of time. Visit the Science Buddies page From a Judge's Perspective: Tips for a Successful Scientific Interview to learn more about the possible judging criteria. Be sure to look up the judging guidelines for each competition (generally found in the packet the fair gives you, or online). Go through each category of criteria and write down as many examples from your project you can think of. If you can hit on almost all of these areas in your presentation (i.e. you cater toward exactly what the judges are looking for), the judges will be able to go through the list and give you high scores for each section. Example: I wanted to emphasize the originality of my project, so I made sure to explain why it was original on my board and in my oral presentation multiple times. Since each judge will review many projects, repetition of key points is important to make sure that the judges remember them.

At high-level fairs, there will also be people who want a quick summary of your project (for example, the news media, the general public, and people in a hurry). Write up and practice a few-sentence summary that gives a quick overview of your project in layman's terms. If, after saying this "tidbit" about your project, people want more detail, go ahead and move up a notch, but remember to keep your explanations simple.

Preparation for Judging

The Judging Session

A picture of Amber Hess
Amber Hess was a Mentor in the Science Buddies Online Mentoring Program for three years. A passionate science student, she has won awards at many prestigious science competitions. In 2005 she was an Intel Science Talent Search Finalist (one of only 40 students in the entire country), a semi-finalist for the Siemens Westinghouse competition, and she won a First Place Grand Award in Chemistry at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), which she also attended in 2003. She has qualified to compete at the California State Science Fair five times, winning 4th, 3rd, and two 1st place awards. Amber graduated from MIT in 2009 with a BS in Chemical Engineering.
Free science fair projects.