Divisional judging process

The science fair is for kids. As you interview them, your most important role is to acknowledge the hard work they have done, and to encourage them to continue their interest in science. As you work your way through your list, give all presenters your full attention and the appreciation they have earned. You will soon see which projects are truly special and deserve an award.

Remember to adjust your expectations for the age level of the students; you will interview students who are 12 to 18 years of age, and award divisional ribbons across that age range. Look for the projects that demonstrate scientific excellence.

Your task
You will work with a team of judges to decide which projects deserve the special recognition of a gold / silver / bronze ribbon. All other projects will receive a participation ribbon. Traditionally, about 10% receive gold, 20% silver, and 30% bronze. You are provided with a score sheet to help you judge.

Teams for judging an award
Each student will be interviewed at least once, at a scheduled time; stronger projects will be re-visited later by one or more judges.  Each divisional team has several members, depending on how many projects will be judged. Within that team, you are partnered with one other judge and share a portion of the list of projects (or all, if the number is small).  You will interview students separately. After judging all of your projects, you will meet with your partner and agree on your top three projects. Then you exchange your “best projects” list with other members of the divisional team and make a second pass of their best projects. At the end of the process, the entire team will get together and make the final decision of ribbon allocation.

Total time frame
2.5 hours 

Suggested times

1 – 2:15 pm
First pass should be 5 minutes per project. Spend up to 10 minutes if the project seems to be a contender for a G/S/B ribbon, but try to stay within the scheduled times so you don’t overlap with other judges. After each interview, fill in the project score sheet, after you leave the student.

2:15 pm
Meet with your partner (you will have interviewed the same students). Decide which are the 3 best projects on your shared list. If another pair of judges has been judging different projects in your division, meet with them and exchange your lists of the 3 strongest projects. Suggestion: the mezzanine is a quiet and private place to meet.

2:20 – 2:45 pm
Second pass. Visit other judges’ best projects. As you speak with the students, rank them against your best; list them all, strongest to weakest.

2:45 pm
Meet with your entire team again; agree on ribbon allocation. Hand in your judge’s binder and your marking sheets to the chief judge.

3:15 – 3:30 pm
The divisional team captain gives the chief judge the final list of gold / silver / bronze ribbons, on the provided ranking sheet.

If you are able to stay to help with the special awards judging, please let the Chief Judge know. If you must leave early, then please accept our thanks for the gift of your time. We hope you enjoyed the experience.

Please see the next page for Steps in an Interview

Things to remember when you get to a project:

  • First pass: an in-depth interview. Plan on 5 to 10 minutes, and try to stay on your assigned times. Fill in a scoring sheet. 
  • Second pass: visit other judges’ strongest projects and rank them against yours. Use the extra scoring sheets if you find that helpful. 
  • Introduce yourself: where you come from, what you do.

  • Put the student at ease, with your smile, with your evident appreciation for the project (“What a good looking backboard. That must have taken you a lot of time to do”). 
  • Start with easier warm-up questions (“Why did you chose this topic?”). 
  • Look for evidence of original laboratory, field or theoretical work, not just library research or reproductions. Work towards probing the depth of their knowledge and gently challenging points that you think might be a bit shaky (“I see that you did the experiment only once. Why was that?”) 
  • Be positive and supportive, but some gentle, constructive criticism can be on-the-spot teaching about how the project might have been stronger (“Next time you might want to consider . . . “), and enhance the student’s experience of explaining their work to an interested adult. But you certainly cannot rework the entire project with them! 
  • Finish by telling the students how much you have enjoyed your time with them, and find one or two things about their presentation to praise. 
  • After you have finished the interview, walk away from the project and fill out the scoring sheet. Your scores and totals are for your use only, to help you rank the projects, so don’t be concerned if you are marking too hard or too soft, compared with the other judges. 
  • Please be discreet when discussing winners or making critical comments to other judges, as finalists or accompanying adults might overhear. 
  • If there is no student at the project, ask the neighbours: “Do you know where John is? Is he here?” If not, write the time on your list and add “student not here”. Return later and try again (some students might have to come from a distance).

Judges should keep in mind that the science fair is not only a competition, but also an educational and motivating experience for students. For most of them, the high points of the experience are their interviews with the judges. It is primarily your responsibility to make this a positive and enjoyable experience for these young people.


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