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Judge’s Criteria for Science Fairs

Judging worksheets and scoring systems vary from fair to fair, but most follow similar criteria. The use of scientific methodology is the common denominator at the top of everyone’s list. Students are judged on their understanding of how well they used scientific methods to develop and conduct their project. Both inventions and investigations involve planning, careful investigation, collection of data, and making sense of the data at the end.

Other factors include ability to clearly convey scientific findings, demonstrated knowledge of the chosen topic, and degree of effort and difficulty involved. Judges may also give points for originality, accuracy, thoroughness, neatness, and presentation skills (oral and visual).

If you require written reports, you may wish to make this part of the judging criteria or not. Scientists almost always write up formal reports and publish them. However, reading reports takes additional time that judges may not have to give. Required reading of reports will also lengthen your presentation time. Our advice at Science Fair Central is to make reading the report an option, to help clarify the project. The display board and the student should provide enough information for the judges to go by.

Sample Judge’s Scoring Sheet

Here’s a sample worksheet scoring sheet to give you a sense of the categories, criteria and level of detail involved in judging science fairs. Just as there is no standard worksheet for judging science fairs, there is no standard point scoring system. Many follow a system whereby students are given a neutral (average) grade to begin with, and then points are added or subtracted from there. If you use a point system, it is helpful to use a 100 point scale and to allow enough point value for each section that judges do not have to resort to using decimal fractions to distinguish between projects.

You may wish to have a separate area for the oral presentation. But in most cases, the presentation is meant to clarify the project display and provide anecdotal information that would not fit or be appropriate. The combination of oral and visual presentation will allow the judges to have a good understanding of the project and what the student accomplished.

What Are Judges Looking For?

Along with the standard factors you see outlined on the sample scoring sheet, judges also look for certain qualities like curiosity, enthusiasm for one’s subject, and willingness to try new things in the name of scientific discovery. Though not as easy to measure, these are high in importance, impress many judges, and should not be underestimated.

Set a dress code. This is a good time to teach students what “business casual” means. Ties and suits are not required. Jeans and t-shirts are not acceptable but nice slacks and buttoned shirts are very typical in business settings, usually with a sweater or jacket. For girls, a proper length skirt or dress and nice top are recommended along with dress shoes. Remind students to smile, thank the judges, and shake hands at the end of the interview. This may be second-nature to some, but it’s a good opportunity to teach all students that—just as with a job interview—these little courtesies really do matter!

One last word about judges:

While the judges, especially scientists, may know a lot about science, you as a teacher or adult leader are the expert on students and learning. The judges may be just as intimidated by students as the students are of them.

Many judges are also parents, so they are familiar with children and know how to work with them. Judges who have not worked with students before will need some guidance. This can be done quietly in a conversation before the judging starts, or you may wish to meet with the judges before hand. Some common errors that inexperienced judges can make:

Everyone should know as much about a topic in science as the scientist does. This can come out as a lecture or expressed surprise that the student knows so little about such an important topic. Students are little adults. This comes out as explaining things on an adult level, forgetting that students often do not have the same background experiences.

Remind the judges ahead of time that students are just learning the science process and that they are still working out science understandings in their heads. Many scientists came through teaching that lectured to them. Encourage them to ask leading questions of the students, rather than to give them the answers. And remind them that every student who presents is doing their best. Encourage them to praise the effort, even if it’s not the best project.