By Dr. Maille Lyons
Judges are the “referees” in the sport of science fair. As with most refereed sports, the losing teams will often blame the referees for failure and, in some cases that is the case, and in other cases you just got beat.
Since there is no appeal process, no coach’s challenge, and no instant replay for review, the judges’ decisions stand (and will not be explained no matter how much you beg…). SO KNOWING THAT, your project must be well executed and well communicated so that the “bad calls” are minimized.
Student tips for judging:
• Greet your judges—stand up, look at them, shake their hand, and say, “It is nice to meet you, my name is…”
• Be able to summarize your project in two minutes, but also have a longer, more detailed presentation ready in case the judge doesn’t have any immediate questions or time constraints.
• Highlight the creative or unexpected aspects of your project. If you encountered any problems along the way that you had to solve, describe that process! Judges love the problem-solving aspects because it shows you did some thinking (as opposed to just following directions from a project).
• Tell the judges what you learned in a story format.
• Understand why your project is important.
• Show enthusiasm and knowledge.
• Dress neatly. The impression you leave on a judge is critical when they then advocate for your project in the judging room. No gum chewing!
• If you don’t know the answer, it is okay to say “I don’t know,” but think first: is it that you don’t know the answer, or don’t understand the question? Don’t be afraid to say “I’m not sure what you are asking, could you re-phrase it? or “That is an interesting idea, I hadn’t considered that.”
• Know what you would do next (i.e., what is one logical next experiment?) because it demonstrates you fully understood the scientific method and your project.
• If the judge recommends an improvement, say “Thank you” and acknowledge it as a good idea.
Ten questions students should be prepared to answer:
2. What did you learn?
3. Why are your findings (i.e. results/data/conclusion) important?
4. What was your control (i.e. why is that a control for the independent variable)?
5. Why did you pick that hypothesis (i.e. why did you think that would happen)?
6. Who helped you?
7. What would be an example of the next logical experiment (i.e. what would you do next)?
8. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
9. What were the hardest/easiest/most challenging/most fun /most exciting/ most unexpected (etc.) parts of the project?
10. Did anything surprise you along the way and why (i.e. how did you overcome that problem)?
Remember that there is a component of judging that is intangible and unpredictable. It is based on the random allocation of projects into rooms or groups. In the ideal situation, all judges would review all projects and all come to one agreement. This is not going to happen because of time constraints. Consequently, your impression on whatever judges you are randomly assigned is critical.
More tips for students:
• You need to study your project. You are responsible for every word on your backboard and every concept related to every word on your back board.
• Chances are you did the project a considerable time before the actual judging (especially at the higher levels); go back and re-read the log book and your research paper.
• You need to show enthusiasm and knowledge TOGETHER.
• One judge can make a difference—so treat EVERYONE who stops by your project with the utmost respect.
• Depending on your project, you could win while wearing ripped jeans or you could lose while wearing dress clothes BUT remember that the impression you make on the judge is critical and your appearance will factor into that, even if it is ever so slight. So if you hate dressing up—find the least dressy thing that you will not be fidgeting in and put in on for a few hours.
• HAVE FUN!!
Dr. Maille Lyons is an environmental microbiologist who is also known as “The Science Fair Coach.” Her website provides science fair preparation tips for teachers, parents, science coaches, and students.