The Judging Process

You will find your judging packet at your seat in the orientation meeting with a list of projects your team will be judging and a brief summary of each project, written by the students themselves. Projects will be marked R (red), Y (yellow) and G (green) to indicate which judging period the students will be available to meet with you.  Students will attend workshops during two of the judging periods but will remain by their project during the period that you are scheduled to judge it.

Your judging packet will also contain a map showing the location of all of the projects at the fair.  Eleventh and twelfth grade projects will be in classrooms, the rest of the projects will be in the cafeteria. The tables in the cafeteria are numbered on the map and we will put the numbers on the front of each table to make it easier for you to find the projects.

Read the descriptors on the judging sheets carefully and try to give the score that most closely reflects the project.  There are several values above each descriptor so there’s room for a range of possibilities from “just meets the descriptor” to “meets the descriptor extremely well”.

Talk with your teammates.  You all have different points of view and expertise that can help in the decision-making process.  Take your teammates views into consideration as you rate the projects, but don’t try to come to consensus on scores.

S/I/T is more than a competition; it’s an educational and motivational experience for the students.  For most students the highpoint of the fair is being interviewed by the judges!  As a judge, you wear a lot of hats - you are an evaluator, a counselor, a motivator, and a role model.

Guidelines For Judging

Since you are a judge, most students instinctively think of you as an intimidating figure. The more you can dispel this image, the more likely you are to help the student be less nervous, and get a better discussion. Simple things can make a difference:

  • Make eye contact with the students;
  • Put the students at ease – encourage conversation … smile!  Ask students about their project, show you are interested, and let the students teach you something.
  • Be genuine and let the students show their stuff.
  • If the student is short and you are tall, stoop, bend, or squat down to lower your eye level – or find a chair;
  • Tip your head to the side a little to indicate interest (this is a universal nonverbal form of communication; even your dog does it);
  • Whenever a student shows a good idea, a clever way to get expensive results with inexpensive equipment, or anything you can compliment, be sure to use a compliment;
  • The students have worked hard on their projects and they appreciate feedback.  Please try to tell them something that you thought was well done and then offer a piece of constructive criticism - a suggestion of something they might want to look into more thoroughly, or reconsider. 

One type of question to avoid is "Why didn't you....?"  A solution or extension to the work presented may be obvious to you with your years of experience, but the student may not understand why you're asking such a question. If you ask a question of this type, be sure to imply the correct intent, as in "Could you have done... ?" or "What do you think would have happened if you had done....?"  Phrased this way the question is an invitation for the student to think about the experiment in a different way, and can turn the question into a positive experience.

When judging the projects, please take into consideration that a beautifully presented project doesn’t necessarily indicate the most learning, and learning is what this is all about.  The thinking, learning, and problem-solving aspects of the project are what’s important here.

To assure the perception of fairness, you also need to make sure that one student doesn't monopolize your time. Some have a well-rehearsed speech that may prevent you from having a chance to interact with the student. You have to find some way to break the pattern, and again, your tool is questioning. Politely interrupt with a question, usually in the form of "I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch the relationship between that and this," or even some of the "any student can answer" questions, like "What do you mean by (terminology or jargon used by the student)?" or " How much time (many days) did it take to run the experiments (grow the plants) (collect each data point)??" The idea is not to stop the student from talking, but to get the student to interrupt the tape recording and think about what is being communicated to you.


In fairness to the participants, it is absolutely necessary to maintain the confidentiality of the results of the judging process. Please do not disclose in any way the results of the judging process to anyone. Winners will be announced only during the awards ceremony.

Conflict of Interest

A potential for conflict of interest arises when a judge is personally acquainted with a student that he/she will be judging. This can be a family member, a neighbor, a current or former student, etc.  Please notify the S/I/T Committee of any potential for conflict of interest at the earliest possible time (ideally on the Judges Registration Form) so you can be assigned to a different category that would eliminate the conflict.

Guiding the Discussion

Sometimes you will come across projects in technical areas with which you are intimately familiar, and the student just didn't get it -- they made some incorrect assumptions, missed a key indicator in the data, came up with a false conclusion, or didn't look at or understand some common principles. It can be tempting to share your knowledge about the topic, to help the student appreciate what happened (or should have happened) in the experiment. Some judges have been observed to enthusiastically expound while a student stood idly listening. Before you do this, please consider that these students are smart and, if they are also being judged for a special category prize, the next judge may hear the student parroting back the knowledge you imparted. You may try with your questions to lead the student toward the right answers, but please don't give the answers. If you really feel compelled to make explanations, save them until the end of the judging time when your knowledge will not be relayed to judges following you.

Comparing Projects That Aren’t Comparable

Projects with different levels of sophistication
One of the most difficult judging tasks facing judges in the high school categories is comparing projects that were carried out in university or industrial laboratories under professional guidance with projects done at home with no professional help. You should not be in the position of arguing that a particular student would have done much better (or poorer) if they only had access (or no access) to state of the art equipment.  Among students with access to professional laboratories, there are those for whom the facilities are the enabling mechanisms for their efforts, and there are those for whom the facilities are a mask for little effort. Both types of students should be judged on their personal scientific accomplishment and their ability to exploit the resources available.

Students who work entirely on their own may appear to be at a disadvantage when judged solely on the basis of the project’s title and display. If their accomplishments are, in fact, superior to others, the interview is where the playing field is leveled. It is important to identify how the student made a difference in the direction of the project. Regardless of where the science project is conducted, good scientific principles and engineering practices must be evident. The student’s level of scientific understanding should be consistent with the project’s level of technical sophistication and complexity. Judges should apply this standard in evaluating the student’s project.

And, finally:
When judging the projects, please take into consideration that:

  • a beautifully presented project doesn’t necessarily indicate the most learning, and learning is what this is all about.  The thinking, learning, and problem-solving aspects of the project are what is important here.
  • The quality of the student's work is what matters, not the amount of work.
  • A less sophisticated project that the student understands gets higher marks than a more sophisticated project that is not understood.
  • Access to sophisticated lab equipment and endorsements from professionals do not guarantee a high quality project (Did the student really understand what was going on?).
  • It's okay if the student ended up disproving the objective or hypothesis of the experiment.