Judging at your Fair

Guidelines to streamline the judging process

Every ISEF affiliated fair has its own methodology for judging projects at their fair. We encourage judging chairs to review the Standard for Judging developed to provide several indicators of best practice and areas to consider in policy and procedure. The judging criteria that will be used at Regeneron ISEF can be viewed here.

We provide the following tips and judging criteria as suggested aids in your process. The following points may be of value to you and your judges as they go out to review and score projects.

Advice for Judges

  • Examine the quality of the Finalist’s work, and how well the Finalist understands his or her project and area of study. The physical display is secondary to the student’s knowledge of the subject. Look for evidence of laboratory, field or theoretical work, not just library research or gadgeteering.
  • Judges should keep in mind that competing in a science fair is not only a competition, but an educational and motivating experience for the students. The high point of the Fair experience for most of the students is their judging interviews.
    Students may have worked on a research project for more than one year. However, for the purpose of judging, ONLY research conducted within the current year is to be evaluated. Although previous work is important, it should not unduly impact the judging of this year’s project.
  • As a general rule, judges represent professional authority to Finalists. For this reason, judges should use an encouraging tone when asking questions, offering suggestions or giving constructive criticism. Judges should not criticize, treat lightly, or display boredom toward projects they personally consider unimportant. Always give credit to the Finalist for completing a challenging task and/or for their success in previous competitions.
    Compare projects only with those competing at this Fair and not with projects seen in other competitions or scholastic events.
  • It is important in the evaluation of a project to determine how much guidance was provided to the student in the design and implementation of his or her research. When research is conducted in an industrial or institutional setting, the student should have documentation, most often the ISEF Form 1C, that provides a forum for the mentor or supervisor to discuss the project. Judges should review this information in detail when evaluating research.
  • Please be discreet when discussing winners or making critical comments in elevators, restaurants, or elsewhere, as students or adult escorts might overhear. Results are confidential until announced at the awards ceremony.

Advice for Fair Leadership

  • Provide the students with a brief explanation of the judging process. Provide information such as the rules for student conduct and attendance, the estimated number of judging interviews to expect, and any information possible about the levels or tiers of judging taking place.
  • Provide an explanation to judges and students about the different types of judging and any rules for each type of judge. Many fairs, including the ISEF, have both category (or grand award) judging and special award judging. Category judging is considered the primary judging process that provides the place winners of the Fair and the special award judging is most often done by the professional scientific organizations, colleges and universities, or governmental agencies who sponsor their award. Understanding who is on the floor helps everyone work together.
  • Take all steps possible to provide a just and equitable judging process without bias. Develop a judges’ code of conduct and a clearly defined set of criteria that your Fair judges must follow. Have procedures in place to eliminate any potential conflict of interest and always have a sufficient number of Fair representatives available during judging to handle any problems that may arise.