Project judging at Synopsys ACSEF seeks to promote two distinct goals:
To recognize and reward student scientific talent, primarily shown by originality and skillful project execution, and
To encourage broad interest and participation in science and engineering, especially among students who might not otherwise explore these fields.
To promote the first goal, Synopsys ACSEF's policy is to focus the first place awards within the top 10%, second place within the 20% range, third place within the 30% range, 4th place within the 40% range and Honorable Mention within the 50% - 60% range of competing projects based on their judged quality.Within each judging category from round 1 judging there are permitted multiples of each place award.
We also recognize that just choosing to compete in a science fair and following through on one's project plan are valuable traits in themselves, precursors of the curiosity, dedication, and patience vital for success in science and engineering as adults. Therefore, Synopsys ACSEF acknowledges every project with a participation ribbon and certificate of participation, as well as various tangible gifts.
Your Judging Duties
Synopsys ACSEF uses a three-phase judging process to pursue these goals:
- Project scoring,
- Project ranking, and
- Consistency coordination.
Every judge participates in every phase. In Round 1 judges work individually for scoring, and afterwards using those tabulated results work with your category teammates for ranking and between-category consistency. Additionally EVERY judge participates in an additional phase, selecting ACSEF's candidates for the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and the California State Science Fair (CSSF), national Broadcom Masters and I-SWEEP. The sections below explain your role in each of these judging phases, along with the more specific Synopsys ACSEF policies and procedures that apply to each phase.
What to Check
Different categories of project on different fields of science or engineering may call for attention to particular project aspects, but all judges must assign points for originality, analysis (or design), execution, and presentation.
*Judges often find attention to these key artifacts especially helpful when evaluating project quality:
The relation between abstract quality and project quality (highly correlated in real-life science) tends to vary greatly by grade level. All abstracts of projects assigned to you will be available in your judging packet or at the participant's display table for Round 1 judging.
- In addition to printed copies of student abstracts, their poster, logbook and other materials are present for your evaluation.
Again, these are often pro forma for younger students but should be thorough and reveal the personal sophistication of older students.
- Display Boards.
Science fairs are not beauty pageants, to be judged by dislay appeal alone. Nevertheless, a project display should effectively use available space and explanatory graphics to clearly reveal the problems addressed, methods used, and results achieved. Good displays help students talk cogently during a judge interview as well as deliver organized project details when students are absent.
For most students, judge interviews about their work are the most intellectually (and often, emotionally) challenging part of science fair day.
To most students, judges represent professional authority. Use your influence wisely by asking questions or offering constructive criticism from an encouraging stance. Although interviews are, of necessity, short, they should always have a positive tone.
Never belittle projects nor display boredom with simple techniques. Projects often vary greatly in level of sophistication, but students with few facilities or little background should feel that while you recognize the basic character of their work, you value their effort, curiosity, and participation. A low score should not mean a negative interview experience.
Some students talk easily about their work, while others are nervous or scared. Good judges patiently distinguish between the knowledgeable but halting speaker and the student who really does not understand their own project.
- * That being said - projects that are to be considered for the top awards need to have students that are "Press and Public Ready" - articulate, knowledgeable AND have an outstanding potentially innovative research project. These projects move on to additional even more rigorous and competitive affiliated competitions such as Intel International Science & Engineering Fair *ISEF -(high school only), International Sustainable World Energy Engineering Environment Project Olympiad *ISWEEEP (high school only), California State Science Fair *CSSF-(both high school and middle school), and National Broadcom Masters (middle school only). A great deal of time and expense post ACSEF go into not only preparing these students for the next competion but also for travel etc.
Although a crowded exhibit floor makes complete privacy impossible, judges should try to avoid interfering with other, near-by interviews and should complete each project's score sheet in a way not visible to those being scored. Scores are not public information. Since their significance depends partly on other judges and other projects, sharing your scores with students in never appropriate.
- NOTE: You may make written notes that are relevant to student improvement when scoring for each project - these will be de-identified and be made available for the teacher/mentor or student if they request it in writing from the fair director one to two weeks after the fair has ended.
Synopsys ACSEF encourages scoring projects using the same 100-point scale developed and used by the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). See the "Evaluation Criteria" pages (linked here) for an itemized list of the features for which projects earn points. The questions (e.g., "does the project show creative ability?") listed under each criterion are informal suggestions to judges to consider when using the scoring rubric.
Three Thematic Areas
Although the details may look complex, ISEF scoring is thematically simple: roughly one third of available points are earned for each of these three areas:
- analysis (scientific thought or engineering design), and
- execution (thoroughness together with skill).
Science vs. Engineering
The ISEF scoring criteria split into two alternatives for evaluating the second 30-point chunk of project features: "scientific thought" or "engineering design." Science projects earn points for features that promote empirical discovery, such as well-defined variables and thoughtful experimental controls. Engineering projects earn points for design-oriented features, such as practical tests, economic feasibility, and promising applications. .
Individual vs. Team
Students may choose to work on a project alone or on a team of two or three. Team projects earn points in the same ways as individual projects, except that a few points are withheld from each of the originality, analysis, and execution clusters (but not from presentation) and are awarded instead for teamwork. Student teams are expected to divide the work among their members yet also exhibit shared responsibility for overall success (one strong student should not "carry" the team).
Practical Scoring Issues
Like ISEF,Synopsys ACSEF schedules project interviews in 10-15-minute blocks. A portion of each block goes to taking notes during interview, completing your online scoring for the project just evaluated, and finding the next project in your schedule to review. So this means that judges must move thoughtfully but quickly through their examination of each project scheduled. Synopsys ACSEF recommends that you familiarize yourself with the questions (issues) relevant to each scoring cluster before you go out on the exhibit floor, and then rely on your professional experience and judgement to thoughtfully but quickly assess the quality of each project on your judging schedule.
Feedback to Students
Judges should remember that the only audience for their project score sheets is themselves. You will collaborate with others on your judging team to rank projects in your category for awards (see the next major section for details), but that usually involves only comparing total scores. And the students whose projects you evaluate never see your score sheets. or your clarifying comments for yourself. However, there is an OPTIONAL section on the score sheet for Comments to the Student which will be de-identified, be made available to inquiring students - maintaining the judges anonymity. The Comments for Students section has some educational value for those you scored.
Hense, Synopsys ACSEF urges a two-fold approach:
(1) use your scores to assess project features and record your evaluations to help you discuss project strengths and weaknesses with the other judges on your team, but
(2) use your verbal comments to students when you interview them to provide encouragement, technical suggestions, or (gentle) critical advice to improve future work (or future presentations of this work elsewhere) and if time permits or you are so inclined record your comments in the optional student comments section. See also the "Interviews" section below.
Some scoring mechanics unavoidably depend on details about projects submitted, availability of judges, and venue arrangements that will only settle close to the day of the science fair. This section summarizes the basic scoring-mechanics framework.
On science fair day, judges are encouraged to arrive for the optional preview of the project displays without students being present between 7:30 and 8:00 am to check into Building D at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, obtain his/her ID badge, project location map and Round 1 project assignment then proceed to the project rooms to spend some pre-student time observing the display, logbook etc. in order to form some notes designed to bring out the BEST in the student during the interview. The official start time for the judges overview/traing is 8:30 am. The official end of the judging day is 4:30 although if the group is done earlier then that is the end of the day.
- a brief orientation (with breakfast), overview of Round 1 & Round 2 judging and outcomes, rule reminders, signing of confidentiality and conflict of interest statement, meeting the other judges on your (category) team, and reviewing assignment of projects to each judge,
- individually judging projects while interviewing students in Round 1 from 9:00 am to 12:15 pm.
- post round 1 judging (working lunch time) conferring with the other judges in your table team to determine the top 2-3 projects of those you all interviewed. This agreed upon ranking determines which of the projects in your group assignment become the top projects eligible to move on to Round 2 judging to determine the science fairs top awards. (details below)
- once the list of projects moving on to Round 2 are determined judges are grouped into one of 4 Super Groups. One each for middle school and high school life science related project groups and one each for middle school and high school physical science related project groups. The list of assigned projects are handed out to each member of the specific super group.
- then each of the 4 large Super Groups from 1:45 to 3:30 judges descend upon the project buildings to judge all of the projects on their super group list. EACH person in the Super Group will therefore have input on the subsequent ranking of the projects into the top fair award receipients. (note: judges may break the very large super group into 4 or 5 smaller teams - in order to spread out and not impact the space at the projects and also allow for beter interaction with the students.) *Report the number of smaller teams to the judging coordinator or assistant coordinator before leaving the judges building
- upon return to the judges building each super group will go to an assigned corner of the room to meet with an impartial moderator. The goal is to allow EACH judge the opportunity to put forth his/her top projects, defend their merits to the greater group and then after discussion a group agreement to rank the projects #1.
Our goal is to complete the judging process no later than 4:30 p.m., a goal that obviously depends in part on the number of projects submitted and the number of judges available on fair day. Synopsys ACSEF provides breakfast, lunch, and snacks on the day of judging.
ACSEF project scores are not disclosed to students, so the only reason for scoring is to facilitate the subsequent ranking of projects by quality.
The Ranking Process For Round 1 Judging
ACSEF asks judges to score projects individually but to rank them as a table team. Experience shows that judges who score projects quite differently nevertheless can often agree on how to rank them (they may agree on which project is best, second best, etc., even though one gives their best 95 points while another gives it only 85 points).
After the scoring interviews are complete, all judges return to their conference room, gather by table teams, and jointly order the projects that they have evaluated. Each table team turns in one rank sheet that records the team's decisions about which projects get which awards, to support the next phase second round of judging.
General Responsibility Issues
Conflict of Interest
To avoid conflicts of interest, ACSEF does not allow the following (perhaps otherwise well-qualified) people to serve as judges:
- 6th-12th grade school teachers or site administrators of schools with ACSEF participants,
- ACSEF staff or board members (paid or volunteer),
- parents of or professional mentors of any ACSEF student participant (exception: parents of only high-school students can judge middle-school projects and vice versa, since these age levels are judged completely independently; if this applies to you be sure to state your information in the registration online form so we can schedule you appropriately). Example: you are a parent of students grades 6,7 or 8 but not 9-12, you could judge high school projects dependent upon your area of expertise.
- anyone else whose relationship with any science fair participant could pose a conflict of interest.
Family, neighborhood, and corporate relationships are often too complex for ACSEF to enumerate all the cases where you as a judge may find yourself scheduled to evaluate a project whose student(s) you know personally or professionally. If you can anticipate such conflicts before fair day ("my company donated resources to four chemistry projects," for example), please contact the judge coordinator (email@example.com ) to see if you could serve without conflict by judging an unrelated cagtegory. If you discover during your interviews that you unexpectedly have a conflict judging some student(s) while on the exhibit floor, just omit the conflicted project from your interview schedule and your scoring.
Nondisclosure of Judging Results
Serving as an ACSEF judge means that you agree to strictly follow ACSEF's policy on the confidentiality of judging results:
- Project scores are never disclosed to anyone outside of the judges's conference room. Students never see these scores; they only support the project ranking process and are never made public.
- Ranking decisions (preliminary and those adjusted for cross-category consistency) are confidential until publicly announced at the ACSEF awards ceremony (which usually occurs the day after projects are judged). Do not discuss ranking decisions with anyone outside the judges's conference room (including in restrooms, restaurants, lobbies, or parking lots).
General judges score and rank projects by category using the policies and procedures in this guide. Special awards judges represent ACSEF sponsors or others who wish to recognize projects by using their own distinct criteria (usually quality combined with relevance to some specific product, problem, service, or agency mission). General and special-awards judging happen at the same time, but they are completely independent of each other (and special award choices have no impact on ranking decisions). Category judges are often needed to help with the judging of special awards when the organization offering the special award is not nearby and unable to offer a judge for the event. We appreciate our judges volunteering to often pull double duty on the day of judging.