EPQ Extended project tips

The Extended Project (EPQ) which students can take in Years 12/13 is an opportunity to gain extra UCAS points, perhaps half a grade, and also to develop a whole new set of skills, both academic and future career related.

As a tutor I have been privileged to work recently on many fascinating EPQ’s and I hope I played a good role in supervising and advising students on projects such as the physics of rocket launch propulsion.

It is clear when you read the EPQ specification and marking system that approaching a half of the marks are awarded for the process of planning and executing the project, rather than purely marking the technical content. And so I bring some of my business and project management skills, as well as the academic aspect, into the mix for the student.

In choosing the title the student should do preliminary research on a topic that fascinates them and it is feasible to research and agree it with a nominated school supervisor. Begin to map out some objectives you wish to achieve and arrange them in the SMART form (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time-bound). The title may change a little as you go along don’t worry. Enter them in the Project Proposal Form and keep this up to date and complete.

Set up a good document management system for articles you have found in the library or on the internet. Make sure you are always working on an up to date copy of your master not an out of date one. Keep notes of not just the technical content but also of the process steps you take such as how you take decisions about what to include or reject, how you avoid plagarism, how you are proceeding versus your objectives, and what you are learning; you have to complete Process Logs and these contribute to marks.

Use project management techniques such as Gant charts and stage gate control to ensure you plan out your work and use these to try and hit deadlines. Again useful to include in Process Logs.

Look at examples of projects to see how to establish a list of contents at the front, organise your paragraphs well and put a lot of work into the discussion, conclusion and evaluation after you have progressed and recorded your research. Often the standard list of contents is the first thing you write in the dissertation and focuses your mind to get you started. A typical EPQ is 5,000 words and 25 pages. Keep structured references as you go along such as author name, article name, date. A good way of ensuring a validated paper is through Google Scholar.

You will find yourself on a technical project inevitably working way beyond A-Level syllabus. This is great!. It is introducing you to University level research and theory, and it will be a fantastic addition to your UCAS personal statement.

Do not worry if you realise that the more you uncover about your topic, the more questions emerge and you may feel your work is superficial – it is not! The writers of published Papers have years to do this, it is their job, and at the age of 17 you only have a few months on your project while focussing on A-Levels as a priority.

In summary you have to put in some extra work, but it may coincide with summer holidays anyway, and there are so many benefits ranging from UCAS points, through learning research and writing techniques in advance of a possible University dissertation, to expanding your academic and real-life knowledge.