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Science Fair secrets (or how to win the Science Fair without cheating or paying off the judges)

Third-graders explaining their science projects to Navy personnel

Here are some Science Fair secrets that will help you get a leg up on the competition.

How to win

  1. First, make sure you choose a topic that you find interesting.
  2. Once you have picked a topic, do a lot of research on it. Learn everything you can about your topic.  This is probably the most important step of all.  Become an expert on your subject because that’s really what science fairs are all about – to teach students an important science concept.
  3. Plan your project.  State the purpose, figure out the controls and variables, form your hypothesis.  Then come up with a plan of how you are going to do the experiment.  Also think about the possible data that will result from your experiment – it’s best to think about this before you do the actual experiment.
  4. Keep a lab notebook (also called an activity log or journal).  Take notes, lots of notes, in your lab notebook.  Remember to record your purpose, your procedure, your materials, your variables (these are the things that change), your controls (these are the things that stay the same), and your data (what happened).
  5. Form a hypothesis and then test it.  Remember, a hypothesis is an informed guess – it’s not a question.
  6. Do the work.  Don’t get discouraged if you run into problems.  This is natural and real scientists run into this every day.  Also, judges like persistence so keep at it.  State whether your hypothesis was proved true or not – write down your conclusion.
  7. Figure out what happened and why and document the result.
  8. Make your display.
  9. Rehearse your presentation in front of your parents, friends, and the family dog.  Listen to your parents’ suggestions, smile at your friends’ suggestions, but take the dog’s suggestions with a grain of salt.

How the judges think

  1. Judges look for creative thinking.  They will look at whether your topic was unusual or a new spin on an existing topic.
  2. Did you do the work yourself?  Believe it or not, the judges can tell if you got too much help on your project.  A little help is normal and expected but these guys have judged enough science fairs that they can tell if your parents did the project for you.
  3. Judges want to see good notes and lots of them.  Make sure it is well organized and that you have documented your references (and given everyone proper credit for their help).
  4. Your display should of course be professional.  It should be clear and easy to understand and fun to look at.  Some think that the project must be very complicated to win but that’s not true.
  5. Some fairs will ask that you give an oral presentation.  This will be the “short version” of your entire project.  Remember to speak clearly and slowly.
  6. Some judges will conduct an interview and ask questions about your project.  They don’t do this to be mean or to trick you.  They are simply trying to figure out what you learned.  Again, do most of the project work yourself, including the research, and you will do fine in the interview.

Sample Judge Scorecard

Below is a good example of what the science fair judges score card book will look like:

Category: Scientific Method (32 points max)
– Presented a question that could be answered through experimentation.
– Developed a hypothesis that identified independent and dependent variables
– Developed a good procedure for testing the hypothesis, including use of control variables
– Clear and thorough process for data observation and collection
– Ran at least three trials
– Used accurate experimental technique
– Derived conclusions from appropriately organized and summarized data
– Related conclusions back to the hypothesis

Category: Scientific Knowledge (12 points max)
– Used at least three sources for background research
– Clearly identified and explained the key scientific concepts related to the experiment
– Used scientific experiments and/or mathematical formulas correctly in the experiment

Category: Presentation (12 points max)
– Presentation is neat, well organized, and interesting
– Included key components to provide a thorough picture of the project including the purpose/question, variables and hypothesis, summary of research findings, materials and procedures, data charts and graphs, results, and conclusions
– Included a lab notebook with the project

Category: Creativity (4 points max)
– Investigated an original question or used an original approach or technique

Superior – 4 points
Above average – 3 points
Average – 2 points
Below average – 1 point
No evidence – 0 points

A few more ways to win

Here are a few more techniques you can use to win the fair. Of course, if you tell anyone you heard these here, we will simply deny it.

  1. The night before the contest, leave a pumpkin on the doorstep of your smartest competitor with a knife sticking through it and a note taped to it that says “YOU”.
  2. Before the judging begins, walk up to the first competitor display and say, “Oooh.  You didn’t hear about the kid that did that one last year?  God rest his soul…”
  3. When one of your competitors isn’t looking, change his notes to Pig Latin and then tell the judge that it’s his native language.
  4. Tell your competitor that on the other side of the gym, Bobby’s volcano display was knocked into Jenny’s yeast experiment and the judges are all excited because a new life from was created.  When he runs to look, knock over his display.
  5. Go through all the competitor displays before the show and paste a cardboard note on each one that says “FAIL”.
  6. Poke holes in your paper and tell the judges that on the way in, you were mobbed by a bunch of crows.
  7. Take a red pen and draw little circles up and down your arm.  When the judge arrives, tell him you helped the guy next to you set up his project and now you have this weird rash on your arm.
  8. When your competitor isn’t looking, mix pepper into his volcano experiments so when it blows, all the judges go into sneezing fits.
  9. When the judge is grading your competitor’s project, loudly tap your pencil while whistling the Jeopardy tune.
  10. When the judge starts grading your project, whisper in his ear – “I know what you did last summer.”
  11. Bring candles and incense to the contest. Before grading begins on your project, perform an elaborate ceremony, entreating the gods to bless the project and correct all your typos. This might be just enough to make your competitors bow out of the competition.
  12. At the top of your project board, write in large red letters, “This project will self-destruct in 10 seconds.”
  13. When the judge asks questions, answer all of them using a British accent while twisting an imaginary mustache.
  14. Instead of writing your notes in a notebook, cut letters of various colors and sizes from magazines and paste them to a board like a ransom note.  Stare menacingly at the judge when he arrives to grade your project.
  15. And don’t forget, wear your first-place ribbon to school the next day and talk lots of smack to the losers.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Third-graders explaining their science projects to Navy personnel via Wikimedia Commons by US Navy with usage type - Public Domain. April 16, 2010

Featured Image Credit

Third-graders explaining their science projects to Navy personnel via Wikimedia Commons by US Navy with usage type - Public Domain. April 16, 2010


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