Category Judging Guide and Policies


Background information on the purpose, organization, Conflict of Interest and Harassment policies, and types of awards are found under Judges (see Tab above). The information and guidelines below will make your task easier and more enjoyable. Please review it carefully.

Event Logistics  schedule

Category Judges Check-In opens at 11:00 AM on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at the San Jose Convention Center, South Hall. Box lunches are available at 11:30 AM. Category judges should leave plenty of time for parking, check-in, and to pick up a box lunch and plan to be seated at their judging team’s table no later than NOON for lunch & orientation. The period from 12:30 to 1:30 PM is available for previewing projects before the students arrive.

High school students will enter the hall at 1:30 PM.  Middle School students will enter the hall after the high school students. All students are expected to remain at their projects from 2:00 until 5:00 PM for Category Judging. In some cases students are asked to stay at their project later for Grand Prize judging.

Judging Categories

Each judging team of 2 to 4 judges evaluates 8 to 12 projects within one category. Projects assigned to each team are displayed by grade level and field of study on the Category Judging Worksheet. There are seven grades, four categories, and fifteen fields of study. Each project is identified on the Category Judging Worksheet by its project number, location, and title.

The project number has three parts: the first part identifies the student’s grade and category; the second indicates the field of study and a two-digit unique identifier; and the third is a special confirmation number and whether the project is an individual (1) or team (2) project. For example 071-306-81 refers to 7th grade, non RRI Biological Sciences and Engineering project, with a field of study in Animal Science, and is an individual project. For more information on Categories, Fields of Study and project numbers, go to

Assignment of Category Judges

Every judge is assigned to a team of two or more judges based on the information they provide when they registered on line.  Each team will select a team leader who is responsible for writing down the details of their decisions on the pink Category Judging Results Sheet. Projects are grouped based on whether the students were guided by research mentors and/or worked on their projects in research laboratories. For Regulated Research Institution (RRI) projects (those guided by research mentors and/or performed in research laboratories), teams judge across grades 9 to 12 within one category and related fields of study. For non RRI projects (those not guided by research mentors and performed at home, school, or in the field), each judging team views projects in the same grade within one category and in related fields of study. Because there may be insufficient numbers of Grade 12 projects to form good judging teams, projects from Grades 11 and 12 may be judged by the same team.

Check in begins at 11:00 AM

Before Category Judges check in, judges pick up their name tag with a blue ribbon, and take a clipboard and pencil. At the check-in desk, judges receive printed instructions and the Category Judging Worksheet. This is a preprinted scoring sheet with a project number, location and title for each project assigned to their judging team. Using the large floor map in front of the seating area, judges find the table designated for their judging team, and pick up a lunch after 11:30 AM.

After check-in, during lunch and orientation

After check-in, projects are available for previewing without the students present. After 11:30 AM Judges can meet with their teammates at their assigned table while eating lunch and determine a strategy for evaluating the projects. All judges should be seated at their team table for the judges’ orientation talk which begins at noon.

After orientation, begin judging

Judges have from 12:30 to 1:30 PM to review project boards and notebooks before the students enter the hall. High school students will begin entering the hall at 1:30 PM and middle school students will begin entering the hall after the high school students. Interviews can begin as soon as the students are present.

Each judge should interview students at their assigned projects. This approach has several advantages: (1) students get more personal interaction time with each judge, and (2) judges can better assess the students’ understanding of their projects. Inexperienced judges may initially choose to accompany a colleague, however, each judge should ask questions and document their own scores on the Category Judging Worksheet.

If a student is not at his or her display, please return later. For individual projects, if a student is substantially delayed (past 2:30 PM) or leaves before judging is completed, the project may not be judged and may not be eligible for awards. For team projects, at least one team member must be present for judging, however judges may reduce project scores if they are not able to confirm that all members of the team contributed appropriately.

No student is eligible for Category awards without evaluation by at least two judges.  Judge documentation on the white Category Judging Worksheet is important.  We use this after the fair to verify that each project was evaluated. We do not share the Worksheets with parents or students.

Plan to spend about 8–10 minutes at each project (but no more than 15 minutes). Judges very easily lose track of time, especially if the project is of interest. Even if you do not feel a project merits consideration for an award, still interview the student(s). Use the time to make the Science Fair an educational experience and encourage students to participate next year. After completing your discussion with the student(s), sign their compliance sheet and affix a round green sticker to the student’s compliance sheet. We will check for stickers to assure that each project is reviewed by at least two Category Judges.

Each project should display an abstract. Examining the abstract is a good way to start the evaluation. This abstract should include

  • The scientific hypothesis or engineering problem being addressed
  • A brief statement about the procedures and instrumentation used
  • The main findings
  • The main conclusion (or tentative conclusions)

While interviewing, look for:

  • How well the students understand the project or experiment.
  • How creative the students were and how they dealt with problems that arose. Did they acknowledge sources used?
  • Did the students do the work themselves? Obtaining assistance is acceptable, but the students are ultimately responsible for their project.
  • How the project compares to other projects in similar categories and grades.

Middle school students are different from high school students:

When interviewing middle school students please remember that:

  1. For many students, this is the first time that they are being interviewed at a science fair. They might need some very direct questions to get started, before you ask them broader questions.
  2. Middle school students often don’t think as abstractly as high school students.

Note that team projects and individual projects are judged with exactly the same criteria. For team projects, each student needs to demonstrate an equivalent level of understanding, and have contributed to the project.

Continuation projects should only display data collected during the past 12 months. Scoring should be based on accomplishments during that period.

The judging criteria are identical, independent of the project category or field of study. The only difference is to apply criteria for scientific thought to science projects, versus engineering goals for engineering projects. A judge evaluating projects from several related fields of study should score each project objectively and rank all the projects assigned to the team for awards based on their scoring, even if the project is outside of the judge’s primary field.

After the conclusion of an interview, each judge should thank the student for their participation and score the project independently of the other team members (not in front of the students) using the Category Judging Worksheet. Repeat this procedure until you have judged all the projects assigned to your team. Then, with your teammates, determine which projects you collectively recommend to receive awards. The team leader should coordinate this activity. The team leader’s pink Judging Results Sheet is used to communicate your team’s recommendations to the Science Fair Board.

Please limit the number of awards to approximately 30% of the TOTAL number of projects judged by the team, typically a first, second and honorable mention award.

The Science Fair has a policy for students who should have been judged as RRI, but registered incorrectly and were judged as non-RRI. There are several possible options: 1) downgrade the Category Award one level, 2) downgrade two levels, or 3) disqualify the student from Category Awards and the State Fair. One option will be chosen by SCVSEFA depending on the facts of the case. In addition other award winners in the same judging team will be upgraded one level as appropriate.

After judging

The pink Category Judging Results Sheet and all the white Category Judging Worksheets must be returned to the Category Judging Registration Desk by 5:00 PM or earlier by the team leader.  Category Judging Worksheets are important to document the number of judges who evaluated projects and are sometimes used to help evaluate projects for other awards.

After judging and awards have been determined, complete the yellow Comment Sheets for the students. These comments are highly valued by the students and project sponsors. The team leader should coordinate completion of at least one preprinted comment sheet for each project and turn in completed sheets for the team when he or she checks out. Additional comment sheets are also welcome, however the judge who prepares them must fill out the project number, location, title and judging team.

All Judges: Please return your clipboard and name tag holder to the table where you checked in. If possible, please stay until 6 pm to provide comments directly to students and view other projects.  If you wish to view other projects, a Master Project List with titles and locations is posted shortly before the fair at the bottom of a page for Special Awards Judges.