Special Awards Judging Guide

Championship Fair Background

The Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship is sponsored by the Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association (SCVSEFA). The Championship is a Regional Fair affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Each year in May we send Grand Prize winners (from grades 9 through 12) to the Intel ISEF. Approximately 400 regional fairs and many foreign countries participate. In addition, over 90 of our best projects in grades 7 through 12 are eligible to participate in the California State Science Fair.

The fair has three purposes:

  • to stimulate young people’s interest in science and engineering,
  • to provide an educational experience to the participants, and
  • to publicly recognize the students’ talents and achievements.

Special Awards

The success of our science fair depends to a large extent on the quality of your judging. The information and guidelines here will make your task easier and more enjoyable. This fair is a competition based upon the quality of the projects and experiments done by students. You are judging the results.

Special awards are given by various professional organizations and companies. Special awards may take many forms, including certificates, cash, trips, equipment, and work fellowships. The criteria for the special awards are determined by the sponsoring organizations. Judging teams for these awards are usually from the sponsoring organizations but may, if requested, be provided by the SCVSEFA.

Projects, whether individual or team, are considered the same. If you chose a project which is incidentally a team project, be sure you have sufficient awards for each team member. Each project will have copies of their Abstract at their project. As you talk with students, the lead judge should pick up a copy of the Abstract of each project that you will consider for an award. The Specials Awards desk will need a copy of the Abstract for each project receiving an award.

Presentation of Awards

Awards will be presented to the student exhibitors in one afternoon at two Awards Ceremonies (one for grades 6 through 8 and one for grades 9 through 12), to which you are cordially invited. Details of the ceremony location will be available after the Fair.

Information for Special Awards Judges


The projects are available for viewing without students starting at 10:00AM. Judges are encouraged to come early to take advantage of this time. Please plan to arrive no later than noon for the judges’ lunch, briefing, and project survey. Student exhibitors will enter the hall at 1:30 PM (High School) or 2:00 PM (Middle School), and are expected to remain at their projects until 5:00 p.m.

Judges should plan to spend about ten minutes with each project. Let the Judges’ desk know if an exhibitor is not at his or her display. If the exhibitor cannot be found, evaluate the project and leave a note.

Judging Categories:

Entries are displayed by grade level and category. There are seven grade divisions and fourteen category areas:

Biological Science and Engineering

1. Behavioral Science
2. Plant Science
3. Animal Science
4. Biochemistry/Microbiology
5. Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (grades 9–12 only)
6. Biomedical and Health Science
7. Biomedical Engineering

Physical Science and Engineering

A. Chemistry
B. Chemical and Environmental Engineering
C. Earth and Environmental Science
D. Physics and Astronomy
E. Electrical Engineering
F. Mechanical Engineering
G. Mathematics
H. Software Engineering

Each project is identified by its project number, title, and the student’s name.

Judging Procedure (Special Awards):

  1. Meet with your teammates and determine a strategy for evaluating the projects. It is recommended that judges interview students serially rather than as a group. This keeps students occupied for longer periods of time during what is a very long afternoon. Inexperienced judges may choose to accompany a colleague until they are comfortable interviewing students by themselves.
  2. Find the exhibits you are to judge and begin your evaluation. Plan to spend about 8–10 minutes with each project (but no more than 15 minutes). It is very easy to lose track of time, especially if the project is of interest. Even if you do not feel a project merits consideration for an award, do interview the student(s). Use the time to make the Science Fair an educational experience. Discuss how to improve the project and encourage participation next year.
  3. At the conclusion of each evaluation, score the project independent of the rest of your judging team members but not in front of the student. Repeat this procedure until all your assigned projects have been judged. Then together with your judging teammates determine which projects are to receive awards. The team leader is to coordinate this activity and turn in the results at the judging desk.
  4. Every project should have an abstract. The lead judge should pick up an Abstract for each project that you believe you will consider. Examining the abstract is a good way to start the evaluation. This abstract should include:
  • The hypothesis or problem being addressed
  • A brief statement about the procedures and instrumentation used
  • The main findings
  • The main conclusion (or tentative conclusions).

Judging Criteria:

  • How well the students understand the project or experiment.
  • How creative the students were and how they dealt with problems that arose.
  • Did the students do the work themselves? It is expected and desirable that they obtain assistance from experts, but they are ultimately responsible for the project.
  • How the project compares to other projects in the same category and grade. If your organization does not have a rubric, we invite you to use the following.


Judging CriteriaPoints
Scientific Thought or Engineering Goals10
Creative Ability10
Maximum Total Points33

Scientific Thought (Suggested scoring for scientific projects)

  1. Is the problem stated clearly and unambiguously?
  2. Was the problem sufficiently limited to allow plausible attack? Good scientists can identify important problems capable of solutions. Neither working on a difficult problem without getting anywhere nor solving an extremely simple problem is a substantial contribution.
  3. Was there a procedural plan for obtaining a solution?
  4. Are the variables clearly recognized and defined?
  5. If controls are necessary, did the student recognize their need and were they correctly used?
  6. Are there adequate data to support the conclusions?
  7. Does the student or team recognize the data’s limitations?
  8. Does the student/team understand the project’s ties to related research?
  9. Does the student/team have an idea of what further research is warranted?
  10. Did the student/team cite scientific literature, or only popular magazines?

Engineering Goals (Suggested scoring for Engineering projects)

  1. Does the project have a clear objective?
  2. Is the objective relevant to the potential user’s needs?
  3. Is the solution (a) workable? (b) acceptable to the potential user? (c) economically feasible? Unworkable solutions might seem interesting but are not practical. Solutions that will be rejected or ignored are not valuable. A solution so expensive it cannot be utilized is not valuable.
  4. Could the solution be utilized successfully in design or construction of some end product?
  5. Is the solution a significant improvement over previous alternatives?
  6. Has the solution been tested for performance under the conditions of use? (Testing might prove difficult, but should be considered.)

Creative Ability

  1. Does the project show creativity and originality in (a) the question asked? (b) the approach to solving the problem? (c) the analysis of the data? (d) the interpretation of the data? (e) the use of equipment? (f) the construction or design of new equipment?
  2. An original idea for a project would show greater creativity than a suggested project from a textbook. Obviously no project is creative and original in every aspect. Remember that a creative and original project for high school students is different from that of professionals. Conversely, some projects may contain elements that seem original; the materials may have come from new curricula in textbooks or laboratory manuals unfamiliar to judges.
  3. Also consider how much help a student received. A student’s or team’s approach to solving a problem may seem original, but may have come from a scientist’s or engineer’s suggestions. If a student received help on a project, any credit for creative ability and originality should reflect the student’s own contributions. This should become clear through careful questioning.
  4. Creative research should support an investigation and help answer a question in an original way. The assembly of a kit would not be creative unless an unusual approach was taken. Collections should not be considered creative unless they are used to support an investigation, and to help answer a question in an original way.
  5. A creative contribution promotes an efficient and reliable way to solve a problem. When judging, make sure to distinguish between “gadgeteering” and genuine creativity.


  1. Was the purpose carried out to completion within the scope of the original intent?
  2. How completely was the problem covered?
  3. Are the conclusions based on a single experiment, or are there replications?
  4. How complete are the project notes?
  5. Is the student/team aware of other approaches or theories?
  6. How much time did the student/team spend on the project?
  7. Is the student/team familiar with scientific literature in the field?


  1. Does the student/team have the skills required to do all the work necessary to obtain the data that support the project? Laboratory skills? Computational skills? Observational skills? Design skills?
  2. Where was the project done? (i.e., home, school laboratory, university laboratory) Did the student or team receive assistance from parents, teachers, scientists, or engineers?
  3. Was the project done under adult supervision, or did the student/team work largely alone?
  4. Where did the equipment come from? Was it built independently by the student or team? Was it obtained on loan? Was it part of a laboratory where the student or team worked?


  1. How clearly can the student discuss the project and explain the project’s purpose, procedure, and conclusions? Make allowances for nervousness. Watch out for memorized speeches that reflect little understanding of the principles.
  2. Does the written material reflect the student’s or team’s understanding of the research? (Take outside help into account.)
  3. Are the important phases of the project presented in an orderly manner?
  4. How clearly are the data presented?


The purpose of the Science Fair is to educate and encourage these potential scientists and engineers to excel. Certainly the students are encouraged by the awards you give, but sometimes a constructive suggestion or recommendation may inspire a student to continue his/her studies.

We hope that you enjoy the experience and return next year to judge. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about your judging experience.

—SCVSEFA Special Awards Judging Committee