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 AM to 1:30PM 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 PM 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 judges 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 grade divisions, 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   link.

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 or not the students were guided by research mentors and/or performed 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.

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 12:00 PM.

After orientation, begin judging

Judges have from 12:30 PM 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. No student is eligible for 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.

At 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 OR the optional Ranking Sheet on the reverse side. 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 SCVSFA depending on the facts of the case. In addition  other award winners in the same judging team will be upgraded one level as appropriate.

In addition, many projects are judged by Special Awards judges (white ribbons) to determine which projects will receive Special Awards.

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.  They 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 of project titles and locations will be posted shortly before the fair on the bottom of this page at this link.