Projects compete against all other projects within their division and within their chosen category. The divisions are as follows: Elementary Division – grades 5-6; Junior Division – grades 7-8; and Senior Division – grades 9-12. Please note that all judge decisions are FINAL.
Students are required to present their results in person on a project display board and each project will be interviewed by approximately 4 to 6 category judges, depending on the division. It is expected that all team members will be present for judging. All projects, whether team or individual, compete directly against each other within their categories in each division. Category judges are assigned to each division and category based upon their field of expertise and experience.
Each project is judged on its own merits according to the following criteria:
When scoring a project, judges rely on material provided on the project board, project notebooks (required for Junior & Senior Divisions, optional for Elementary Division) and other pertinent items on display, but most importantly on the student interview.
Each judge assigns a raw score (ranging from 1 to 100) to each of their assigned projects. All judges have a natural bias, and some individuals score higher or lower than other individuals when considering the same project in a category. In order to remove bias from the judging process, the judge scores are converted to Z-scores, which take into account a judge’s mean score for all of their assigned projects. An average Z-score is then calculated for each project and these are used to determine category awards.
In order to maintain the high standards expected at a regional science & engineering fair, a category award may not be given to a project that has an average Z-score and/or raw score below an acceptable range.
Special Awards are prizes awarded at the fair by specific organizations or groups. The organizations or groups providing the award have specific criteria that must be met by the student and/or the project in order to be eligible. Special Awards Judges are generally representatives from the various organizations. The criteria for judging are dictated by the organization or group that is giving the award and have no influence on Category Awards or ISEF selection. Some of the judging for Special Awards may take place without the students present at their projects, although most typically still rely on student interviews.
While USEF has agreed to allow these awards to be given, USEF has no control over or influence on the criteria used to select eligible projects, the number of awards given, nor the demographic (e.g., age, race, gender) receiving the awards. USEF is also neither responsible for ensuring Special Awards are actually honored by the responsible organization or group, nor that the Special Awards are as described. All issues related to Special Awards must be directed to the organization or group sponsoring the award.
A separate team of judges serves as the Judge Caucus Group. This group has the responsibility to select the projects in the Senior Division, comparing across all categories, that will advance to the next level of competition at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). Thus, these judges have extensive and varied science and engineering experience, covering the range of categories. Many have served as judges at ISEF.
As indicated, this judging process is done by caucus among these judges, but may also rely on the raw or Z-scores from the Category Award Judges. Additional criteria may be considered during the caucus to determine those projects deemed most likely to favorably compete at ISEF. The Judge Caucus Group’s selection decisions are FINAL.