It’s almost science fair day. You’ve been preparing as much as possible for the judges. You know that after a judge politely listens to your 3-5 minute presentation, he or she will begin to ask a number of questions. Whether you will have three judges (at the MA state middle school fair) or five (at the MA state high school fair), you can be guaranteed of one thing: no two judges will ask the same set of questions.
Let’s start with the 3 or 4 most of the common questions:
- “Where did you get the idea for this project?”
This is often the first question asked by many judges. Even if you got your idea from a website or a book, you can describe what you did to make the project “your own.”
- “Who helped you?”
Most students know that they are supposed to do their project on their own, and this is not a trick question! You can provide truthful answers that shows you’re confident in sharing credit. Examples of these types of questions are: Did you get suggestions or advice from a teacher, a parent, friends, a scientist or other expert? Who supplied the equipment used for the project? Who cut the wood or handled special power tools? Who took photos?
- “What would your next steps be to continue or advance this project?”
Even with a simple project, you should be able to think of what else to do next, such as using a different variable, or different materials.
- “How can this experiment or design/creation be useful in the real world?”
Students may not realize that they are doing “real science,” and their project might have a use/purpose or significance outside of the science fair experience. Even if it’s a project that has been done before, you can think about your results. How might this experiment be used for a different purpose than originally intended? Does this testing validate a previous experiment?
Other questions might include:
- What computer software was used to create the graphs?
- How many days did it take to do the experiment [or to build a particular part of the project]?
- What were the most interesting things learned from your background research?
- Explain how a specific piece of equipment works that was used in the experiment.
- Was all the data collected under the same conditions (same temperature, time of day, etc.)?
- What problems were experienced with the project? If so, how did you correct for them?
- What is the most important thing you learned by doing this project?
Judges are encouraged by MSSEF to ask pointed questions, starting with the easiest ones and making each subsequent question more challenging for the student. Judges see themselves as mentors as well as evaluators: they are not trying to stump you, but to test the breadth of your knowledge. You need to figure out how to stay calm no matter how difficult the question. The best advice about how to answer a challenging question is to respond to the best of your ability. If you don’t know an answer, be honest and acknowledge this – and then, offer to take an educated guess based on what you learned in the research or experimentation.
A few final pieces of advice:
- Remember the essentials of good communications.
Make eye contact, speak up & speak clearly, stick to your key message points, and don’t speak too fast.
- Have a conversation.
Judges won’t provide high scores to a student who has only rehearsed a speech, but then can’t answer interesting questions about the project. The more you engage a judge in a real discourse, the better a chance for a good score.
- Be excited about the project.
There’s almost nothing worse than for a judge to think that you only did the project because you had to do it for school, and is uninterested or bored with it.
While winning an award is fantastic, making it to the regional or statewide science fair is already a big achievement! Enjoy the experience, especially the chance to have a conversation with a “real world” scientist or engineer!