Science fairs, judging, preparation, and scoring guide


This page provides information to create scoring guides for science fairs, projects, and information to prepare for judging science projects and fairs.

Information is organized into possible categories that can be used in a rubric or scoring guide. Each category can be reviewed to prepare as a judge or to consider as a category to include for a scoring rubric.

When writing the description for a category or reading a prepared description be careful to unpack all of the intended information or include the intended information.

For example: A rubric might ask to evaluate a category as accurate and may or may not include other ways to evaluate it. Examples:

While the information included for each category can't anticipate all the possible variations that might be included on a scoring guide, there should be sufficient ideas to provide a satisfactory beginning to make a rubric or prepare to judge.

Background information

Comments from students

High school students and graduates overwhelmingly (75%) oppose being required to compete in a science fair.
Competition motivated them to do their best.
They did not enjoy their participation.
Didn’t have enough time.
Lacked resources to do what they really wanted to do.
Were encouraged to do something they weren’t really interested in.
Lacked resources to investigate as much as they wanted.

Fairs as noncompetitive

Categories that might be included on a science fair rubric or scoring guide.

Question, Goal, Hypothesis

Depending on the kind of investigation (experimental or ethnographic), and the age of participants, one category will likely include information for an investigation: question, goal, or hypothesis.


  • Question is written as a questions.
  • Asks a question that is testable (can collect observable data).
  • Written clearly, understandable, and specific.


See strategies for setting and achieving goals

  • The goal is stated clearly, includes what will be done, when it will be achieved, is realistic and attainable.

Hypothesis -

A hypothesis is a tentative assumption that relates one idea to another with a relationship between two variables that is testable. The best hypotheses include the quality or quantity of the relationship.

Includes cause and effect.

  • If an object is dropped higher, it may fall faster.
  • The rate that grass grows is not related to the amount of light it receives.
  • If plant growth is related to the amount of light shining on it, then more light will increase the plant's growth.

Hypothesis can be stated using the word may. Light may affect plant growth.

A hypothesis can be an if then statement (but not all if then statements are hypotheses),

  • IF this THEN this will happen.
  • If a plant is deprived of light it, will die.

These examples do not describe the quality or quantity of a relationship.

The test of the hypothesis is the procedure.

Information to consider related to the hypothesis

Related to the hypothesis is how deeply the student was engaged in the development and implementation of the investigation.

  • Did they ask or consider more than one question or hypothesis?
  • Did they consider necessary and sufficient variables?
  • Is there evidence the investigation broadened in scope as a result of what was learned from their initial explorations or investigations?

Some students find experiments that are more descriptive and don't fit into the experimental category. These are more descriptive or ethnographic investigations. Which might be written as a hypothesis for the example of an egg in bottle demonstration: If the air is heated it will expand and push air out of the jar, when it cools the air inside the jar will contract reducing the pressure inside the jar, the outside air pressure being greater will push the egg into the jar. Which is better than. The egg will be sucked into the container. Which is more of a prediction than hypothesis.

Experimental design or procedure

What was done is documented clearly and sufficiently. Subcategories might include:

  • Logically makes sense.
  • Procedure is designed to answer the questions or test the hypothesis
  • Procedure is written so that it is relevant, clear, and appropriate.
  • Identifies the independent / manipulated variable and the dependent / responding variable but not necessarily with these labels.
  • Identifies and controls all major variables and/or comments on variables that are not controlled as having minor or no effect on the outcome
  • Uses preliminary experiment to refine procedure or other ideas.
  • Uses multiple trials to insure accuracy.
  • Explains the procedure well enough for others to be able to replicate the experiment.
  • Plans what to control and compare.

Ideas to consider for improvement

  • Comprehensive inclusion of variables
  • Inaccuracy in the procedure.
  • The use of appropriate resources.
  • Do they include what was done, observed, and reported?
  • Is there a plan beyond initial observation.
  • Are variables relationship described as to how they are relate, or the quality or quantity of that relationship.
  • Detail on how to control variables.


See strategies for setting and achieving goals

  • The goal is stated clearly, includes what will be done, when it will be achieved, is realistic and attainable.
  1. Focus on the goal and how to achieve it.
  2. Select a goal.
  3. Select effective strategies.
  4. Monitor, evaluate, and reflect.

Collection of data, Observation, Measuring

Priority is given for the collection of accurate observable evidence that can be used to describe what was observed to happen accurately and thoroughly.

Subcategories to assess and comment on:

  • Observes and measures accurately.
  • Observations and measurements are very related to the purpose of the experiment.
  • Uses photographs, drawings, and models to illustrate data.
  • Defines indicators (plant is less healthy if it is tall, spindly, light green, yellow, or brown in color)
  • Data collected helps answer the question or the truth of the hypothesis.
  • Repeats or describes the procedure for observation.
  • Goes beyond the usual.
  • Notices detail.
  • Identifies relevant indicators
  • Notices only the obvious.
  • Little detail

Transformation of data, keeping records, analysis of data

The observable evidence (data) is presented, organized, analyzed, and communicated in a manner to assist in scientific understanding and explanation.

  • Includes an idea, organization, or something that lends to the transformation of the raw data by some kind of analysis.
  • The transformation of data is supported by the data and leads to the conclusion.
  • Transformation of data is communicated through charts, graphs, table, diagrams, images, and narrative that communicates so one can follow the ideas clearly.
    • Graphs … are accurate.
    • Information is accurate and appropriate for the investigation, goal, or experiment.
    • Accurate but not enough detail to make reliable decisions.
    • Accurate but not systematic.
    • Not accurate.


Describes the scientific understanding found or not found from the investigation, how valid or reliable the information is based on what was observed (data), how the findings might be used or not used in the future, and suggestions for future considerations.

Subcategories to assess and comment on:

  • Are related to the original question, goal, or hypothesis.
  • Are supported by data.
  • Inferences are logical and explain cause and effect.
  • Summarizes results, generalizes results into formula or a general statement.
  • Make additional predictions.
  • Suggests further investigation ideas.
  • Relates ideas to other sources or events.
  • Expands on results.
  • Make recommendations for improvements.
  • Interprets results from more than one source, replicates sources, identifies trends.
  • Summarizes results based on evidence.
  • Minimal or no description of cause and effect
  • Doesn't include any inferences.
  • Ignores information and keeps original ideas.
  • Uses evidence selectively.
  • Jumps to conclusions.

Visually appealing

Characteristics to consider and comment on:

  • Display is balanced top to bottom left to right, and diagonally.
  • Materials organized in a logical order. E.g. from beginning to end of experiment.
  • Arrangement helps to understand the scientific method.
  • Enough white space.
  • Size appropriate.
  • Attractive, Neat, Appropriate size of print, pictures, charts… easily read.
  • Spelling accurate.
  • Good use of color.


Often people want to have a category such as:

Created a novel or unique experiment or investigation.

However, we need to be careful here. An experiment may be novel or unique to the judge, but may not have been created by the student. Therefore, considering it to be something newly created by the student, is impossible to know for sure: as the idea could have been created by the student or selected with some kind of resource assistance.

Therefore, it may be best to interpret creativity by different criteria:

One way to get around this dilemma is to ask the student where they got the idea. However, this can encourage them, not to be truthful if they believe the answer you desire is, they created it.

Another idea might be to judge the student's selection of materials and ideas used in the investigation. While students may have used resources to select them, the selection of novel, unusual, materials and ideas can demonstrate an element of creative application of ideas.

  • Uses materials in a unique way.
  • Explains how ideas or materials were changed or selected to seek different or better results.
  • Suggests new experiments.
  • Describes novel or unusual observations.
  • Thinks and answers spontaneously.

Oral presentation

Explained the highlights of the investigation: procedure, evidence, how the evidence lead to a conclusion, and additional ideas included in the conclusion.

  • Speaks clearly, accurately, enthusiastically.
  • Can answer spontaneous questions.
  • Speaks knowledgeably of the project and the scientific method used.


Inquiry, Investigation, Experiment Scoring Guide

 Total Points _____ / 100

Attribute Below Standard At Standard Above Standard Points Earned
  seven points eight or nine points nine or ten points  
Purpose of the investigation or question to investigate The purpose is incomplete or the information collected from the observations are insufficient or not related to the stated purpose or question. Identified a question (with the teacher's assistance) which they found interesting and testable. Identified a question (without the teacher's assistance) which they found interesting and testable and collected observations that were useful in suggesting an answer to their question. May or may not have identified an hypothesis for the question. ____ /10
  three points eight or nine points nine or ten points  
Variables identified and controlled for the stateed purpose

Variables which are to be changed (independent) and variables that are going to be measured are not clearly defined. Resulting in insufficient information to suggest an answer for the questions or an explanation for the purpose and an incomplete study of the defined purpose or question.

Variables selected to change (manipulate) and variables to be measured (responding) are identified and logically related. The selection of variables may result in data that could suggest explanation(s) or answers to the question or could also suggest ambiguity when the collected data are analyzed for the intended purpose or question. However, the investigators may not be aware of the ambiguity. Variables selected to change (manipulate) and variables to be measured (responding) are logically related and clearly defined. The selected variables resulted in sufficient information with multiple trials to suggest verifiable explanations for the question. ____ /10
Optional Hypothesis Hypothesis does not include two variables that might relate logically to the question. Hypothesis includes two variables that relate logically to the question. Hypothesis includes two variables that relate logically to the question and suggest how they might be related.  
  three points eight or nine points nine or ten points  
Expected outcome or hypothesis Expected outcome or hypothesis is not stated, or complete, or does not related logically from the question or purpose. The expected outcome or hypothesis is related, but flawed in some way. Variables are inadequate or miss aligned. May have utilized literature search to develop an expected outcome or hypothesis. Expected outcome or hypothesis is reasonable, logical, and fits the purpose or questions to the variables, procedure, and possible outcomes. ____ /10
  fourteen points seventeen or eighteen points nineteen or twenty points  
Procedure The procedure is incomplete, not sequential, or takes effort on the part of the reader to follow. Questions as to how the equipment will be set-up, utilized, and observations made are left for the reader. Variables, which may have an effect on the outcome of the experiment may have been omitted, or not considered to be controlled, or adequately described how they will be measured. A well thought out complete and sequential (step-by-step) procedure is stated so a reader can understand and could replicate the investigation or experiment. It holds promise for collecting the information sought. The variables were logically selected to manipulate and control (changing one variable at a time or logically changing multiple variables simultaneously.) and methods for observations and measurements are included.

Procedure is sequential, complete, and stated so a reader can understand and could replicate the investigation or experiment. Variables are identified to manipulate and control in a systematic and logical manner that provided reliable observations and measurements that will convince others they are related to the manipulated and responding variables and might suggest answers and explanations for the question.

Procedure includes multiple trials or repeated data collection to improve reliability of data.

____ /20
  three points eight or nine points nine or ten points  
Diagram(s) The diagram(s) do not assist understanding. They are incomplete, hard to follow or missing. The diagram(s) are present that are relevant to the nature of the experiment and add clarity for parts of the investigation. However, labels are missing or unclear in other instances. Oral explanations can be given to add clarity for the missing or unclear information. The diagram(s) are present that help in clarification of the nature of the experiment. The diagram(s) are clearly labeled and include a model that explains a possible cause and effect relationship for the variables. ____ /10
  (seven) (eight or nine) (nine or ten)  
Results from the Investigation or Data Data is missing or incomplete, misrepresented, or does not logically fit the question or purpose being investigated. Includes the collected data accurately and clearly laid out out in a powerful way: chart, table, graph, color coded... Data is recorded accurately and displayed clearly in a powerful way: chart, table, graph, color coded... . It is recorded in a manner that is easy to understand and suggests possible analysis. ____ /10
  (seven) (eight or nine) (nine or ten)  
Data Interpretation, Explanations, or Conclusions Is a restating or summary of the results or data. Information is missing, incomplete, or does not logically match the data. Includes analysis of data that attempts to explain how the manipulated variables are related to the responding variables. Analysis of data clearly communicates beyond results and includes conclusion statements that tell how the manipulated variable(s) change with respect to the responding variables and suggests a relationship, pattern, or model to use to predict or explain future events. May also include suggestions for further investigations or questions. ____ /10
  fourteen points seventeen or eighteen points nineteen or twenty points  
Attitudes or Habits of Mind Did not suggest ideas or initiate independent thinking or work. Probably would not have completed the investigation without assistance, much encouragement, or desire to avoid possible unpleasant consequences. Interested enough to sustain persistence to complete the investigation.
Seemed to be open to new ideas by suggesting multiple ideas and listening to other peoples' ideas.
Curious, open minded, and skeptical enough to sustain persistence to achieve their desire to completely understand an explanation, related to the investigation, that they can have a high degree of confidence in its reliability and their ability to use it in their lives.
____ 20

___ /100



Scienteer is designed to guide students, teachers and fair directors through the required steps to comply with the Intel ISEF competitions.

Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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