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Judging Guidelines

Philosophy Procedures Criteria & Forms | Specialty Judging

Science fairs provide young people who are motivated towards science with an occasion to have their work evaluated. These fairs constitute an important source of encouragement to students to develop interests beyond the constraints of the formal education environment.

Exhibitors in the VIRSF are students ranging from Grades 4 through 12. They should enjoy and learn from every stage of doing a project – even being judged.

In evaluating their efforts you have the opportunity to:

  • Exchange and share your knowledge with the young people.
  • Provide advice on how they may get more out of their work in science.
  • Encourage them in doing science and in thinking and working scientifically

They are competing for trophies, plaques and ribbons, and subject to availability of funds, for expense-paid trips to compete as regional representatives in the Canada-Wide Science Fair (grades 7 through 12 only). Four divisions are recognized: Elementary (grades 4 & 5), Intermediate (grades 6 & 7), Junior (grades 8 & 9), and Senior (grades 10, 11 &12). The exhibits are assigned to judges (approximately 4-6 per judge) based on areas of expertise.

Judging Philosophy

It is the student’s work in planning and executing a science project which is to be judged. The exhibit should be regarded as a reflection of a student’s work, but this should be verified through questioning (help received from others should be acknowledged and should be considered by judges). Projects should involve laboratory, field, or theoretical investigations. Library research and collections may be worthwhile supplements but, by themselves, these do not normally merit a high rating. Equipment construction should involve a creative approach or an original idea to merit a high rating. Commercially fabricated equipment may be used in exhibits, but the impressiveness or “glitter” of such equipment should not affect an evaluation. Remember, it is the STUDENT’S work which is to be judged.

All entries should be judged according to relative merit without regard to the student’s age. [Divisions ensure that younger students will have a fair opportunity to win awards]. However, the exhibitors are not Ph.D. candidates – they are elementary or secondary school students and should be judged against an appropriate standard.

Judging Procedures

All project submissions are formed into groups based on the students’ grade and the subject area.  Based on the information provided at registration, each judge is assigned to a team whose responsibility it is to rank all projects in one of the project groups.  These rankings are based on:  (1) written reports provided by the students before the fair, (2) student/judge interviews on the morning of the fair, and (3) judge team discussions conducted after all interviews are completed.

Reports:  In the week prior to the fair, judges are provided with copies of the students’ written reports which will allow time to form an overall first impression of each project, and to prepare questions for the students during the interview sessions on the day of the fair.  Please keep in mind that students are limited to 5 pages for their reports and are not required to include plots or tables of their data.  

Interviews:  On the day of the fair, 15-minute interviews will be scheduled for each judge to meet with each of their students and discuss their projects.  It is important to arrive on time and adhere to the schedule, in order to provide all judges the opportunity to complete their interviews.  

At the outset, judges should give the student an opportunity to make an oral presentation, when you will be looking for a clear explanation that shows interest, enthusiasm, care and understanding. Then use a question and discussion time to ascertain his/her level of understanding of the project and related fields and to clarify the objectives and methodology of the project. It is important to find something positive to comment on. Once you have completed the interview, do two things: 

  1. assign scores using the appropriate Marking Form (see below) according to the student’s grade and project type, and 
  2. complete a judge’s comments form as feedback for the student.

Team meetings:  Following the interview sessions, all judges on a team reconvene to discuss their projects and arrive at an overall ranking.  Project evaluations should take into account the criteria supplied in the marking forms, as well as the overall strength of the project (see Judging Criteria).  Because each project is typically judged by 3-4 judges, there will be opportunities for the team to compare and contrast projects.  Rankings are reported to the Chief Judge.

Round 2 judging:  At least one member of each team is requested to participate in the second round of judging, during which time the top projects from different subject areas at the same grade level are compared.  The Chief Judge will coordinate this round, requesting individual judges to evaluate projects from a subject area they did not see in the first round.  Based on these evaluations, final rankings are determined for each grade level.  

Judging Criteria

Exhibits are to be judged on the basis of:

  • overall scientific strength (see examples below for each project type)
  • criteria that vary slightly according to the student’s grade and project type (see Marking Forms below)., and
  • the degree to which the project represents the student’s own work.

Project Types

Examples of scientifically strong, good, fair and weak projects are given for each project type.


An investigation undertaken to test a specific hypothesis using experiments.  Experimental variables, if identified, are controlled to some extent.

 Strong   Devise and carry out original experimental research which attempts to control or investigate most significant variables. Data analysis includes statistical analysis.
 Good  Devise and carry out an original experiment with controls. Variables are identified. Some significant variables are controlled. Data analysis includes graphic presentation with simple statistics.
 Fair  Extend a known experiment through modification of procedures, data gathering and application.
 Weak  Duplicating a known experiment to confirm the hypothesis. Hypothesis is totally predictable.


A collection and analysis of data to reveal evidence of a fact, situation or pattern of scientific interest. It could include a study of cause and effect relationships or theoretical investigations of scientific data. Variables, if identified, are by their nature not feasible to control, but an effort to make meaningful correlation is encouraged.

 Strong   Study correlating information from a variety of significant sources which may illustrate cause and effect or original solutions to current problems through synthesis. Significant variable(s) identified with in-depth statistical analysis of data.
 Good  Study based on observations and literary research illustrating various options for dealing with a relevant issue. Appropriate arithmetic, graphical or statistical analysis in relation to some significant variables.
 Fair  Study of material collected through compilation of existing data and through personal observations. Display attempts to address a specific issue.
 Weak  Study of existing printed material related to the basic issue.


Involving the development and evaluation of innovative devices, models or techniques or approaches in fields such as technology, engineering, or computers (both hardware and software).

 Strong   Integrate several technologies, inventions or designs and construct an innovative technological system that will have commercial and/or human benefit.
 Good  Design and build innovative technology or provide adaptations to existing technology that will have economic applications and/or human benefit.
 Fair  Make improvements to, or demonstrate new applications for existing technological systems or equipment and be able to justify them.
 Weak  Building models (devices) to duplicate existing technology.

Marking Forms

Forms for 2023 – 4 projects per page / section marks 1 – 4 (poor, fair, good, excellent)

Old 2022 Forms – One project per page / section marks out of 10

A more general form is available for Specialty Judges.

Written Report Requirements

Scoring of written reports should take into account the following guidelines:

The written report must be prepared by the student, and cannot exceed five (5) pages, 22 x 28 cm size (approx 8.5 x 11 in), double-spaced, 12 pt. font, typewritten on one side only (or the handwritten equivalent thereof) including all graphs, diagrams, etc. Reports in excess of this limit will be penalized. The report should have a simple format, and include an INTRODUCTION (stating the aims and objectives of the work), a summary of PROCEDURES used during the study, a summary of RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS and ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. There is no need to include tables, graphs and raw data in the report. These items should be with the project.

Specialty Judging

Specialty judging involves the selection of winners for specific awards generously donated by our sponsors.  The criteria are often award-specific and may apply over multiple grade divisions.  Specialty judges are encouraged to preview project lists before the fair in order to select potential award candidates.  Specialty judges may interview students during Round 2 Divisional judging.  As well, they will have access to Round 1 Divisional rankings to assist with their project evaluations.