ISEF Special Award Organization Judging Process | Student Science

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Special Award judges in the Intel ISEF Finalist Hall

ISEF Special Award Organization Judging Process

Overview of ISEF Special Award Organization judging schedule and judging tips

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Overview of Judging Schedule


The Organization and /or Judge Team Leader has provided criteria to assist in the selection of their award winners. Selecting specific winners from nearly 1400 incredible ISEF Finalists projects may feel like a very big undertaking.  With an organized pre-fair triage this task can be substantially minimized.

In mid-April your teams goal is to review the “College Choice” spreadsheet identifying project titles that may align with the organizations provided criteria. Let’s use the example of 100 projects identified. The abstracts become available, your team divides and conquers this review and triages now to 40 projects. 

Upon arrival at the Fair on Tuesday you will continue to triage the projects by viewing the finalists project boards and data books, Finalists won’t be at their project booths. The day ends with a determination of final projects to interview on Wednesday, let’s suggest that you have now narrowed to 15 projects. 

Wednesday a.m. you’ll have the first open “SAO only” period of time to interview the students. Afterwards throughout the balance of the day you’ll need to defer to the set Grand Award Judging schedules by viewing and selecting “open grid” times to interview the finalists. 

Please review the daily breakdown below for more specific information.       


Registration and Pre-judging

Special Award Judges may register in the morning. Judges will receive a name badge with a red ribbon to designate a Special Award judge. The name badge serves as official identification and is necessary for access to the judging areas. Immediately following registration, each judge should proceed to the SAO Judges Discussion Area to locate any fellow judges at the designated discussion table for his/her organization. 

Special Award judges utilize Tuesday period to caucus, preview the finalists, and determine selection of projects to be included in their reviews, and/or make final assignments of projects to their judges. 

Pre-review of Finalists' Projects (No Finalists present)

Judges may preview the finalists' projects beginning at 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday to determine the overall quality.  Special Award judges should use this time to select those finalists' projects eligible for their organizations' award. If possible, Special Award judges should check a variety of finalists' projects because the scientific category does not always clearly indicate whether a project would meet the organization’s criteria. 

There is scheduled an Excellence in Science and Technology Panel for ISEF registrants on Tuesday afternoon. Judges are welcome to attend. Topics of this discussion will cover a wide range of subjects including the award recipients themselves, their scientific/engineering achievements and any other subject of interest that may be posed. It is hoped that this discussion will serve as a catalyst for the discussions the judges will have on Wednesday with the finalists. 

On Tuesday evening the “open grid” will be available and posted on this web page.  This “open grid” indicates when Special Award Judges have open times to interview the students. These are times when the Grand award judges do not have scheduled interviews with the finalists.


Wednesday begins at 7:00 a.m. with a continental breakfast for all judges. 

Judging Assignments

The sponsoring organization, through its designated judging leader, is responsible for establishing final assignments of their judges. The ISEF Finalists' Directory serves as the initial source of topics, titles, and location of projects. To help Special Award judges efficiently schedule their interview sessions, Society for Science & the Public will print a Finalists' schedule grid which will show the “open periods” when the finalists do not have a Grand Award judging interview. A large copy of this grids will be posted in the Project Exhibit halls and in the SAO Judge's Discussion Area. 

Judging Record Folder

By Wednesday morning, the Team Leader should have received their Judging Record Folder from the Special Award Check in table.  This red folder contains a reporting sheet to provide final certification of judging results for all awards. The Special Award Leader of each judging group is responsible for the folder. To be included in the Award Ceremony your results must be submitted to the Check in table after 1 p.m. and before 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening. 

Final Certification of results is not official until the Leader has:

  • Returned the Judging Record Folder and its certification sheet to the Society for Science & the Public SAO check in table;
  • Reviewed computer-generated documents to confirm proper inclusion of each award winner; and
  • Signed and returned the printed documentation provided.

Final awards documentation, must be received before the special award leader leaves the judging area.

Judging Tips for Special Award Organization Judges

Every ISEF affiliated fair has its own methodology for judging projects at their fair. We provide the following tips and judging criteria as suggested aids in your process. The following points may be of value to you and your judges as they go out to review the projects.


  • Examine the quality of the Finalist’s work, and how well the Finalist understands his or her project and area of study. The physical display is secondary to the student’s knowledge of the subject. Look for evidence of laboratory, field or theoretical work, not just library research or gadgeteering.
  • Judges should keep in mind that competing in a science fair is not only a competition, but an educational and motivating experience for the students. The high point of the Fair experience for most of the students is their judging interviews.
  • Students may have worked on a research project for more than one year. However, for judging, ONLY research conducted within the current year is to be evaluated. Although previous work is important, it should not unduly impact the judging of this year’s project. See Form 7 displayed at their booth for detail on previous work. 
  • Generally, judges represent professional authority to Finalists. For this reason, judges should use an encouraging tone when asking questions, offering suggestions or giving constructive criticism. Judges should not criticize, treat lightly, or display boredom toward projects they personally consider unimportant.  Always give credit to the Finalist for completing a challenging task and/or for their success in previous competitions.
  • Compare projects only with those competing at this Fair and not with projects seen in other competitions or scholastic events.
  • It is important in the evaluation of a project to determine how much guidance was provided to the student in the design and implementation of his or her research. When research is conducted in an industrial or institutional setting, the student should have documentation, most often the ISEF Form 1C, that provides a forum for the mentor or supervisor to discuss the project. Judges should review this information in detail when evaluating research.
  • Please be discreet when discussing winners or making critical comments in elevators, restaurants, or elsewhere, as finalists or adult escorts might overhear. Results are confidential until announced at the awards sessions. The individual judges for both Special Award and Grand Award are responsible for ensuring that all items associated with judging, except for the official results certification, are collected and destroyed after judging.

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