Good science fair projects have typically have several things in common, below are some suggestions designed to give your project what judges are looking for. All of these items will make your project better, so it’s a good idea to try and incorporate as many of these suggestions as you can.
Make sure that your title is visible, and readable, from at least 20 feet away. We’re not kidding! A visible title is an absolute must – otherwise you risk being lost in the crowd. Make it big, and make sure it is at the top and center of your display. Use color, but make sure it is legible above all else. Good science fair projects have an interesting title that will pique interest in the judges.
If you have the opportunity to place your actual project in front of your display, do it. It will add to your presentation and give it a tangible feel.
Be sure to place your report in a visible, easy to reach spot so the judges can pick it up and leaf through it. They are going to look for the basics: Question/Hypothesis, your procedure, your results, an abstract, your research and your conclusion (not necessarily in that order.) If you would like to have them leave with a good impression make sure everything in your display is neat, organized and clean. This includes your report and experimental apparatus.
More and more often judges are looking for creative and original ideas. If you are considering a ‘tried and true’ or ‘snap together’ project, know that – while these will work – they are unlikely to inspire the judges. If you must do something like this due to time constraints or other problems, a creative twist on your pre-built project is better than nothing. Perhaps take the research one step further than required, add an additional experimental test, and so on.
Good science fair projects often have a novel approach or concept behind them. If you have the time, spend a few days brainstorming some originality into your project. You might surprise yourself.
In addition to making a project report, a large percentage of people who make good science fair projects keep project logs in which they record anything of note during the project’s life time. This is considered good practice for any scientist – including ones that are working in labs and industry! So this is a good habit to cultivate. Think of it as a personal journal but focused only on the details of your science project.
If you kept one (and kept it relatively neat), you can place it next to your report – judges often look very favorably on participants that keep these journals and will sometimes spend extra time with you to discuss the details of any problems you ran across while doing the project and how you overcame them. If you had any such problems (and you will) be sure to remember any particularly memorable and interesting problems and solutions. Judges love hearing about these stories – it gives them a better ‘feel’ for what kind of scientist you are.
Good science fair projects are rarely done by one person, alone, and without help. If you received help (from parents, friends, colleagues, professors) be sure to note who helped you and how in your report, and mention them if a judge asks. Scientists often do many years of work on a particular subject or project just to get some credit for the work they did. They enjoy doing the science, but often enjoy the recognition that a successful project engenders just as much – even if they only helped.
Do not deny credit to anyone that helped you. If you try to take all of the credit yourself, you will come off as disingenuous. Be sure to do enough of the project yourself to take most of the credit (it’s your project after all!) but give credit where it is due. The judges will appreciate your candor and honesty and, probably being scientists themselves, will see you in a more positive light.
If the judges are interested in your project, they are likely to spend more time with you than with other people and their projects. This is an opportunity. They will ask you questions about your results, your conclusion, why you choose this project, who helped you, how often the experiment was repeated, what the graphs mean, whether your hypothesis panned out or not, and so on. Be ready for any and all of them. Since you did a lot of work on your project and did your research and experimentation conscientiously and kept a journal so you wont forget anything important, then you wont have a problem.
The implication is obvious – be engaged in every aspect of your project, follow the guide lines of the competition to be sure to do every part of the project you need, and keep records (your journal) in order to be prepared for questions from the judges during the fair. Good science fair projects are complete.
If you don’t know answer to a question, answer: “I do not know.” Do not try to fool the judge if you really don’t know, it wont work and will not work in your favor. Be honest and you will do fine. Good science fair projects tend to be complex enough that you will be hard pressed to answer every conceivable question – don’t sweat it.
Be sure to be in good physical condition when you attend the fair. Make sure you eat. Make certain you are well rested before the event. Answering questions from the judges (and possibly the press and others) can be demanding physically. Be sure that you are up to it.
Dress well – a suit is best, but if that is not possible be sure to wear dress pants (or skirt), a clean dress shirt and a dress jacket if you can get one. Do not wear jeans. In a perfect world, appearance would take a back seat to the quality of your good science fair project and the science that you have done. But in the real world appearance counts – be sure you understand this and dress appropriately.
The quality of your appearance communicates how serious you are about the event and your project. You can have a good science fair project and a great presentation, but if your appearance is poor your chances of winning will suffer. Dress like you are serious and others will take you seriously.
USC has more to say about a good science fair project.