Judging can affect students profoundly, sometimes altering their career choices...


Comments from past OCSEF judges:


“Thank you very much for allowing me to participate in this event as a judge. I had a great time reading the abstracts and was thrilled to see the projects as well as speak to the students. I would definitely be interested in joining you next year so do keep me in mind.”


“I thank you for a wonderful day! I had a great time meeting and working with all of my fellow judges.”


“I am greatly encouraged to see such enthusiasm for science and engineering with these youngsters. They are our future, the best and the brightest. I will indeed be a part of the next cycle as a judge.”


For more information about applying to become a judge for the Orange County Science & Engineering Fair, please contact our Director of Judging.

Why be a judge?

The Orange County Science & Engineering Fair (OCSEF) is an annual event organized to encourage the youth of our county to learn about science and to consider a career in science or engineering. You will play a critical role in the science fair experience. Your judging can affect students profoundly, sometimes altering their career choices and almost always influencing their attitudes toward science and technology.


Who should apply to be a judge?

Scientists, engineers, educators, whether currently working or retired, who are interested in encouraging the young people of Orange County to consider a career in science or engineering.


What do judges do?

Judges work in a team with others, some of whom have had previous experience as science fair judges. You evaluate the projects and interview students on the day of the fair. You then decide, as a team, which projects merit receiving awards in their category.


When and where is judging?

Judges meet with students at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa on the date shown on the Dates & Timeline. Doors open at 7:00 am. We ask judges to arrive by 7:30 am for orientation. Judges have about an hour to review the projects and research reports before the first group of students arrive at 9:00 am. Follow-up deliberations to decide on awards generally conclude by 4:30 pm. We provide a continental breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day.


How do I apply to be a judge?

Complete the On-Line Sign-Up Form . Please contact our Director of Judging  if you have any questions or difficulty submitting the on-line form.




The Role of Judging Captains


Judging Captains coordinate the activities of the judges assigned to their judging category. This includes assigning judges to teams, reviewing the judging objectives and policies for evaluating projects, making sure that each student receives the participation certificate and is interviewed by as many judging teams as possible during the hour the student is on the exhibit floor, and leading the deliberations on awards at the end of the day.


We ask Judging Captains to be our “eyes and ears” for projects that are worthy of the Sweepstakes Prize (Jr. and Sr.) and for meritorious projects for Special Awards. They maintain contact with the Sweepstakes Award judges and the Director of Special Awards throughout the day to identify projects that are worthy of consideration.

At the end of the day, Judging Captains verify the awards for their category and submit the Awards List to the Director of Judging.



Guidelines and Criteria


The success of a science fair depends on its judges. When students and teachers return year after year, it is because they feel the judging is consistent and based on the appropriate criteria. The success and growth of our fair and the influence it has on students and teachers in Orange County are a reflection of the outstanding job you perform.


As a judge at the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF) you will do much more than choose the best projects. Your comments may encourage students to select (or not select) a career in science. The attitude toward science and scientists these youngsters have as adults may be the result of the positive (or negative) experience they have at the Science Fair.


Please try to help these students look their best. We are more interested in rewarding the good work they have done than in showing them ALL the improvements they could have made.


It may be necessary for you to judge in an area outside your field of expertise, although we will try to assign you to a team in your preferred category. There are generally three reasons why we might need you to change to another category.


    1. One is if you personally know students you have been asked to judge. We want to avoid even the slightest appearance of a conflict of interest. So, if you discover that your boss's daughter has entered a project in the category you are judging, please ask me for a new assignment.
    2. Another reason is that the judge(s) we were counting on may not show up.
    3. The third reason is that there may be relatively fewer judges who have asked for a certain category than there are students in that category. If we ask you to change, please bear with us. While we hope you have a pleasant and rewarding day, the purpose of the Science Fair is to provide a positive experience for the students.

We intend to team new judges with experienced judges. If you find that your team is composed of all new judges, please let us know.


The Board of Directors suggests you take a team approach to judging. We recommend that you look over the projects in your category and scan the journals of “good” projects before 9:00 a.m. When students arrive for their interviews consider breaking into groups of two to interview them. (The students will be more relaxed with only two judges evaluating them and they will have several chances to explain what they have done.) Your Judging Captain will make sure that you are given a schedule each hour so that every student receives two or more interviews during the hour they are on the floor.


If possible, regroup and discuss the projects after about 35 minutes. Then, return to the top project candidates if necessary. For larger categories where we don't have enough judges, this approach is essential. It will allow judges to spread themselves out and students will have several opportunities to speak to small groups of judges. Then the whole group of judges can review the top candidates (who will now be experienced presenters!) Of course, there is no one best approach. Each team should choose the method that is best for their situation.

Finally, meet with your Captain as a group and choose the winners at the end of the day.


There are several judges responsible for choosing Sweepstakes and other “special” awards. Since they can't review all of the projects and can't interview all of the students, they will depend on your suggestions. If you feel the best project(s) in your category is/are candidates for “best in the Fair,” please notify the Sweepstakes Judges immediately so they can interview the student before he/she leaves.

What to look for

You are the judge. Your team will select the best projects based on your combined knowledge and experience. Although there is absolutely no way to remove all subjectivity from this process, there must be some consensus in what we are looking for. Please consider the following:


    1. Study the Judging Sheet in the Judge’s Packet. It is typical of those used at school, district, regional, state and national science fairs. It is what the students expect you to judge them on. Since many of our winners will go on to the California State Science Fair Finals, we need to have similar criteria to theirs. There will be extra judging sheets for those of you who would like them. You may or may not elect to fill out a judging sheet for each project, but please keep the criteria in mind. If you have suggestions for improving the criteria, please let me know.
    2. Check the Abstract each student must place in his or her logbook or project notebook. It should clearly summarize the project. Be sure a Certification Form is included if the student’s research involved vertebrate animals, vertebrate animal tissue samples, human subjects, or hazardous materials.
    3. Look for evidence of actual research, not merely library research or the ability to follow directions. Look for data or, if the work is theoretical in nature, for proofs, etc. Projects involving only collections, displays, models or library research should not win awards at our Fair.
    4. There should be a research logbook attached to the display in addition to a report. Check the time span involved in collecting data. Was this work done over a period of months, or in a few hours? Look for the amount of data. Projects involving one trial with one experimental and one control plant (for example) probably should not receive awards at a county level science fair.
    5. Check the soundness of the methodology.
    6. Consider the sources of help and look for appropriate use of references.
    7. Look at the project for clarity and organization. Are the conclusions based on the data generated by the experiment? Do the conclusions relate to the hypothesis?
    8. Some projects will look amateurish; others will be really well designed. Try to judge the exhibit on how well it communicates, not on its artistic merits.
    9. We don’t want to reward or punish students because they had professional help. Recently, certain institutions have obtained funding that allows them to provide a great deal of help to students who want to do scientific research. We are thrilled that the scientific community sponsors these projects and that the students had the initiative to apply and qualify for them. However, that makes your job more difficult. In the past, you only had to separate what the student did from what his/her parents did. Now there are an increasing number of projects that will require you separate what the student did from the ongoing research being conducted in the lab where a student may have been fortunate enough to work. It may even be difficult for the student to isolate what he did from what was done for him. Please try to find out! Once you have figured out what each student has actually done, it should be relatively easy to figure out the winners in your division.
    10. Modern science often depends on the use of very sophisticated equipment. If a student is fortunate enough to have access to something of that sort — why that is wonderful! Still, we must be sure that the student did design the project and understands just what the equipment did for him or her. Tools should be just that. Be sure the tool is not what earned the award!
    11. Look for statistical treatment of the data appropriate for the student’s level.

The Interview


Fairness suggests that you give each student about the same time and attention. So pace yourself, please. Depending on the number of students on the floor, plan on giving four – 15 minute interviews during the hour. After you give students a chance to tell you about their project, you may wish to ask questions such as these:


    • How/where did you get the idea for your project?
    • How did you go about investigating the problem?
    • How accurate is the data? How did you determine the accuracy?
    • Do you think you could/should have done more testing?
    • Do the data support your hypothesis?
    • What are some limitations of the data?
    • What are some practical applications or extensions for this kind of investigation?
    • What would you do if you had more time to work on this?
    • Why did you do that?
    • We know you might have needed some help. What help did you receive?
    • Who helped you? And what did they do?
    • What did you learn?
    • How reliable is the data you collected?
    • What would you do differently next time?
    • What errors did you make?
    • What new information (insight) did you gain?
    • What else did you learn, that isn't part of your presentation?

Look for questions you can ask the student about aspects of the project that interest you and that you are curious about. It helps them if they feel that they can teach you something that you want to know!


You may wish to suggest, perhaps by Socratic questioning, improvements students could make if they decide to work on their project further. We allow students to enter the same project in future Fairs if substantial additional work has been done on it. However, please emphasize what they did well, not their failures. Try to remember that most of their peers were “too busy” to do a science project! These projects represent the best from each school! For some, this Fair will simply allow them to find out what they need to do next year.


Consider sitting when you interview these youngsters. Many of them are small. Most of them are very nervous. Anything you can do to put them at ease will make the interview more meaningful for both you and them. Also, as mentioned before, small groups of judges are less intimidating than a convention!


Although communicating is an important element of science, please try to make all due allowance for the fact that English is a second language for some of our students. Some students may use an interpreter (provided by the student or his or her teacher or parents). Please do not downgrade them on that account.



Listed below are links to the scoring sheets used to judge projects:


Science Project Score Sheet


Engineering Project Score Sheet


Math and Computer Science Score Sheet