General Rules

Please review the 2021 Frequently Asked Questions for details on how the virtual fair will be different this year.  All rules below relating to display are still relevant to the Virtual Project Presentation.

Any exhibit or student that does not follow the Official ISEF Rules and Forms will be disqualified and the exhibit will not be judged.  

If you need the ISEF Rules and Forms in Spanish they are available.  However, the forms and all Fair-related documents must be submitted in English to be eligible for competition.

To be eligible to compete in the regional and state fairs, each student participant must meet each of these requirements:

  • Each student participant must be registered (on teams, each team member must register), and all forms must be submitted by the deadline to ensure that there is sufficient time for them to be reviewed by the SRC. Deadlines for registration for the NCSEF vary according to the date of your regional fair – please contact your regional fair director if you are unsure of your specific deadline date.

  • Junior and Senior Division entries must be correctly categorized as Biological Science A, Biological Science B, Chemistry, Earth/Environmental Science, Physics/Mathematics, Technology, or Engineering. Changes to categories may be recommended by the NCSEF SRC during the review process; these recommendations are given based on the SRC’s determination that the project might compete better in an alternate category, but the final decision to change categories will be left to the student. However, no changes in category will be permitted or made on the day of the fair. Team projects are no longer a separate category. View category descriptions.

  • Students should arrive early enough to check in, pick up their exhibit space number and registration materials, and set up their displays. Please allow at least 45 minutes before the start of closed judging to ensure that you have time to set up your project and have it evaluated by the Display and Safety Committee.

  • After setting up your display, please remain with your project until it is approved by the Display and Safety Committee. Students who leave their projects before they are approved for display will be disqualified from the competition. Please allow enough time in your schedule to wait for this approval; at busy times, a 15- to 20-minute wait might be necessary.

  • Only research and engineering projects will be judged. Displays are not eligible for competition.

  • In all divisions (Elementary, Junior, and Senior), no more than 3 students may work together on any project. Individual and group projects will be judged together.

  • Only students enrolled in grades 3, 4, or 5 may compete in the Elementary Division.
    Only students enrolled in grades 6, 7, or 8 may compete in the Junior Division.
    Only students enrolled in grades 9, 10, 11, or 12 may compete in the Senior Division.

  • The officials for the NCSEF and any Regional Fair have the right to refuse permission for certain items to remain in an exhibit for reasons of safety, sanitation, or the best interests of the Fair. These decisions are final. The fact that the item was allowed to be displayed with the project at the student’s Regional Fair will not be considered as sufficient argument to allow it to be displayed at the NCSEF. Replacement of prohibited items in exhibits after they have been removed by NCSEF is grounds for disqualification. For information about the types of items that are not allowed in displays, please see the ISEF Display and Safety Regulations. If you have additional questions about specific display items, it is highly recommended that you contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. prior to coming to the fair so that you have time to make other arrangements to draw, photograph, or film any items that are not permitted in displays.

  • All projects should display the abstract approved by the SRC during the registration process. This abstract is affixed with an embossed, gold-colored sticker and will be provided in the student’s registration packet. It is highly recommended that the abstract turned in to the Fair for this purpose (during SRC review) be typed and submitted in the PDF-formatted version, available here. Scanned JPEGs are often not very legible and are not recommended for this purpose. When setting up the display, the abstract may be mounted on the board or vertically from the front of the table or otherwise prominently displayed vertically, such as in an acrylic frame. Glass frames are not permitted.

    • Not sure how to write an abstract? An abstract is simply a very brief explanation to explain what you did and what results you got, without a lot of details. Here is an example:

      “In this experiment, we wanted to find out if brushing a horse would calm it down. To measure this, we decided to measure the heart rate of the horse after brushing for various intervals of times. We measured an initial heart rate before brushing, then started brushing the animal. We continued brushing for 10 minutes and measured the heart rate every two minutes. We discovered that the heart rate went down over the first few minutes of brushing, but after that remained steady. From this data, we concluded that the brushing did calm the horse, but that there was a lower limit of heart rate and after this, brushing didn’t change it.”

  • The SRC-approved Abstract should be the only Abstract displayed on or with the project. If the word “Abstract” is associated with any text on the board or other materials, the word should be covered, replaced (such as with the word “Summary”), or removed. If the word “Abstract” is visible on the student’s display in any location other than the approved Abstract form when the project is set up for competition, the word “Abstract” will be covered with paper or tape. This covering should not be removed until judging is completed; its presence will not affect the student’s score during judging.

  • Students are encouraged to display a research paper and any research journals or data notebooks with their project to provide more details for the judges.

  • Listing the student’s own school affiliation is permissible; however, listing any collaborations with science or engineering professionals or institutions is not permitted (listing these collaborations can unfairly bias the student’s project either for or against them in the setting of a competition). Any such collaborations, if present on the board when the student sets up their display, will be covered with paper or tape. Written acknowledgments should also be left off of the display for competition.

  • The project’s display board should provide sufficient detail for judges to be able to gain an understanding of the student’s project without the requirement for additional information; with the exception of certain Technology and Engineering projects, any visual aids included in addition to the project display should enhance the presentation but should not be required for the presentation to be understood. All text should be legible and written in English (typed or clearly handwritten) unless the use of phrases in other languages was an integral part of the study.

  • The project’s display board will be judged for the quality and interpretability of the data; it will not be judged based on aesthetic appearance. Going to great financial expense to generate the display is not necessary and will not increase your chances of placing in the competition.

  • The decisions of the judges during competition are final.

  • All students are expected to behave respectfully and professionally with the judges, the fair personnel and volunteers, other students, and any other visitors to their project displays during the fair. The fair personnel have the right to disqualify any competitors who behave inappropriately during the interview period (including rudeness/disrespectfulness, use of foul/obscene language, continued loudness or unruliness after being asked to remain quiet, or any other disruptive, intimidating, or aggressive behavior).