What to Expect

You'll be judging alongside some of North Carolina's top educators and professionals in their fields, but you don't need a Ph.D. to volunteer as a judge both at the state and regional levels. Students benefit from interacting with judges from a broad set of backgrounds.

How it works

Judging generally requires about half a day, on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.  Judges arrive, have a brief meeting to go over the procedures, form judging teams, and ensure each of the special awards will be judged.  Schedule details including where to park, where to meet, etc. will be provided via email in the days leading up to the fair.

When signing up to judge, select divisions (elementary, junior (middle school) or senior (high school) and indicate your level of expertise (from none to expert) in the available category (Biology, Physics, Chemistry, etc., category definitions are available here)

You'll be assigned to a category. or special award(s), meet other judges considering that category.  Lead judges will be selected for each division/category who are responsible for completing score sheets for presentation to the awards committee which prepares awards, including personalizing certificates where necessary.  

Fan out to evaluate projects without students present.  There you'll get a chance to review posters, reports, notebooks or other items students include with their projects.  Students will then join their projects.  Throughout the process, projects are referenced by the project number (which indicates the division and category and a number) assigned as students register.

Each project and the student(s( presenting it will be visited by multiple judges, both judging within the category and possibly by judges considering special awards.

Judges then come together, often by division and category, to select projects to receive category and special awards as well as those that will compete at the next level. Awards are presented to students at the end of the fair before students leave.  Judges are free to leave at that point or are welcome to attend the awards ceremony, and it's worth doing especially if it is your first time judging.

What to bring

Be prepared to take notes, you'll be seeing a lot of projects and talking with a lot of students.  Your notes will be useful as you discuss projects with other judges.  You'll find the day goes very quickly so make the most of it.

  • something to take notes with (notepad, tablet, etc.  whatever works best for you)
  • something to write with (pen, etc.)
  • a clipboard, portfolio, or some other way to keep track of score sheets and notes.

How we judge

The students you meet probably already have won or placed in their school science fairs. They will be proud of their accomplishments and should be able to explain their projects clearly and concisely. This explanation should include what they did as well as their results and conclusions. Their displays should clearly show the intent and outcomes of experimentation, and they should be able to answer questions about their projects at levels appropriate to their ages and grade levels. They should be able to describe the methodology and equipment employed and the thought processes that were used to develop their hypotheses, experimental designs, results, and conclusions.

You should not be surprised to find projects vary widely in quality and sophistication. Some projects, particularly at the high school level, may be comparable to what you would expect in graduate school or professional presentations. Some displays will be elaborate while most others will be more simple.  All will be considered for awards on the basis of their content.

The purpose of the display is to clearly communicate the project’s purpose, hypothesis, methodology, results, conclusions, and other information relevant to the investigation. A simple, clear, and well-organized display is to be preferred over one that is ornate but falls short of accomplishing this purpose. The efficacy of the display and communication of the content is of primary importance, not the investment in the materials.  

Why we judge

While judges are ultimately selecting a list of projects and students that will go home with awards, the primary purpose of the North Carolina Science and Engineering Fair is to boost student research at all levels.  Their project was selected to compete at the top level in the state, celebrate that with them! Every student should also be encouraged to continue their research.  

Leave each student knowing that you are interested in their project and what they had to say.  

All this is challenging because of the short amount of time each judge has with each student, but our goal is to help ensure each student participating goes home proud of their accomplishment and thinking about their next science fair project.