Category Judging Guide

Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship 

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by the SCVSEFA Category Judging Committee (contact us)


The success of our science fair depends on the quality of the projects and your judging. This guide will help prepare you. Please preview it carefully. The information and guidelines here will make your task easier and more enjoyable.

A science and engineering fair is a competition based upon the quality of the projects and experiments done by students. You are judging the results of these experiments and projects. This fair has three purposes: to stimulate young people’s interest in science and engineering, to provide an educational experience to the participants, and to publicly recognize the students’ talents and achievements.

The Synopsys Championship is managed by the Santa Clara Valley Science and Engineering Fair Association (SCVSEFA). The Championship is a regional fair affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Each year in May we send 9 Grand Prize winning projects (from grades 9 through 12) to the Intel ISEF. Approximately 400 regional fairs and  over 50 foreign countries participate. In addition, approximately 80 of our winning projects in grades 6 through 12 are eligible to participate in the California State Science Fair. Middle school students also have an opportunity to participate in the Broadcom Masters program for grades 5-8.

Conflict of Interest Policy of SCVSEFA


Category judges cannot have a conflict of interest including, but not limited to, the following: Judges cannot judge a group of projects that includes students who are related to them. Teachers cannot judge their own students or students from their school. Mentors and project advisors cannot judge students they advised.


Judges must identify any student participating in the fair who:

  --is related to themselves

  --is or was a student of theirs

  --was mentored or otherwise advised by them on their current project


If a category judge is assigned to a group of projects that includes a student described above, he or she must notify the judging committee immediately for re-assignment to another judging team.


Harassment Policy of SCVSEFA


SCVSEFA is committed to providing an environment for students, volunteers, and employees, free of harassment of any kind. SCVSEFA will not tolerate harassment of students, volunteers, employees or anyone else associated with the Synopsys Championship.


If you feel that you have been harassed or feel you have witnessed harassment, please report the incident to any member of the SCVSEFA Board of Directors.


Link to the complete policy.


There are two kinds of awards. Category awards, which are given by the SCVSEFA for scientific merit, include the first place medals, and second place and honorable mention ribbons. Special awards are given by various professional organizations and companies. Each organization  has its own criteria.  Special awards may take many forms, including certificates, cash, trips, equipment, and work fellowships.

Category Awards

All students are judged against students in the same grade and similar category, for first, second, and honorable mention awards by each judging team. Each participating student receives a personalized participation certificate.

There are 12 categories grouped under Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences.
They are as follows:
Botany Chemistry
Environmental Sciences Physics
Zoology Earth /Space Sciences
Behavioral Science/Social Sciences Engineering
Medicine/Health/Gerontology Computers/Mathematics
Biochemistry/ Microbiology BioInformatics      

Special Awards

The criteria for the special awards are determined by the sponsoring organizations. Judging teams for these awards are usually from the sponsoring organizations but may, if requested, be provided by the SCVSEFA.

Presentation of Awards

Awards will be presented to the students at the Awards Ceremony to which winners are invited by postcard. The ceremonies will be held at Paramount's Great America. Date & details will be available at the Fair.



Judges should plan to arrive no later than noon for the judges’ lunch, briefing, and project preview. Students will enter the hall at 2:00 p.m. and are expected to remain at their projects until 5:00p.m. for category judging. Each Judging Team consists of two to four members. Teams judge approximately 10-14 projects.

Judging Categories

Entries are displayed by grade level and category. There are seven grades and twelve scientific categories. Each project is identified by its project number, title, and student’s name. The project number has three parts: the first part identifies the student’s grade and whether it is an individual (1) or team (2) project; the second indicates the category and unique identifier within the grade and category; and the third is a special confirmation number. For example 071-306-13 refers to 7th grade, individual project, zoology, followed by a unique ID code.

Assignment of Category Judges:

Every judge is assigned to a team of two or more judges. Each judging team has a team leader who is responsible for writing down the details of their decisions on the Award Sheet. Generally, each judging team views 10- 14 projects in the same grade and in the same or similar categories. Occasionally, a judging team will be assigned projects from multiple grades.  In that case, projects will only be judged against others from the same grade.

Judging Schedule:

(Note: Judge Check-in extends to noon, but lunch is available starting at 11:30.)
11:00 AM -Noon Judge Check-In 

Receive Namebadge and Juding Materials at the Category Judging Table.

11:30 AM Judges' Lunch Served
 12:30 PMOrientation Talk 
 1:00 PMProject Preview
(without students present) 
 2:00 PM Interview Students 

Judging teams split up.  Each judge separately interviews the students of the projects on the judging team list (about 10 minutes per project)

4:30 PM 

Meet with your team at a designated location.

Team Caucus and  Select winners.

5:00 PMTeam Leader submits list of winners and all judging teamwork to Category Judging Table 
5:00 - 6:00 PM Judges are encouraged to view other projects of their interest. 
6:00 PM Projects Removed from the floor 


Check in begins at 11 am:

When you check in, you will pick up your name badge with a blue ribbon for category judging. At the check-in desk, you will receive the contents of a folder which will have a Judge's Evaluation Sheet. This is a preprinted scoring sheet with each student's project number and  title in your judging group. Please pick up a clipboard and pen/pencil also.

It is vital that these sheets be returned to us by 5:00 PM or earlier. They are sometimes used to help evaluate projects for other awards. The team leader’s folder will also have a Category Judging Results Sheet (pink sheet) . This tells the Science Fair Board the names and project numbers of the students your team has selected for awards. Please limit the number of awards to 25-30% of the total number of projects judged.

Please return all completed forms and your name tag holder to the table where you checked in when your team is done. 

After check-in, during lunch:

You can meet with your teammates at your assigned table during lunch and determine a strategy for evaluating the projects. It is recommended that judges interview students serially rather than as a group. This approach has several advantages: Primarily it keeps students occupied for longer periods of time during what is a very long afternoon. Inexperienced judges may choose to accompany a colleague, at least at first.

After orientation, Judging Preview:

The students are not present at their projects at this time.  This is a good time to peruse the displays to help understand what each project is about.  Do not use this time to decide that certain students will or will not receive an award or to decide to skip interviewing the students of some projects.  All assigned projects must have student interviews by the category judges.

Judge the Projects:

When the students have taken their places at their display boards, find the students you are to judge and begin your evaluation. Student(s) from each project must be interviewed. If possible, let the check-in desk know if  student(s) are not at their displays. If the student(s) cannot be found, evaluate the project and leave a note (sticky pads can be provided to you). No project is eligible for awards without the interview.

Plan to spend about 8-10 minutes with each project (but no more than 15 minutes). It is very easy to lose track of time, especially if the project is of interest. Even if you do not feel a project merits consideration for an award, do still interview the student(s). Use the time to make the Science Fair an educational experience and encourage participation next year.

At the conclusion of each interview, score the project independently of the other judging team members (not in front of the student(s).   Repeat this procedure until all the projects you have been assigned have been reviewed.

Then, with your teammates, determine which students are to receive awards. Projects are judged for first place, second place, and honorable mention awards. Not all awards need to be given if the team does not consider the students worthy of such awards. Multiple 1st and 2nd place awards may be given if warranted, especially in categories with a large number of entries.  Please limit the total number of awards to 25-30% of the number of projects judged.

The team leader turns in the Category Judging Results Sheets and all judging paperwork, including the Evaluation Sheets for each reviewed project to the Category Judging Table.  Please also submit judging and student feedback forms (optional forms for the projects) to the Category Judging Table.

Judging Criteria:

Each project should display an abstract. Examining the abstract is a good way to start the evaluation. This abstract should include

  • The hypothesis or problem being addressed
  • A brief statement about the procedures and instrumentation used
  • The main findings
  • The main conclusion (or tentative conclusions)

While interviewing, look for

  • How well the students understand the project or experiment.
  • How creative the students were and how they dealt with problems that arose.
  • Did the students do the work themselves? It is expected and desirable that they obtain assistance from experts, but they are ultimately responsible for the project.
  • How the project compares to other projects in the same category and grade.
Projects are scored on the following basis:
 Notice that Team projects and Individual Projects are judged with exactly the same criteria.                         



Scientific Thought or Engineering Goals


Creative Ability








Maximum Total Points


Scientific Thought (For Science projects only)
  1. Is the problem stated clearly and unambiguously?
  2. Was the problem sufficiently limited to allow plausible attack? Good scientists can identify important problems capable of solutions. Neither working on a difficult problem without getting anywhere nor solving an extremely simple problem is a substantial contribution.
  3. Was there a procedural plan for obtaining a solution?
  4. Are the variables clearly recognized and defined?
  5. If controls are necessary, did the student recognize their need and were they correctly used?
  6. Are there adequate data to support the conclusions?
  7. Does the student or team recognize the data's limitations?
  8. Does the student/team understand the project's ties to related research?
  9. Does the student/team have an idea of what further research is warranted?
  10. Did the student/team cite scientific literature, or only popular magazines?

Engineering Goals (For Engineering projects only)

  1. Does the project have a clear objective?
  2. Is the objective relevant to the potential user's needs?
  3. Is the solution
    (a) workable?
    (b) acceptable to the potential user?
    (c) economically feasible? Unworkable solutions might seem interesting but are not practical. Solutions that will be rejected or ignored are not valuable. A solution so expensive it cannot be utilized is not valuable.
  4. Could the solution be utilized successfully in design or construction of some end product?
  5. Is the solution a significant improvement over previous alternatives?
  6. Has the solution been tested for performance under the conditions of use? (Testing might prove difficult, but should be considered.)

Creative Ability

  1. Does the project show creativity and originality in
    (a) the question asked?
    (b) the approach to solving the problem?
    (d) the interpretation of the data?
    (f) the construction or design of new equipment?
  2. An original idea for a project would show greater creativity than a suggested project from a textbook. Obviously no project is creative and original in every aspect. Remember that a creative and original project for high school students is different from that of professionals. Conversely, some projects may contain elements that seem original; the materials may have come from new curricula in textbooks or laboratory manuals unfamiliar to judges.
  3. Also consider how much help a student received. A student's or team's approach to solving a problem may seem original, but may have come from a scientist's or engineer's suggestions. If a student received help on a project, any credit for creative ability and originality should reflect the student's own contributions. This should become clear through careful questioning.
  4. Creative research should support an investigation and help answer a question in an original way. The assembly of a kit would not be creative unless an unusual approach was taken. Collections should not be considered creative unless they are used to support an investigation, and to help answer a question in an original way.
  5. A creative contribution promotes an efficient and reliable way to solve a problem. When judging, make sure to distinguish between gadgeteering and genuine creativity.


  1. Was the purpose carried out to completion within the scope of the original intent?
  2. How completely was the problem covered?
  3. Are the conclusions based on a single experiment, or are there replications?
  4. How complete are the project notes?
  5. Is the student/team aware of other approaches or theories?
  6. How much time did the student/team spend on the project?
  7. Is the student/team familiar with scientific literature in the field?


  1. Does the student/team have the skills required to do all the work necessary to obtain the data that support the project? Laboratory skills? Computational skills? Observational skills? Design skills?
  2. Where was the project done? (i.e., home, school laboratory, university laboratory) Did the student or team receive assistance from parents, teachers, scientists, or engineers?
  3. Was the project done under adult supervision, or did the student/team work largely alone?
  4. Where did the equipment come from? Was it built independently by the student or team? Was it obtained on loan? Was it part of a laboratory where the student or team worked?


  1. How clearly can the student discuss the project and explain the project's purpose, procedure, and conclusions? Make allowances for nervousness. Watch out for memorized speeches that reflect little understanding of the principles.
  2. Does the written material reflect the student's or team's understanding of the research? (Take outside help into account.)
  3. Are the important phases of the project presented in an orderly manner?
  4. How clearly are the data presented?


    The purpose of the Science Fair is to educate and encourage these potential scientists and engineers to excel. Certainly the students are encouraged by the awards you give, but sometimes a constructive suggestion or recommendation may inspire a student to continue his/her studies. We hope that you enjoy the experience and return next year to judge. Please contact us if you have any questions or comments about your judging experience.

    SCVSEFA Category Judging Committee (contact us)


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