Is the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) worthwhile?
Initially, for sixth formers, it looks a simple trade-off. An estimated 120 hours of work on the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) potentially for a maximum of 28 UCAS points.
Yet, this is not a straight-forward question. As with every educational dilemma, there is no catch-all answer. Much depends on the pupil’s abilities, aspirations, work ethic, workload and commitments beyond school.
The breadth of the EPQ
As ever, it is time to view the bigger picture. Understanding the immense diversity of an EPQ is essential. As well as a conventional research project there is an option to create an artefact accompanied by a commentary.
Creating an artefact is an exciting hands-on possibility. Perhaps an app. A collection of cartoons. A computer game. A design for a new Grand Prix track. A garment design for a bespoke dress or suit. A prototype for a new vehicle. A portrait. A short story. The strength of the EPQ is that it can be academic, practical, and vocational.
Though frequently, pupils used to an academic diet of traditional essays, opt for the comfort blanket of more of the same. Historians could delve deeper into Henry Vlll’s development of the power of the monarchy whilst geographers could research practical responses to the issue of homelessness.
The EPQ is about process and learning how to learn. Candidates are assessed on their ability to understand how they developed their project. From the initial stages of idea generation - through setting objectives and evaluating resources - to the conclusion of the project, candidates are marked on the process as well as the completed project.
The learning log, completed by the candidate, should be updated from day one. Too many students lag with their log.
There is more to an EPQ than the quest for UCAS points. A shrewdly chosen EPQ can contribute a valuable paragraph to a UCAS personal statement.
For students seeking courses such as law, medicine and physiotherapy, where candidates are less likely to have relevant experience, an EPQ can provide valuable evidence. Potential medics could research gene therapy or an issue such as electric shock therapy as a treatment for depression. Similarly for law, potential undergraduates could investigate the validity of judgement by jury or whether lie detector tests should be admissible as evidence in UK courts. Whilst aspiring physiotherapists could construct a programme for recovery after knee surgery or a torn hamstring.
Providing evidence of background reading for EPQ research, ticks a box on the UCAS personal statement for relevant wider reading. If candidates are invited for interview at universities, after around 120 hours of work on their EPQ, they have a strong topic to discuss.
Selecting an EPQ title with very clear long-term benefits, for future study and career aspirations, is a significant motivator for pupils.
“I wish I’d started earlier,” and “I should have spent more time planning,” are two of the comments frequently heard from EPQ candidates.
Devoting time to the early stages of EPQ planning is an investment that usually reaps rewards. Identifying three possible areas for an EPQ is a sensible use of time. Too many candidates settle on their favoured title before they investigate other options.
Keeping an open mind enables candidates to assess the possibilities of each option. During this initial assessment candidates may discover that Option A is too broad, Option B has a scarcity of published resources and that the plan to create an artefact for Option C would take far more than 120 hours.
Thorough preliminary research enables candidates to have worthwhile conversations with their supervisors, helping them to make the right choice.
Keep track of resources
As with university essays and projects, references must be acknowledged. Keeping a meticulous record of books and journals, consulted during the development of the EPQ, saves many hours. Schools usually teach pupils how to footnote references and how to create the required bibliography.
Considering the value of a source is a valuable skill, not just for future academic study but also in life as well. How dated is a source? Is it reliable? Who produced the information and why? Is the information relevant to the project? Evaluating information is a valuable life-skill.
So, is the EPQ worth it?
An estimate of an average of 120 hours for an EPQ is very much a ball-park figure. It is also a plain-sailing figure. If students struggle to find relevant resources or change their objectives and title mid-project, additional hours may be required. Students busy with drama, music, sport or even paid work may struggle to find that time.
Ultimately, students are asked to review the EPQ as a learning experience for their learning log. Most have learnt valuable lessons in terms of planning and time management research skills for future challenges.
GUEST PUBLICATION BY:
Michael Edwards, Minerva Tuition
Based in Singapore, Minerva Tuition www.minervatuition.com uses experienced teachers, mainly resident in the UK, to provide online tuition and schools advice on UK education. Contact email@example.com for further information.
Planning for next steps
What your teen does after GCSE and sixth form is both exciting and daunting. Feel confident chatting to them about their future options with our overview of everything that's available to them in: The Parent’s Guide to Post 16 options and The Parents' Guide to Post 18 options.