Year 11: Thinking Ahead – How To Enhance Your University Application- What is an EPQ? Why is it Beneficial? How is it Valued?
During several parent presentations last term, I mentioned both the HPQ and EPQ, but only briefly. Parents of pupils of all ages afterwards asked me what an EPQ was and why it was beneficial. This has prompted me to write a blog for Year 11 parents and pupils.
What is an EPQ?
An EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) is an additional qualification that can be taken alongside A Levels and, here at Ipswich High School, we recommend our Year 12 students take three A Levels and an EPQ, in preference to taking a fourth A Level. There is however one exception to this, which is where our strongest Mathematicians take Further Maths as a fourth A Level, which we do recommend. Students who pursue this combination can of course complete an EPQ if they wish to.
At Ipswich High School we recommend our A Level students complete it in Year 12, completing it ready for full submission in the November at the start of Year 13. This enables our Year 13 students to focus fully on their A Level studies in their final year of their A Level studies.
An EPQ is an excellent taster of university-style learning as it is effectively an independent research project which can, but does not have to relate to an A Level subject that is being studied. It is important therefore that students choose topics that they are interested in and curious about and, ideally, relate to further study so they are motivated to complete it. For example, an aspiring medic could write a research article analysing the difficulties associated with management of the NHS. This could help students substantiate evidence for their desire to study a specific degree course.
Assessment can be either by a written report of 5,000 words (that is around 10 typed pages) or by creating a “product”, this could be hosting an event or making a physical item, or “artefact”, such as a piece of art accompanied by a 1,000 word report. The latter is very useful if a student is applying to study a course with a vocational or practical element as the “product” created could be something that is included in a portfolio to demonstrate a certain skill. Every student also has to write a production log, which outlines their plans for their project, advice and support from their mentors (every student has a specific mentor assigned to them). Students also have to reflect on each stage they undertake whilst completing their projects and consider possible ways to improve with hindsight. The third and final component of the EPQ is an oral presentation, which involves answering questions from an invited audience at the end to test understanding. The whole process from start to finish takes about 120 hours.
Students taking an EPQ are also taught a series of lessons, which cover the requirements of the qualification and how to go about conducting and recording research. Our school’s EPQ Centre Co-ordinator, Mrs Jude Marvell (who is also our Deputy Head of Sixth Form), currently delivers these lessons.
How is the EPQ marked?
An EPQ can be graded from an A* to an E grade. We currently follow the AQA specification where marks are allocated under the different assessment objectives outlined below:
|Skill Assessed||Percentage of Qualification||Description|
|'Manage'||20%||This covers your ability to come up with a project idea and plan how you are going to achieve it, using “a range of skills, strategies and methods to achieve objectives.”|
|'Use Resources'||20%||This covers the research phase and how well you are able to select, organise and deploy relevant information. It also looks at your ability to analyse data, including your ability to see the connections between things you have observed, and your appreciation of the “complexities of the topic”.|
|'Develop and Realise'||40%||This aspect means how well you are able to carry out your project and see it to fruition, using a range of appropriate skills and technologies.|
|'Review'||20%||This means how well you evaluate every aspect of your project, such as whether you have achieved your objectives, and how well you have performed throughout the project. It also reflects your ability to “Select and use a range of communication skills and media to present evidenced project outcomes and conclusions in an appropriate format.”|
What have been the previous EPQ results at Ipswich High School?
The majority of results in Summer 2017 were graded at A*. Students that achieved these grades were highly motivated, independent and were receptive to support from their mentor.
What are the benefits of completing an EPQ?
An EPQ provides further academic stretch and challenge alongside A Level studies and also helps to evidence a genuine interest in a specific area (which is useful for UCAS university applications). An EPQ also carries UCAS points and is valued at 50% of a full A Level in the UCAS tariff.
Completing an EPQ helps students develop a number of different skills, which are vital for University. It requires excellent organisational skills: planning the project over a 20-week period and making sure that each stage is completed on time is essential to creating a high-quality end product and attracting the highest assessment marks in the process. Students also develop good time-management skills because it is not part of the normal school curriculum. Students therefore have to assign their own time to complete the project each week, while juggling the demands of A Levels.
Students, above all, are required to be independently motivated. The marking criteria severely penalises students who are not. EPQ mentors are specifically not permitted to interfere with a students’ progress, especially in terms of meeting deadlines or completion of the project itself.
How does completing an EPQ affect University offers?
Universities have always recognised the benefits of students completing an EPQ; however, it has only been this year that we have seen this directly affect University offers. For example, Birmingham University now states the following; “At the University of Birmingham, applicants who take an EPQ and meet the offer criteria will be made the standard offer for their programme of choice; PLUS an alternative offer which will be one grade lower, plus a grade A in the EPQ”. Bristol University makes a similar statement in their admissions process, “The University recognises that some A Level students may also choose to take the Extended Project. In some cases, we may make two alternative offers, one of which involves success in the Extended Project (e.g. either AAA at A Level or AAB at A Level plus Extended Project)”. Oxford University also states the following on its’ website; “working on an EPQ encourages students to develop research and academic skills relevant to undergraduate study. Therefore, we would recommend anyone completing an EPQ to draw on these skills when writing your UCAS personal statement. Whether you undertake a formal EPQ or not, you will be a more convincing applicant if you can demonstrate breadth of reading and independent research into your chosen subject; if you have pursued study beyond that required by your school syllabus”.
Given that the many Universities are repeating the message given by both Bristol and Birmingham Universities, we recommend that all Year 11 and Year 12 students look at University A Level requirements. The following website, https://digital.ucas.com/search details the entry requirements for every course offering by all UK universities and Universities will specifically state whether they offer an alternative offer if an EPQ is pursued.
The EPQ is a highly valued qualification, which can certainly enhance students’ University applications and helps students to develop study skills, which will be invaluable for Higher Education. I sincerely hope that this blog has been both informative and persuasive so that many of our Year 12 students in 2018/9 take an EPQ to develop their interests beyond our school curriculum.
By Nicola Griffiths,