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Navigating the EPQ: A guide for parents
If you’re the parent of a child in Sixth Form or College, you may have heard talk of the EPQ. But what exactly is it, and why should your child consider doing one?
In short, the EPQ is an independent project that allows students to plan and conduct research on a topic of their choice. It is generally taken in Year 12 or Year 13, alongside other A-levels, and provides students with the opportunity to develop crucial skills, applicable to university and beyond. This blog post will provide you with everything you need to know about the EPQ, so that you can best support your child if they’re considering taking one.
What is the EPQ?
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is a Level 3 standalone qualification that your child can take alongside their choice of A-level, BTEC, or T-level courses, and is worth up to 28 UCAS points (half an A-level). Students select a topic that particularly interests them and plan, conduct, and deliver an independent project. The topic of choice can be on pretty much anything, from an investigation into the ethical issues surrounding the use of stem cells, to the design and production of bespoke kitchen cabinets! The only condition is that their chosen topic is not directly covered by their other A-level courses.
What are the main stages of the EPQ?
So, what does the EPQ actually involve? Here’s a brief outline of the key stages:
- Firstly, students must decide on their chosen topic. Topic areas are generally selected by the end of Year 12, with the help of an assigned supervisor. This will allow them to get a head start on research over the summer holidays, if they wish.
- Next, students must decide on the form their project will take. This could be a piece of writing, such as a report or dissertation, typically around 5,000 words. Alternatively, they may opt for a more practical project, with the final piece taking the form of a design, artefact or performance, alongside a short 1,000-word report. This enables them to play to their strengths and do something they enjoy. If your child is a budding fashion designer, perhaps they may choose to design and create a sustainable handbag. If science is more their thing, they may prefer to conduct a field experiment and to analyse, write-up, and evaluate their results.
- No matter what form your child’s project takes, they’ll need to complete a production log. This is similar to a diary that details the entirety of their EPQ journey, from their initial project ideas to their subsequent project proposal, as well as continuous self-reflection and evaluation of their project.
- The final component of the EPQ is a short ten-minute presentation about their project to a small group of non-specialists (often a teacher and a few classmates). This is generally followed by a five- to ten-minute question and answer session.
Overall, your child will be expected to spend around 120 hours on their EPQ. It’s a lot of work, but they’ll receive a tonne of support and guidance along the way from their assigned supervisor.
How is the EPQ assessed?
The EPQ is marked internally by teaching staff, but is subject to external moderation by the examination board. Although marking schemes will vary across exam boards, students are typically assessed against four main objectives:
- Project planning and time management skills
- Using resources, research skills, and data analysis
- Developing an idea and achieving planned outcomes
- Self-evaluation and presentation skills
What key skills will your child develop?
Taking the EPQ will provide your child with the opportunity to develop a range of transferable skills, applicable to both higher education and the workplace. According to AQA, the EPQ enables students to:
- Become more critical, reflective, and independent learners
- Develop and apply decision-making and problem-solving skills
- Increase their planning, research, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and presentation skills
- Develop creativity, initiative, and enterprise
What are the other benefits of taking an EPQ?
1. Preparation for university
The EPQ is excellent preparation for the more self-directed learning expected of students at university. They’ll have to be highly self-motivated, organised, and good at managing their time − all skills that the EPQ helps to develop. Taking the EPQ will give your child a real taste of what university studies might be like. Unlike a traditional A-level, the lack of a set syllabus and directed timetable will require them to become more independent and take initiative.
2. Reduced entry requirements
Universities recognise the benefits of doing the EPQ and, depending on the university and course your child is applying to, applicants who take the EPQ may be offered lower entry requirements. For example, the standard offer for a course may be ABB, but if your child takes the EPQ, some universities may give a second offer of BBB plus an A in the EPQ.
3. UCAS application
Top universities recognise the value of the EPQ in preparation for university-level study. If your child is applying to a highly competitive university with low admission rates, it’s likely that many other applicants will have similar predicted grades to them. Taking the EPQ will help their application to stand out and will give them a lot to talk about in their personal statement and interview. If they undertake an EPQ relevant to their chosen course, it demonstrates commitment to their subject and shows Admission tutors that their interest goes beyond the A-level curriculum. Even if their EPQ topic isn’t directly related to the course they’re applying for, it will still provide clear evidence that they have the critical thinking and independent research skills that universities are looking for. These benefits also extend to apprenticeship and job applications!
4. Rewarding experience
Academic benefits aside, completing the EPQ can be a truly rewarding experience. It can provide an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in a topic or project they truly enjoy. You never know, your child might just discover a real passion that they want to pursue beyond school.
Can my child take the EPQ if they’re studying four A-levels?
Whether or not your child can take the EPQ alongside four other A-levels will depend on their school or college. It certainly can be done, but it’s important that your child recognises the sheer amount of work that will be involved. Sitting four A-levels is already more than enough to get into a good university, so your child shouldn’t feel pressured to take on the EPQ as well. If your child is adamant on pursuing the EPQ, it’s always worth discussing it with their school. You could also enquire as to whether any adjustments could be made, with regard to timetables and deadlines, in order to make their workload more manageable.
The EPQ is an exciting opportunity for students to explore their interests, develop transferable skills, and stand out to universities and prospective employers. Navigating the EPQ can be a daunting, but rewarding experience. We hope that this guide has given you a better understanding of the ins and outs of the EPQ process, so that you can offer informed guidance and support to your child.
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