SHOULD YOU DO THE EPQ?

EPQ stands for Extended Project Qualification and it’s probably something you’ve heard of a few times if you’re about to start college or sixth form. It is essentially a self-motivated research project that is equivalent to an AS level (and something colleges like to brag about offering). You choose a topic of your choice and you usually propose a question that you’d like to answer within your chosen topic. You can use various different media to answer the question, but the most popular is a 5000 word dissertation alongside a short 10-minute presentation to your peer group. The EPQ is usually optional and if you are one of those students who have been given the luxury to make the decision of whether to take it on for yourselves, get ready to read through my EPQ experience very carefully.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that I chose to do an EPQ thinking that it would help supplement my application to medical school. Bear in mind that applying for Medicine means that any potential UCAS points I would receive from and additional qualification were of no benefit to me. I was solely doing this for the ‘skills’ I would gain and also genuine interest for my chosen topic. Nevertheless, I hope whoever you are, and however you managed to stumble upon this post somewhere within the depths of the Internet, you are able to make a more informed choice about this mysterious project.

Let’s not beat about the bush, I was super duper excited about doing the EPQ…brainstorming ideas before I even started college. I did read up a few students’ advice about whether it’s worth doing it or not, but let’s be honest…I didn’t really take much notice of them, first of all because their opinions were very conflicting and secondly I was far too eager to take it on to allow myself to be put off. The thing about the EPQ is that you don’t really know much about it at all until you get started and that’s it’s single and greatest problem – you don’t realise the extent to which you are stranded with it. It is a very independent project indeed. You’re basically given a few handouts just before the Summer holidays and then expected to just get on with it and finish most of it during the break after your first year.

As you can probably imagine nobody gets it done during that time. And you can’t really blame yourself for returning to college empty handed either because you were pretty clueless about what this ‘research’ you were told to do should involve. So that just leaves you with this mountain of a project left to complete during your crucial second year, when you should be focusing on getting those all important grades. Couldn’t be further from ideal!

You do get assigned an EPQ supervisor who starts monitoring your progress after the Summer (when the bulk of it should have been done anyway), but here’s another problem: they can’t tell you what to do. The whole idea of this is to explore for yourself and figure out your own method of researching through journal articles and composing a non-plagiarised, well-explained, thorough piece if work. It is rather overwhelming and even more so when you’ve suddenly got a blank Microsoft word document open with the cursor on the first line constantly blinking at you and another tab open with the 28 million search results google has generated for you in 0.58 seconds at your disposal.

Looking back on it now, the EPQ was very time-consuming and it was rather frustrating to have to dedicate time to complete something which was appearing more and more irrelevant as time went by when I had tons of A level work to catch up on as well as a personal statement to write, the BMAT to revise for and interviews to prepare for. At the beginning it is a little exciting as you’re reading up on an amazing new subject, but the majority of the EPQ isn’t simply awing at what an interesting read the past 20 studies or journal articles have been. No, no, don’t be fooled…it’s all about referencing every single phrase you write, logging every single time you even do so much as think about the project, and then comes the world of evaluating your sources. Every single one. And then you think it’s finally over, but you’re then told you have to evaluate the whole execution of the project, what you’ve learnt from it, the skills you’ve gained. They say it’s a 5000 word essay, but mine ended up being over 7000 words long! I suppose I would have been content if in the end it did prove to be in the slightest bit useful, but it didn’t. I didn’t mention it in my personal statement or even make reference to it in any of my 4 interviews once. I was never questioned about it and it honestly gave me no advantage whatsoever.

I know there will be some of you sat here shaking your heads, still feeling determined to face this beast, and the one piece of advice I can give to those of you is to choose an easy question, please just help yourselves here. Don’t go for something deeply scientific and unique, because trust me you’ll be left trying to untangle a web of impossible jargon later on. The EPQ isn’t an on the surface type project. You do have to swim in the deeper waters of your chosen topic, or rather dive in. So choosing something so innovative and new will honestly leave you in a very difficult position because you’ll have to have a very high level of understanding to be able to even make any conclusions about anything. Don’t do that to yourself. Choose an ethical question, or on opinion based one. Or save your life by choosing not to undertake it all.

Overall, I think it was ultimately a waste of time and effort and I have yet to find out whether there was anything I actually gained from it. I will be uploading my EPQ on here soon, so look out for that so you can hopefully use that to help you get a better idea of what is really expected for this project.

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