An EPQ is the type of thing you are so excited to do but once you actually get into it you realise that you’ve just plunged head first into your biggest nightmare and there’s no way out. If you’re in the process of deciding whether you should do an EPQ I’d suggest you read my last post, but if you are one of those people who are already within the maze and now must find your way out…this post is for you!
My EPQ experience wasn’t brilliant. I cried about it. I completely changed my topic. I pleaded to be given permission to drop it. And yet I was somehow pushed through the process and managed to get together a 42 page dissertation by the end of the year which I eventually ended up getting an A for. Handing in that booklet of paper was the honestly the biggest sense of relief I’ve ever felt. But having said that, I’m now in the position of being able to use the lovely gift of hindsight to reflect on what went well with it and what not quite so much. So keep reading for some tips to help pull you through this project…
1) Use the reference tools available
One of the biggest nightmares with the EPQ is this new phenomenon of ‘referencing’ all the materials you use. Every single article you read needs to be mentioned in your Bibliography, which seems like an awful lot of work considering the many different sources of information you’ll be using. When you’re referencing anything you also need to make sure you link the source to the correct sentence in your project, so that’s definitely something you don’t want to leave until the end. Trying to find out which phrase you extracted from which of your 50 sources for a 5000 word dissertation will be no less difficult than trying to untangle a spider’s web. The best thing to do is use an automated way of generating a bibliography. Microsoft has a really easy feature in which all you have to do is enter the details of all your sources and then when you need to reference it all you do is press one button. I’ve also heard of a website called Neil’s Toolbox which supposedly helps you to easily generate a bibliography.
2) Summarise each section
Your EPQ will most likely have many headings and subheadings where you’ve tried to approach your question from a variety of different angles. You’ll also be carrying out your research and write up for your project over a good few months, so if you’re not consistently revisiting it, the first section of your project could easily slip your mind. Your final conclusion will however need to mention all the different parts of your project. So one thing I found really helpful when doing mine was making sure I wrote a short summary of all the arguments for and against after I finished every section. This made writing my final conclusion so much easier because all I really had to do was combine these summaries and ta da!
3) Research then write
There are lots of different ways to approach doing the research for the EPQ. You could do all the research and then attempt to compile it all into a good write up. I don’t personally think this is a good idea because you do risk drowning yourself in research by going for this approach. Having tens of sources at your disposal and suddenly being expected to extract the right parts from each of these sources will be quite difficult. Just imagine how hard it will be to keep track of all your research and the possible points you’ve collected. Instead it’s better to start off by splitting your project into smaller subsections, researching each small area and then writing it up. This will also make sure that you remain focussed on the topic which is a key point on the mark scheme.
4) A bit of initial research is golden
Research then write, but don’t make the mistake of not doing a little initial research. This will make you aware of the types of information available to you, help you direct your project and split it up into smaller subsections. I split my first EPQ topic (IVF) into headings of the different areas I wanted to cover in my project. I wanted to focus on the public cost and success rates of IVF treatments compared with it in the private sector. However when I got to that part of my project I realised there wasn’t enough information on the financing of IVF and most of the journal articles I wanted to access required a subscription which meant I hardly had any sources. Because of this I had to change my whole topic which is something that you do want to avoid having to do. (I did enjoy putting together a short post on the question I initially chose on IVF for my EPQ though. Click here to have a read of it).
5) Start early
As early as you possibly can that is. I know just how easy it is to keep delaying sitting down and working on your EPQ especially when you have lots of other A level work or university applications to be getting on with, but please please don’t. The later you leave it the more difficult it’ll get to squeeze in time to complete it. If you were given it before the Summer holidays really do seize the opportunity to get the majority of it done then. Or dedicate a week of the half term holidays and just get it out of the way, you’ll honestly be so relieved. Don’t forget that after the dissertation you’ll still have to spare more time to prepare your presentation too.
6) That darn activity log
Like you’ve probably been told many many times…do keep it up to date. It’ll only take a minute to just type a few sentences of what you’ve done. Imagine the horror of finishing the project and then coming to the realisation that it hasn’t be done. And if you do want to get yourself a good grade in it bear in mind that it does hold a very substantial number of marks. Try and keep it as detailed as you can: any thoughts you’ve hard, anything you’ve researched or anyone you’ve spoken to about it. Don’t be afraid to write things that aren’t going so well in it too, because that’ll secure you some marks if you can show how you’ve combated the problems you’re facing.
7) Regularly meet with your supervisor
Your supervisor can help keep you on track and you can discuss any problems you’re having with them. They won’t necessarily be telling you the answer, but they’ll definitely be able to suggest a few things for you. They’re the ones who are going to be marking your project after all so you can make sure you’re doing things the way they’d prefer. Organising meetings with them regularly also helps to keep you progressing with it. A good idea is to set weekly targets together so in your next meeting you can discuss them together.
8) Put some primary research in there somewhere
The idea of primary research seems quite daunting, but it doesn’t have to be since it’s a great way to secure a few marks. You’re never going to be expected to set up a huge laboratory investigation or carry out a public demonstration. You can make it really easy if you want to…you can create a short survey and ask a few family members and classmates to give their opinions which you’d then be able to quote in your dissertation. Or you could even set up an online poll like I did. Click here to see mine. Poll daddy is a really easy way to quickly set one up, or you can just use a social media platform to quickly make one. I know Twitter has a nice and easy feature that you can use. And you don’t need hundreds and thousands of people to respond, just a few will be fine, it’s still primary research and that’s what counts!