Maybe it is that time of year when, at school, you’re starting to talk about the Extended Project. Everyone is talking about what subjects they are hoping to study – and worrying about whether they’ll be able to fit it into their timetable. Maybe you are doing the same, or wondering whether it would actually be good for university as your teachers claim.

In a lot of things regarding school, it does feel like you just have to take your teachers’ words for it. Okay, it would look good when applying to university. Sure, it would look good on your CV. Yes, it would be a good use of your time.

But how can you ever know? It’s not like you can figure out by yourself how sixth form courses and qualifications stack up for top universities and colleges. Being at school is, unfortunately, just a game of trust.

Or, at least, that was the case for some of us. These days, you can find a lot of information online that can give you a different impression of whether or not to take a particular class. Or whether or not that particular class will get you onto a cushty undergraduate degree in a Russell Group university or even Oxbridge. Or whether it will actually matter outside the classroom.

And that’s what we’re doing here with the Extended Project Qualification, or the EPQ. It’s one of the more recent additions to the options available in the A Level curriculum – and, as you’ll know, your teachers insist that it is useful for university.

So, let’s take a look to see if that’s really true: here’s all you need to know about the Extended Project.

epq research
Be prepared to get researching!

What is the EPQ?

The EPQ is a secondary school qualification that is equivalent to other AS Level courses. It is sat during the two years of sixth form at school or college and it does not come with structured classes or timetables.

Great, but what do you actually study? Well, this, really, is down to you. In the EPQ, you can study any subject that you want to. This covers pretty much any subject that you can think of – with one little catch. You have to be able to show that it is academically useful. So, don’t do anything obscene or illegal. You can see some examples of Extended Project topics here.

Once you have decided on your topic, you have to do one of two things. You either have to write a long essay about it, or you have to create an artefact and write a shorter essay about that. Finally, the process involves you indulging your presentation skills, in which you show your work to whoever might want to come along.

In a nutshell, that’s it. It’s a course that encourages your independent learning. However, it is worth knowing that alongside the actual project – i.e. the thing that you have chosen to study – you have to fill in a load of paperwork that essentially tells the world that you are on track. As they can’t grade everyone on such wildly different topics, the EPQ grades you on your time management. So, watch out for that.

The Artefact or the Essay

We mentioned above that, for the EPQ, you can either produce an essay or an artefact. And it is important to know what this all means before you commit to the programme of study. You don’t want to get excited about producing something that you’re ultimately told isn’t possible. So, let’s take them one at a time.

The Essay

The essay is fairly self-explanatory. You know what an essay is – and the EPQ essay only differs from those other essays you have written in size. This one needs to be five thousand words and it needs to show a convincing use of an academic style. It cannot just be any old five thousand words.

However, the thing that is really crucial is that the essay needs to be based on research. That means it needs proper academic references in the final product as well as some sort of structured research plan which you are going to follow. So, if you are looking to write an essay on the history of social media, you’re going to need to have outlined your various research questions before you started.

project work
The EPQ is all about independent work

The Artefact

Alternatively, rather than a research essay, your EPQ at sixth-form college can involve the production of an artefact.

This often confuses people, because the name is left deliberately vague. However, the artefact can be anything you fancy. If you are into English literature, you can write a short story or poem. If you are more interested in computers and tech, it can be an app. And, meanwhile, it can be anything in between: a movie or a composition, a bit of carpentry or a painting.

Any of these things are valid. However, you will need to write a short written report outlining what it is you have made and why. This usually comes to about 1500 words. Meanwhile, the artefact project, like the essay, needs to be based around independent research skills: you will be graded more on the research-based elements of the project than the actual artefact itself.

The Paperwork

Besides the production of the thing that you have chosen to work independently on, there are other parts of the EPQ. We alluded to these above. Whilst they are not perhaps the first choice of what you want to be spending your time doing, they are a really important part of the qualification – because it is these bits that you are actually being graded on.

These will include your research preparation, your time management skills, and your abilities to manage your progress and evaluate the final product. All of these will be tested in the EPQ. It is not a case of choose a topic in an area of interest for you and off you go. There are quite a lot of hoops to jump through too.

The Presentation

Finally, there is the presentation, which actually makes up a significant amount of your final grade. As part of this, all candidates will show details of their personal development throughout the project: not just the conclusions they have reached or the artefact they have made, but the whole process that they have followed too.

Find out more about the Extended Project presentation!

How much work is an EPQ?

It sounds like quite a lot of work, all this. And it is true: the EPQ is not a course that should be taken lightly. All things considered, there is a lot to do – and, as it is all based on independent study, all of it is down to you.  Whilst it should be motivated by personal interest, it does demand from you a range of skills.

However, the official guidance for an EPQ is that it takes 120 hours. You are generally encouraged to decide on your topic towards the end of year 12 and conduct your research during the summer break.

When you are back at school for the start of year 13, this is when you will finally be writing the piece or creating the artefact. When you have so much time to do it, 120 hours isn’t really so much. However, you do need to be able to juggle this with the other qualifications that you are sitting too.

But remember that there are benefits to the EPQ!

epq presentation
Are you prepared for an EPQ presentation?

What are the EPQ grade boundaries?

The grade boundaries for the EPQ differ from year to year – like all courses at school. They will also differ from exam board to exam board – from Edexcel to AQA – so watch out.

In 2019, the grade boundaries for the AQA EPQ were, out of a possible fifty marks, 45 for an A*, 40 for an A, 35 for a B, and 30 for a C.

For Edexcel, the maximum mark is 54, in one of those wacky moves that exam boards make. However, from this, the grade boundaries are roughly equivalent.

Will an EPQ help me get into university?

So, to the big question: will an EPQ actually help you to get into university? All your teachers will tell you this, but are they correct?

Honestly, of course they are: yes, an EPQ will help you to get into higher education. Why wouldn’t it? The qualification tests you in key skills – independent research, the motivation to see a project through to the end, and the ability to sit down and write on a subject you are passionate about, to name just a few – and it shows that you have interests beyond the curriculum.

This is precisely what universities want. So, get yourself started on an EPQ and complete it well. The one thing a university wants more than a student with an EPQ is a student with a good grade in an EPQ.

Take a look at our overview of the EPQ!

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Charlie