The EPQ – Ultimate Guide

A-Levels have undergone various reforms in past decades, but one thing never really changes, and that’s the stress levels students feel come exam time. Back in 2006, a new idea was introduced into the system that increases the variety of qualifications and results students can attain. It’s called the Extended Project Qualification, and while it doesn’t replace exams, it has had a significant impact on the world of secondary education.

In this new article series, I will be exploring this exciting qualification, expanding on the details of all the essential aspects for students. There will be some crucial advice for parents, too, so look out for that.

The Extended Project Qualification, or EPQ, is an increasingly popular project-based assignment that students finishing year 12 and preparing to move into year 13 undertake. It involves three main parts — an essay or final “product”, a production log, and a live presentation — which we will discuss in more detail as our new article series progresses. 

What is the EPQ?

The EPQ is a large-scale piece of project work, typically covering about 120 hours of work in total. The topic of the project is entirely up to the student, with the freedom to choose from almost any topic area, as long as it doesn’t directly overlap with regular coursework. Students will select their topic areas at the end of year 12, after which they will complete their initial research during the summer break before entering year 13. The written/production stage of the project is usually done in the early part of year 13 before students become busy with preparation for final A-Level exams.

The EPQ is offered by all the major exam boards and is listed by AQA, for example, as a “Level 3” qualification attracting higher UCAS Tariff Points than a new AS-Level subject. In this series, we’ll be creating a guide for students and parents so they can learn all the vital information about the EPQ that they need before they embark on it.

How do you choose your topic?

The topic of your EPQ is a crucial decision not to be taken lightly. Some may imagine that doing something that extends from students regular coursework in some way would be the most comfortable option. Still, the truth is that this project is not about finding easy paths to the conclusion.

You should choose a topic based on the following three questions:

  • What do I want to get out of the EPQ? If, for example, it’s a way to be competitive during university application, then you need something original and engaging. 
  • What interests me? You have to choose something for which you have a passion and genuine interest. It’s not enough to put all the hours in for something that you think others will like. It should reflect your curiosity, and possibly your aspirations for future development.
  • Does the topic have something to debate/discuss? If the question is already quite clear cut, or highly esoteric, then there’s not much point researching it. You should choose something that has unknowns and lots of quality academic materials written about it. In this way, you can present a new perspective.

What skills/qualities do you need to complete the EPQ?

The first thing you’ll need is a strong and genuine interest in the topic to maintain your motivation throughout the process. Secondly, fantastic organisational skills are required since you will have many facets to contend with, as well as multiple deadlines for each stage, each of which involves different skills and needs. Finally, you’ll require a good ability in time management, since the EPQ happens outside of your regular class time. You won’t get set periods in which to get the work done. You’ll have to finish it on your own time. 

What is the essay/product?

Students can opt to complete a 5000-word essay on their project, or they can create what is known as a “product” The product might be a musical composition, dramatic performance, special report or an artefact. The nature of the final product depends on the topic area chosen by the student.

What is the production log?

The product has to be supported by a 15-page “Production Log,” also known by some as merely “paperwork.” This details the student’s journey from initial idea to the final creation of the product. Besides the student, the project “supervisor” also fills parts in as they fulfil their role as a kind of mentor for the student during the long completion process.

What is the final presentation?

In the end, students complete a live presentation in front of an audience, where they introduce the background of the project, what they found out, what they’ve learned and how they feel it will impact their future.

What does your supervisor do and how should you choose a supervisor?

The supervisor will act as a kind of mentor to you throughout the process. They will fill in parts of your production log and continuously offer support and advice. When choosing a mentor, you should think about whether or not that teacher has the time to meet with you regularly. If you know that the teacher is often at outside events or in important meetings, then they’re not an ideal candidate. 

Don’t presume either that the teacher needs to have a background in the subject area you choose to research. It might be beneficial to have a teacher with no knowledge because they can join you on your learning journey. It’ll feel more like collaboration then, rather than you testing your mentor to see if you have the “right answers.”

Parents: Ways your child will benefit from the EPQ

There’s a reason the EPQ is already being taken on by tens of thousands of students across the country, and that is the many benefits that come with it. First of all, it shows your child has a definite career direction and passion, which universities find very attractive in candidates. 

On top of that, the demands of quality and thoroughness prepare students well for university-level work, which means students come into the universities having had active and practical experience in project writing. 

The EPQ will also go a long way to proving your child’s aptitude in a particular field. If they’re interested in law, for instance, an EPQ related to an independently chosen legal topic will demonstrate much greater passion and ability than getting a high mark on the Law A-Level test.

Is the EPQ right for you?

Whether or not the EPQ is right for you will depend on several things:

  • How many A-Level subjects are you taking? If it’s four or more, then the EPQ might be too much for you to take on, and you likely won’t need the extra UCAS Tariff Points.
  • Are you already struggling and stressing over the advanced content? If you are, adding the EPQ will only compound that stress and difficulty even more.
  • Do you want to be highly competitive for university? If yes, then an EPQ is a good idea, and many top universities also insist on it.

These questions, factors and other facets are all ones I will explore in greater detail in this exciting new article series. I hope you find the new series informative and useful as you prepare yourself to embark on the exciting EPQ journey.