Information / Getting Started

Congratulations on your interest in the Science Fair!  This page is intended to help guide students through the process of submitting a project.  It is important that you work closely with a Teacher/Parent Sponsor to ensure your project is ready to compete.

Key Terms:

Research - refers to library research and information gathering. 

Experimentation - refers to work done in the field or laboratory after forming hypotheses.

Getting Started

  1. Pick Your Topic - Get an idea of what you want to study.  Ideas might come from hobbies or problems you see that need solutions.  Limit your topic, as you have little time and resources.  You may want to study only one or two specific events.  Review the Rules page and follow the applicable ISEF requirements/forms.
  2. Research Your Topic - Go to the library and read everything you can on your topic.  Observe related events.  Gather existing information on your topic.  Look for unexplained and unexpected results.  At the same time, talk to professionals in the field, write to companies for information, and obtain or construct needed equipment.
  3. Organize And Theorize - Organize everything you have learned about your topic.  At this point you should narrow down your hypothesis by focusing on a particular idea.  Your library research should help.
  4. Make A Timetable - As you narrow down your ideas, remember to choose a topic that not only interests you, but can be done in the amount of time you have.
    Get out a calendar to mark important dates (See the Schedule page for important dates for this year's fair). 
    • Make sure to leave a week to fill out the necessary forms and to review your Research Plan with your Sponsor. 
    • Some projects need approval from a Scientific Review Committee (SRC) before they are started, so be sure to allow time for that process. 
    • Give yourself plenty of time to experiment and collect data - even simple experiments do not always go as you might expect the first time, or even the second time. 
    • After you have finished your experiments, you will probably need a few weeks to write a paper and put together an exhibit.
  5. Plan Out Your Research - Once you have a feasible project idea, you should write out a research plan.  This plan should explain how you will do your experiment and exactly what it will involve.  Any student participating in the Science Fair is required to complete the Research Plan, Approval Form and Checklist.
  6. Consult Your Adult Sponsor - You are required to discuss your Research Plan with your Adult Sponsor and get his/her signature of approval.  Your sponsor should review your Research Plan and determine if you need any additional forms and/or SRC approval.
  7. Once you've reviewed the rules and know whether SRC/IRB approval is required, you are ready to register for the fair.
  8. Conduct Your Experiments - Give careful thought to designing your experiments.  As you conduct your research and experiment, keep detailed notes of each and every experiment, measurement, and observation.  Do not rely on memory.  Remember to change only one variable at a time when experimenting, and make sure to include control experiments in which one of the variables are changed.  Make sure you include sufficient numbers of test subjects in both control and experimental groups.
  9. Examine Your Results - When you complete your experiments, examine and organize your finding.  Did your experiments give you expected results?  Why or why not?  Was your experiment performed with the exact same steps each time?  Are there other causes that you had not considered or observed?  Were there errors in your observations?  Remember that understanding errors and reporting that a suspected variable did not change the results can be valuable information.
  10. Draw Conclusions - Which variables are important?  Did you collect enough data?  Do you need to do more experimenting?  Keep an open mind - never alter results to fit a theory.  Remember, if your results do not support your original hypothesis, you still have accomplished successful scientific research.  An experiment is done to prove or disprove a hypothesis.

For more information concerning rules or general science fair questions, contact the fair Director.