The EPQ, make it relevant, make it topical, make it count.

So here it is, the last few weeks of the academic year has begun circling the drain and thoughts will have turned to long lazy days luxuriating in that way only the youthful can, with a supreme sense of self and the innate knowledge they will change the world. After the holidays. It is also the time of year when the EPQ should be considered.

The EPQ for those not in the know is increasingly seen alongside NCS and DofE as one of the more essential initialisms students are expected to undertake just to stay competitive. The Extended Project Qualification, worth half an A level, is in essence a mini-thesis, it’s a further opportunity to showcase to any would be employer or university one’s capacity to think independently, research a subject, demonstrate an interest or commitment to a field of study and draw conclusions based on that research. The deadline for proposals is not officially until February but most schools advise starting now to get it out of the way prior to knuckling down for the last big A level push.

When it comes to the EPQ this is perhaps the first big decision a student will have to make, free from the strictures of convention, they are free to choose any subject that interests them. Anything at all. Up to a maximum of 5000 words. The trouble is, what? My niece contacted me to ask what I thought she should do it on and we kicked around a few ideas. After we’d settled on an area and a question, she suggested that she’d have liked to have done it on whether the universe was real or an illusion. Given the absence of scientific proof to support the latter contention I advised her to stick with something less, bullshitty. If you’re going to do the EPQ make sure you stay on point and make sure you can show your working. You can’t have an opinion on facts, or rather that is to say, suggesting that an elephant is part of the ape family is never going to be seen favourably, no matter how passionately you argue your case. Do not succumb to cod philosophizing, what might seem earth shattering to you and your friends after a few surreptitious drinks is unlike to have the academic rigour necessary once committed to paper and presented to a rather different audience.


To my mind, I think regardless of what and where you want to go after school, the EPQ should in some way be supportive of that. For instance if you wished to study law at university then doing your thesis on a legal issue that was of interest to you is an excellent way of showing your abiding interest in the area and if you draw sensible conclusions it can highlight how you think and your approach, something that won’t be apparent from A level results alone.  Furthermore I think you should try and make it fresh and relevant, topical even.

School age children are generally regarded as witless and dispossessed with no sense of what’s happening around them by the older generations. Self obsessed smartphone zombies who look up only to grunt and demand food and money. However there is a growing sense amongst others that Generation Z, as some people are now calling them, are the ones that could conceivably change the world. They’ve grown up in a world that has never not had the internet, economic and climate down spirals, the rich eating the rich and political upheaval. They have seen the worst that humanity has had to offer since that Hitler fellow and they want to do something about it. So for any student now, the bar has been raised, show that you are engaged with the world around you and it will stand you in good stead. To follow the legal theme, something about where liability for the Grenfall Tower disaster should lie, might be an excellent way of showcasing your passion for a subject but also your social conscience and your engagement with current affairs.

If you are not doing the EPQ as it feels like more work, I’d urge you to rethink that. Who knows, by doing some independent study in an area that’s of genuine interest to you, you might light a fire within you that could conceivably change everything you thought you wanted. Even if you never submit an EPQ, you cannot overstate the importance of learning something new, something you’ve not been taught but something you have personally investigated and then had a reaction to. It’s all part of getting to know yourself better, something you’ll need to do for the start of next term when a whole new set of choices start lining up.

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