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What is an EPQ & How Can It Benefit Applying Students?

July 25, 2020
What is an EPQ & How Can It Benefit Applying Students?

An EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) is a nationally recognised qualification which sixth form students can opt to complete.  One of the biggest questions we receive from students is “will it strengthen my application?”  To answer that, I want to explore what is involved in completing an EPQ before listing the benefits of completion.

The EPQ is an independent research project completed by students in years 12/13 (S5/6) that ultimately requires a 5000-word essay and presentation on the topic selected by each individual student.  The EPQ can also be a project, such as the design of a unique, new, iPhone app (as a broad example).  Students undertaking an EPQ can choose their project based on their interests outside the A Level curriculum, and completion of the qualification is a formal level 3 qualification, recognised by universities in the form of UCAS Tariff points.  Students opting to complete an EPQ can expect this to take 120 hours self-study (although it is important to note there are no minimum hours of study).  Support of teachers is essential, as some exam boards have minimum guided learning hours, AQA requests evidence of 30 GLH for teachers to commit to on registering a student for the qualification. 

The overall EPQ is graded A*- E and whilst marking schemes will vary between exam boards, the general mark scheme is as follows;

  • 20% project planning and time management evidence
  • 20% using resources and research skills evidence
  • 40% Development of an idea and producing an outcome
  • 20% Evaluation and presentation skills

An A* grade for an EPQ carries the 50% weighting of a full A Level, and can be worth 28 tariff points.  Marking of the EPQ is carried out through three separate assessments completed by school teaching staff and subject to external verification and moderation by the awarding exam board. 

Schools offering EPQ as an additional qualification is growing, in the first cohort after a successful pilot, 2008-2009, 2.1% of A Level students undertook the EPQ.  The popularity of the qualification rose to 13% of A Level students for academic year 2014-2015 (according the Cambridge Assessment – although no figures have been published for subsequent academic years).

There is a clear interest in students now wanting to pursue an EPQ to strengthen their applications to university, so does it make a difference to the UK university admissions process?  In an nutshell, yes, it can make a great difference to students application success, as admissions teams can use an EPQ grade to distinguish between two students with similar predicted A Level grades, but can it have a positive outcome for students applying to Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary courses?  Before answering this statement, I will explore the benefits gained from undertaking an EPQ.

This qualification is great for students to effectively demonstrate the below skills and attributes;

  • Evidence of students having academic interests outside the traditional A Level curriculum
  • Clearly displays evidence of students being able to complete independent study – as will be expected to complete in university
  • Development of developing skills in extensive research and essay writing skills
  • Students are able to evidence skills in critical thinking, problem solving and presentation skills
  • Organisation and time management skills have to be refined to fit this around A Level study
  • Can be a good topic to use in UCAS personal statement and a topic of discussion at university interviews.

The skills and experiences listed above would certainly pave the way for a strong UCAS application with this as an additional qualification.  However, when discussing this with students, it is important to be able to discuss the appropriateness of undertaking such a large qualification, alongside A Level study to secure the high grades required for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinarian courses, volunteering and work placement, preparation for entrance exams and pursuing personal interests!  As said initially, a typical student will spend up around 120 hours of work on their project which can be started in year 12 or 13, and although this carries 28 UCAS points, medical admissions teams do not use the tariff process when looking at applicants.  However, admissions teams throughout the UK will use EPQ grades when forming an offer, but the offer will differ with each medical school.  For example, Hull and York Medical School can offer a place to an EPQ student with predicted grades of AAB instead of AAA, but the EPQ will also be under the condition the EPQ is awarded an A, so students will be required to achieve AABA grades, Queen Mary University Medical School have also listed the same conditional offers in their admissions process.

When discussing A Level and EPQ choices with students, you understand their academic abilities better than anyone so your guidance will become crucial to their decision-making process.  Whilst there are many benefits to undertaking an EPQ and it being a great introduction to independent learning (as is completed in university), it does require a huge amount of dedication and time to complete an EPQ.  Medical school admissions teams take all applications on their individual merit and academic abilities.  Whilst many medical schools will consider an EPQ as part of a conditional offer, some medical schools such as Brighton and Sussex Medical School recognise the skills developed in taking the qualification, their conditional offers do not extend to include EPQ grades.  As with all students, it is always advisable to check with the admissions team of universities they are considering applying to, in order to check whether they will add the EPQ grade into the conditional offer.  Choosing to complete an EPQ will be down to student decision ultimately, and can really enhance their sixth form learning experience, if they are able to organise their time and still be able to commit to the A Level studies and obtain the grades needed to secure a place at university.

If you are a school that currently do not offer EPQ to your students, but are considering offering it, exam boards that offer this are;

  • Pearson Edexcel
  • City and Guilds
  • AQA
  • VTCT
  • OCR and WJEC

Schools can register students for EPQ in the same manner as registering for A Levels.  As previously mentioned, each exam board will have slightly different marking schemes and guided learning hours from teachers.  It may be worth exploring options with each board if your school uses multiple exam boards and ensuring there is a relevant teacher that is available to fulfil the minimum hours and commitment.

In conclusion, whilst an EPQ is a great way for students to stretch their academic abilities and gain additional transferable skills, it is worth remembering for medically aspiring students, that there are already great demands on them academically.  Whilst an EPQ can be considered by admissions teams it is not an essential part of issuing a conditional offer to study for the majority of universities.  Students need to be able to have completed all other essential entrance requirements such as work experience, volunteering, and entrance exams on top of achieving high grades in A Levels.  If you have an exceptionally gifted student that you feel can fit everything to a high standard, by all means, encourage the EPQ, but if you have a student that needs to concentrate on their A Levels, it may be too big a stretch to fit an EPQ into their studies which could result in grade dropping.   EPQ students receive conditional offers, but so students only study the three mandatory A Level grades, without an EPQ qualification.




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