These are just some example topics of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which is studied by A Level students in UK curriculum schools.
Time-consuming and challenging, yet highly regarded and rewarding, the EPQ is an optional, standalone qualification that develops the independent learning and research skills demanded by universities and employers. The number of students taking up the EPQ has grown substantially since its integration into the UK curriculum in 2007. It’s not only seen as excellent preparation for university, the EPQ now forms part of the offers of some universities.
The EPQ gives students the opportunity to independently research a topic of their choice – and can range from writing a 5,000-word dissertation style essay or planning an event like a charity fundraiser, staging a musical, creating a piece of art or even building a product (these must also be supported by a written report of at least 1,000 words).
It’s an opportunity for students to choose a unique topic that they can explore in depth and detail; it’s all about finding a subject that they are passionate about and showcasing their knowledge and reading beyond the curriculum. It’s similar to the IB’s Extended Essay, and it provides students with the same benefits of completing a research project ahead of studying a degree at university.
There are two key differences between the two though. Firstly, the EPQ is optional, while the Extended Essay is a compulsory part of the IB Diploma Programme. Secondly, the EPQ can be in the form of an essay or artefact (a scientific or mathematical model, sculpture or photography exhibition), whereas the EE is always a 4,000-word paper.
An EPQ is not easy (even choosing the title can be a challenge), and it requires hard work and commitment alongside studying A Levels. Students can expect to spend around 120 hours of work on their project – some take more time, others less. Many schools offer study skills workshops across Year 12 to help students plan their EPQ, and it can be completed at any time during Years 12-13.
While the EPQ does look great on a UCAS application it cannot replace good A Level results, and students should not take on this extra work if they’re unable to cope with it. However, students with a strong academic record and potential, as well as an ability to plan and manage their work and time, will find that this extra workload can certainly reap benefits.
Ms Sophie Lake is the EPQ Lead Teacher at GEMS FirstPoint School. Ms Lake told WhichsSchoolAdvisor.com:
“The EPQ gives students the opportunity to demonstrate to both universities and future employers their competences in a number of key areas. Students have the chance to manage their own project in an area that they one day aspire to pursue, giving them direct involvement in the planning, monitoring and review of their own project. EPQ students develop essential skills required for higher-level study, including planning, researching, critical thinking, analysis and creativity. Practice of these skills is excellent preparation for university-level study, and students can refer to the EPQ in their personal statements when applying to university and in their interviews.”
The EPQ offers students an incredible opportunity to research their own choice of academic topic or produce a artefact – something that takes them beyond their A Level subjects. While it is definitely not for everyone, it can be a highly rewarding experience for many.
Ms Lake explained that an EPQ is not to be taken lightly:
“The EPQ requires students to take responsibility for the management of their own project. They are directly involved in developing and improving their own learning and performance as critical, reflective and independent learners. While there is support in place in the form of supervisors, and while there are lessons on key skills, each student is ultimately the captain of their own ship. They control the direction and management of their own project. They are also required to demonstrate discipline and the ability to stick to their project deadlines.”
Stand out from the crowd: While A Levels are one of the most well-established routes to a university degree, they have been criticised globally for being too narrow, particularly when compared to the breadth of study offered by the IB Diploma Programme. An EPQ can offer students the chance to stand out from the crowd, by showcasing their additional academic strengths or achievements.
Whether creating and testing an iPhone app or researching the development of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin, an EPQ gives students the opportunity to explore interests, skills and subjects outside and beyond their three (or four) A Level subjects – and gain a competitive edge in applications and interviews for universities and careers.
UCAS points: An EPQ is worth half an A Level; it’s graded A* to E and can be worth anywhere up to 28 UCAS points, which can help students to secure the university place they want. (In 2022, 23.5% of students achieved a A* in their EPQ; 71% a B which is equal to 20 points).
Excellent preparation for university: As well as being an additional academic achievement, it helps students to develop the independent research, essay writing and time management skills that universities are looking for. It also demonstrates a student’s passion for their subject.
Dual offers. The EPQ has become highly regarded by many UK universities, and the admissions pages of Oxbridge and Russell Group universities quote support for qualification.
Cambridge tells students: “We welcome the introduction of the Extended Project and would encourage you to undertake one as it will help you develop independent study and research skills and ease the transition from school/college to higher education.”
And the University of Manchester says: “Students can refer to the Extended Project in their UCAS personal statements and at interview to demonstrate some of the qualities that universities are looking for.”
For some courses, a university (including several Russell Group universities) will make a dual offer based that includes both the normal three A Level grade offer and an alternative offer including the student’s EPQ grade. The University of Southampton was one of the first to do this; its Accounting & Finance course, for example, has entry requirements of AAB or ABB with an A in an EPQ.