The Extended Project Qualification is as large-scale research project, essay and presentation undertaken by A-Level students. As a “level 3” qualification with an open-end policy on topic choice, it is rapidly becoming a popular choice among students thanks to its valuable tariff point value on UCAS, and the opportunity for students to explore a subject they love on a whole new level.

In our introductory piece on the EPQ, we introduced eight different aspects of the project which together make up our “Guide to the EPQ.” In this first of eight follow-up pieces, we will be exploring in depth the first item on that list --- Choosing Your Topic.

The first rule of the topic is…

An important thing for students to remember when choosing their topic is that they shouldn’t choose anything that is a carbon copy of something they’ve learned as a part of their regular A-Level course. 

Besides being something of a cop-out, this approach means that students miss a crucial opportunity to impress university admissions officers when the time comes—more on that below.

Three important questions:

It’ll be in year 12 when you start thinking about your EPQ topic, and it may have you stumped for a while. Those who are unsure of which direction to travel should ask themselves the following three questions:

1) What do I want to get out of the EPQ?

As we touched on above, one of the most significant advantages to completing the EPQ is the additional UCAS tariff points it brings. These are, obviously, a critical element in boosting your chances of getting into your first-choice university. One more crucial factor here, though is how your topic can influence the admissions tutors themselves.

Admissions tutors, especially those at high-level universities, are not merely looking for those who “tick the right boxes” when it comes to grades and points, but also for something a bit extra. What they want are students who can show that they’ll go the extra mile, and who can demonstrate significant aptitude, curiosity and passion in a particular subject.

You mustn’t underestimate the influence of the EPQ as a window into your talent and potential. Let’s say, for example; you are taking A-Level law and one aspect of criminal law particularly interested you. Taking that beyond the curriculum in an independent project like this shows that you have a real interest in the law, not to mention an excellent aptitude for research and fast growth. Law schools will be queuing to snap you right up!

2) What interests me; fills me with curiosity?

No choice of EPQ topic should be arbitrary or focused on how to get to the finished product on the easiest route possible. Those who choose in this way are doomed to miss the tremendous value that comes with this process. A project of this magnitude requires a matching passion, so make your choice based on genuine interest.

3) Is there something to explore, discuss or debate in this topic?

The other key factor in a good EPQ topic is whether or not there is anything to consider or if the critical question that you ask is already settled. It could also be already so widely opined upon that there is precious little remaining space for new ideas.

Consider carefully how much there is to explore in your chosen area. Once again, impressing those tricky admissions tutors means finding novel and unique aspects to research and report upon. A well-thought-out question is bound to pique the interest of universities, and further demonstrate your prowess in your chosen subject.

Why this choice matters

Ultimately, the highest care must be taken when choosing an EPQ topic. Consider all of the above factors, and remember that you agonize at first about the theme for the following good reasons:

  1. The significant impact the subject will have on your university admissions
  2. The potential role the EPQ can have in helping you find a future career trajectory
  3. The many skills you will be able to exercise on a well-chosen topic that helps to maximize your potential and help you to grow
  4. The final value of the EPQ as an arduous piece of academic work depends almost entirely on your choice of topic

What do good topics look like, in the end?

We will deal more with this subject in our third part on the final essay or “product” that students work to create after their research is completed. Successful topic choices that achieve high grades are ones that demonstrate a clear academic focus, and also use words that help indicate how the outcome of the research might be measure. An excellent example of this is, according to the AQA:

“To build a ‘High Performance’ desktop PC and evaluate it against commercial pre-built alternatives”

The student submitting this title knows how their product will be measured as either successful or not, which gives a strong focus and definite purpose to the research. This level of clarity is what you should aim for when choosing your topic.

Look out for the next instalment of our 8-part series on the EPQ. In the second instalment, we will be looking at the personal and academic qualities needed to be successful in the EPQ.

The rest of the series