In February I presented at the UCAS Conference for Teachers and Advisors with Becki Nash from Southampton University. We spoke about the benefits of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and academic transitions to Higher Education (HE).

The EPQ is an independent research qualification which students can take alongside traditional A-Levels. Students complete either a 5000 word dissertation or produce an “artefact” (anything from a scientific experiment, to an event or a piece of art) accompanied by a short written report.

We presented research from both institutions which demonstrates the positive impact of the EPQ in helping students navigate the academic transition to HE. Evidence from Leeds largely constituted qualitative data collected from a survey carried out at the end of 2018. In this survey, students from across the University were encouraged to reflect on whether they felt the EPQ had any impact on their progression into HE.

The survey found that over 80% of respondents felt the EPQ positively benefited the outcome of their University application. Students acknowledged that the EPQ helped them demonstrate their commitment to a specific subject and proved to the University that they had been developing skills which would be integral to their HE studies: “I think writing about the EPQ in my personal statement showed that I am prepared for studying in university and can do research projects independently” (1st year Medicine student at Leeds)

The majority of students also acknowledged that doing an EPQ helped them develop core academic skills which eased their academic transition to University, as the quotes below demonstrate:

“The fact that you not only have to produce a polished piece of referenced, academic writing but also perform a solo 10-15 minute presentation…means that the qualification does truly force you to develop a wider range of skills, both of which are useful for my course. To this day when preparing a presentation or an essay, I will look to my EPQ as an example.” – 1st year student in School of Education, Social Science and Law

And:

“The EPQ gave me a taster of what University would be like. I had to balance doing my EPQ on top of my other studies, I had to do it very independently, I used referencing for the first time …once I began attending university, I was less shocked by the expectations they had of us, whereas other people came to the university not even knowing what referencing was.” – 3rd year Medicine student

It was interesting to see students’ own perceptions of how the EPQ gave them a head-start at University, even recognising that it gave them an immediate advantage over their peers. Indeed, the skills required to complete an EPQ are closely in line with those required in HE study, especially at a research intensive University such as Leeds. EPQ students are marked on: how well the project is managed; how they select, organise and evaluate their research sources; and the written presentation of the research. In addition to writing and research there is an emphasis on reflection: students submit a log which outlines their research process, justifies their decisions, and describes challenges that they encountered along the way. With the recent shift towards exam-based assessments across most A-Level subjects, these skills are increasingly important if students are to come to University with an understanding of the research process and academic writing. Moreover, the EPQ encourages students to understand themselves better as a learner, work independently and develop crucial time and project management skills invaluable to HE study.

The student feedback collected at Leeds was complemented by institutional data from the University of Southampton which demonstrates the impact of completing an EPQ on attainment at University. Their research shows that students who completed an EPQ achieve higher than average grades in their first years and through to their final year degree classification. The table below demonstrates the differences in degree classification between EPQ and non-EPQ students across all faculties at the University of Southampton.