Reflections on EPQ

Firstly, I am delighted that I chose to do the EPQ project on Law. My initial aim when I started was simply to cover a topic (albeit one I had interest in after my work experience) which was directly related to the course I want to study at university thereby providing a link between my A level studies and degree course. I think I have produced a strong project which achieves these initial objectives but in addition I have acquired some extremely valuable transferable skills along the way, as well as an A* qualification.

This is the longest written project I have ever undertaken both in terms of word count and time allowed, despite the fact I regularly produce quite long detailed essays during the course of my AS English Literature and Economics studies. This meant it was different to my usual work in a number of ways:

– depth and breadth of research needed/carried out. In order to ensure you are able to write a coherent piece of work of that length you need to ensure that you cover a wide range of sources but also each aspect in enough depth to ensure that you understand it thoroughly. AS work tends to more concentrate on a particular aspect.

– sources. At AS level you are directed to sources which are aimed at your level whereas, because this was independent research on a topic which I had never touched upon before, it was difficult to pinpoint those sources which would be at a level I could understand (for instance the example I mentioned earlier in this log book about much of the neuroscience information being contained in medical journals which were simply too technical).

Both the points above mean that the research task can be quite daunting and it certainly was to start with. However as the first week or so passed, I found that I was starting to quickly pinpoint those sources which would either be irrelevant or out of my sphere of expertise. Doing an EPQ has definitely improved my research skills and this ability to discard unreliable or irrelevant sources will be very useful at A2 level and, even more so, at university.

– note-taking. I realised the importance of taking full notes and not excluding anything which I might need to refer to later. This however brings problems, in that there is a danger of plagarism and of simply having too much to wade through when you come to start your initial draft. After researching my initial sections, I realised that my notes were too detailed and I needed to restrict myself to salient facts, important quotes and so on. By taking note of the reference there and then I was able to go back to the source easily if I need to expand further on what I had noted. This has undoubtedly improved my note-taking which will be invaluable at university when researching for essays and also during lectures.

– time management. I consider myself relatively organised and do have timetables and lists and diaries at home however this project has spanned nearly seven months and, as I said early, is the largest project in terms of timescale I have undertaken. It would have been easy to think that my deadline was such a long time away that I had vast amounts of time to complete it but I simply incorporated ‘EPQ time’ into my normal timetable at home and did little and often. Doing the EPQ reinforced my belief that my time management technique is generally quite good and will stand me in good stead at university and in my career.

– drafting and editing. I normal write essays quite fluidly without pausing if I, for instance, cannot think of the word I need. I then return at the end, filling in the gaps and redrafting areas which stray off point. With my EPQ I ended up with more draft versions than I would normally have. This was for a number of reasons; to ensure I stayed within the word count limit, to ensure the project flowed as a whole not just sections and to ensure that I expanded and contracted those sections which needed it. I feel my essay writing technique has improved significantly; my final piece is much ‘tighter’ with little (if any) superficial content. When I compare it to my initial draft I can see a distinct improvement, flowing better, sticking to the point – a much better piece of work, despite the fact that I was actually relatively pleased with my first draft. This shows to me how important it is to be constantly refining a piece of work.

During my research I have been subjected to new language; both legal and otherwise, as most of the sources I used were from intelligent, articulate writers. This has expanded my vocabulary which I will try and apply when I come to write essays in other subjects. I enjoyed learning about the relationship between Government and the legal system and the conflicts which sometimes arise together with the impact public opinion and the media has on policy and, through that, statute. Surprisingly, one of the most interesting parts of the project to me was the neuroscience and cognative development side: I had not really know anything about it previously but it is definitely something that I will look at in more detail in the future. A skill which I have learnt is that of citing and referencing. Although I had done this before for essays it was on a very adhoc basis and, as I look back, probably wasn’t in line with widely recognised referencing systems. I think understanding the correct way to reference the vast range of sources was the most difficult part of the EPQ and took time to understand and apply but, given my chosen course and career, is likely to be very important.

There are very few changes which I would make if I did this again; I enjoyed the subject matter and produced a piece of work that I am pleased with, exceeding my deadlines thereby enabling me to submit my project for assessment early without having to work late. I would however have ensured that my references were all in the correct recognised format as I went along so that I could simply briefly review it at the end rather than having to check and amend each one individually. When writing my initial draft, I would also have continually referred back to the question so that I avoided including information which was interesting but not immediate relevant to the question thereby releasing word-count pressure and avoiding having to cut sections towards the end.

The advice I would give to anyone setting out to do an EPQ is:

– ensure that you plan. The plan might need amending as you go along to take into unforeseen events such as additional school work or more detailed research into sections of your project but at least if you have a plan you are focused and can see your interim and final deadlines.

– choose your question/topic well. 5000 words is 9 pages of typewritten lines and if it isn’t something that interests you it will be very difficult to keep your motivation levels up in order to complete the project.

– set and meet deadlines.

– make sure that you meet your advisor regularly

– get started straight away; don’t put it off

– do a little and often; breaking it into manageable chunks means it isn’t so daunting.

– take good quality notes – not too long though.

– keep note of your sources as you go along

– be prepared to write then re-write then re-write then re-write

written by Rachel Stanley

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