Ultimate STEM Challenge

Brought to you by BP, the Science Museum and STEM Learning

Judge feedback

The Ultimate STEM Challenge semi-final judging panel is made up of eight teachers and STEM Ambassadors. They had a difficult job this year, as the quality of the entries was higher than ever before. It was clear to see the level of effort and passion that all students had dedicated to their investigations, across each of the three challenges.

We asked our judges which features they look for in a winning entry. In summary, the best entries combined a strong creative or design response with at least one great investigation to test how well their idea works to solve the problem set by the challenge.

Research and ideas generation 

The best entries demonstrated that students had thought carefully about the challenge they were going to address. This might include initial research or creative work to generate the designs students would test, so the judges could see how students’ ideas responded to the real world problem the challenge addresses. Students did more than just copy the example investigation included in the challenge guide.

Strong scientific method

Entries were strongly rooted in practical science, rather than being purely creative responses, and included at least one great investigation.

  • Students generated designs to test and then developed a sound scientific method to test them, with a testable hypothesis and clear criteria for success.
  • Students showed the judges how they would deal with dependent, independent and control variables.
  • Students described their method well using words and imagery, so judges could identify that students had completed their practical tests with care and attention.
  • Older students could explain more advanced concepts to show how their experiments were valid, reliable and repeatable / reproducible.
  • Students showed their results as a table or chart, and if entering using a video, made sure the judges could read this information.
  • Students showed that they had taken repeated measurements and dealt with unusual results, so the judges could check their reasoning during judging.
  • Students could interpret their results well and draw good conclusions from the data.


Use of real-world examples to solve the challenge

The best entries didn’t stop there: students could explain some further ideas to explore or confirm their results or to develop their creative ideas in new directions, and some even included one or more additional investigations to test their ideas. They could apply their conclusion to modify their initial ideas and develop suggested real world applications to solve the challenge.

Clear communication skills

Whether video or PowerPoint, the best entries used a clear, step by step framework to communicate their ideas well and show the thinking and practical processes they had followed. The judges could follow how students’ thinking developed and understand their initial research and ideas, experimental design, results, conclusion and further ideas and creative solutions. These entries encouraged judges to take students’ ideas seriously.

Project presentation

Video entries

  • Videos were filmed somewhere quiet and students spoke clearly to camera.
  • Students used a range of creative devices to share information, using still and video imagery, data projectors, whiteboards or paper to show their practical work, data and designs.
  • Students avoided gimmicks but let their work and ideas shine through naturally while appearing professional.
  • Their data was easy to read (still photos or graphics work much better than videoing data in a projected presentation).


PowerPoint entries

  • PowerPoints were well laid out and included clear and detailed descriptions, clear photos, charts and tables of data.
  • The best entries avoided gimmicky design to put students’ work and ideas centre stage.

In both cases the judges were given enough detail to form their judgements, for example being able to see complete sets of results as tables or charts, and detailed descriptions and imagery of practical methods and how variables were controlled.


The best entries showcased students’ passion for STEM by demonstrating how they had gone beyond the minimum required to enter and focused their enthusiasm on their experimental work and design ideas, going the extra mile.

This showed how students had spent time on research and idea generation, and developed models to test using a range of methods including woodwork, moulding, 3D printing and more.

Students didn’t lose sight of the purpose of the challenge and followed their ideas though to give judges a clear idea of what they proposed and the science behind it.