Ashbourne offers a designated Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) programme for students applying for competitive degree courses or universities such as Cambridge, Imperial College, London School of Economics, Oxford and UCL. The EPQ is a formally assessed independent research project that involves writing a 5000-word essay and/or creating an artefact (i.e a material or digital product). The majority of Ashbourne students typically achieve an A* grade in their EPQs – in 2019, 89% of students attained A* grades, with half of those achieving full marks.
Why undertake an EPQ?
This qualification is an important factor of success in UCAS applications, particularly for degree subjects and universities for which there are very high levels of competition for places. It provides very clear evidence of super-curricular development, i.e. high levels of personal interest and competency in a specialist subject area beyond the A-level curriculum, and demonstrates skills and abilities in relation to personal intellectual development, academic research and academic writing that are the mainstay of success in an undergraduate degree.
“An essential truth to grasp in modern university applications is that the extended project, or more particularly the research which it reflects, has become the key to entry at most top universities.” Dr. Timothy Hands, Master of Magdalen College School, Oxford.
The role of the EPQ in facilitating the success of Oxbridge applicants at Ashbourne can be seen in the two examples below.
Anna completed her EPQ on the use of satire in Dante’s Inferno, which she discussed at length in her Personal Statement in her UCAS application to study English Literature. The EPQ was the main topic of discussion at her interview for a place at Cambridge University, which she was offered. When asked why she thought her interview had been so successful, Anna simply responded: “I just talked about my EPQ!”
Soala completed an EPQ on the use of sustainable architecture in her home country of Nigeria, looking at the adaptation of practices in traditional Nigerian architecture to contemporary theories and models of sustainable architecture. She was successful in her application to study Architecture at Cambridge University, which has a strong research specialisation in sustainable development.
Ashbourne’s EPQ programme
Ashbourne provides EPQ students with the specialist academic supervision and guidance to help them complete projects to a very high standard.
Students must come up with their own project idea which they discuss with their supervisor. There are no restrictions on what they may choose as their topic, but it is highly recommended that it is related to their proposed degree course – it is such an important facilitator of success in UCAS applications that most students elect to make that choice. Ideally, the topic should build on existing academic knowledge and go beyond the A-level syllabus – an example would be studying Italian Fascism in A-level History and then doing an EPQ on Mussolini’s military strategy in Africa in World War Two. Often topic choices with a strong personal or cultural dimension make for very successful EPQs as the research then becomes a journey of self-discovery as much as an academic and intellectual project.
Once the topic is agreed the student will draw up a full proposal including the project aims, initial plans, structure and format.
Production, Product and Presentation
The EPQ comprises three parts:
This is a reflective research journal, which should demonstrate the candidate’s ability to record and reflect on the process of production and assess the level of success achieved by the project.
EPQs can take a wide variety of forms including academic essays (5000 words), design and engineering projects, models or constructions, musical or theatrical performances, scientific investigations, multimedia productions, artworks and creative-writing projects.
Students present their final project to an audience of specialists and non-specialists using appropriate media. There is a live question and answer session during the presentation, overseen by the supervisor.
All projects must include a written report or essay of 1000 to 5000 words long depending on the exact nature of the project, which will be internally assessed and external moderated.
EPQ guidance and skills development
EPQs are demanding and require a high level of self-motivation, real curiosity in the subject matter and hard work.
Students will have the opportunity to discuss their ideas with staff who specialise or have experience in their specific subject area and will be invited to take part in small seminars and tuition groups to learn and develop skills vital for successfully completing their EPQ, which include:
- critical evaluation skills
- online resource knowledge
- research methods
- research writing skills
- presentation skills
- planning skills
Students are encouraged to gradually build up the required assessment material over a long period of time to create high-quality production logs and successful projects. The most common mistake made by students is in organisational planning. Writing a 5000-word essay, for example, takes a lot of detailed planning and this is the first time that students will have undertaken such a big project. The struggle to meet the deadlines is mitigated by internal deadlines being created that are well in advance – then the failure to meet deadlines becomes a positive learning experience that the student can carry with them to university rather than a demoralising and punitive one.
Successful candidates will demonstrate the ability to generate high-quality academic content, project manage, think critically and self-evaluate. The EPQ is graded on a six grade scale: A*, A, B, C, D and E.
Outstanding Extended Projects
- A 2020 project that used the art of The Dutch Golden Age to explore the arguments of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and vice-versa. This double analysis of the art and historical sociology argued that Weber, and 17th Century Dutch art in general, is crucial to our understanding of our current world.
- A 2019 study of the history of anti-Haitian racism in the Dominican Republic that involved original research in the candidate’s third language. The project allowed the candidate to interrogate their own social-cultural context as well as the political construction of racism in the Caribbean.
- A 2018 project on The Waves by Virginia Woolf that explored insights into the narratives and narratology of Walter Benjamin, which went on to encompass the works of Tacita Dean. The presentation for this project then used the ideas of Freud to help explain the arguments put forward in the rest of the project.
- A 2017 project examining the potential dental health benefits of ‘sugar tax’, offering a very thorough analysis of the epidemiological and fiscal implications of such a tax as well as a thoughtful discussion of the potential inapplicability of concepts of racism in American and European contexts. Also explored was the problem of universalisation in philosophy.
- A 2016 project examining the use of light in architecture, in which its application and technical development was considered from a historical perspective, from the Classical era up to the present day. This student’s EPQ facilitated her acceptance to study Architecture at one of the top schools of urban architecture in the UK (UWE) and even contributed to her success in gaining architecture work placements during her first year at university.