The EPQ is a highly valuable part of the sixth form experience in the UK. It teaches many valuable skills, including long-form writing, planning, and most importantly time management. However, many pupils worry before taking on an EPQ that they will not have time to complete it, or it will take time away from their other study requirements. In this article, I will use my own experience of an EPQ to suggest how long you can expect to spend on each part of the EPQ process. I will also suggest some ways to effectively schedule your time, to ensure that you can complete an EPQ while still having time for your other commitments.
AQA recommends that students spend at least 120 hours on an EPQ. This includes planning, research, writing, and filling out the EPQ log and paperwork. Students usually begin the EPQ in the summer term of year 12 and finish it around the end of the autumn term. Overall, this leaves around 6 months for most students to complete their EPQ. This is easily enough time to complete the project, as long as you regularly work on your project, and effectively plan your time.
While this should have given you a simple answer to how long an EPQ takes, for a full breakdown of each section, as well as tips for scheduling effectively, please read on. Please note that much of this article is based on my personal experience of EPQ and is only guidance.
How much time should you spend on the EPQ overall?
The AQA specification for EPQ recommends that students should spend at least 120 hours overall on their project. This time includes planning, research, writing, and paperwork. For more information on how long each of these sections should take individually, please see the next heading.
This may sound like a lot of time, especially to a busy college student. However, remember that this time is spread across around 6 months. Most students find that if they dedicate a few hours a week consistently to working on their project it is completed well before the deadline.
While it takes some dedication to ensure the EPQ is completed to a high standard, most students find that this feels like a break from schoolwork. In fact, many choose to spend free time working on it, as they enjoy understanding their area of interest more.
Many universities also value the EPQ very highly, with some giving reduced offers to students who take this qualification. To see a guide to which universities value EPQ most highly, read this article from Think Student.
More information from the AQA website on EPQ, including the specification and guidance for students considering the qualification can be found here. If you are still unsure about whether to undertake an EPQ, this Think Student article has a helpful guide.
How long does each part of the EPQ take?
120 hours sounds like a long time, and it can be intimidating to try and work out which areas of the project to focus your attention on. I have broken the EPQ up into 4 stages to suggest how long you should spend on each area.
This is based on my personal experience of completing an EPQ, as well as advice from EPQ supervisors. I planned my time based on the mark scheme, spending more time on areas which gained more marks.
The first stage is planning. I would recommend spending around 24 hours across the whole project planning. This is because revisions and changes will continually have to be made to your plans as your interests develop.
The second stage is research, worth 20% of the overall marks. Research should also be allocated at least 24 hours over the process. This includes any surveys or experiments you undertake.
The third, and most exciting stage, is the essay or product. Essays tend to take less time overall than products, as they are usually a more linear process. However, both types of EPQ have 40% of marks allocated for completing the final product, so around 48 hours is ideal.
If you are writing an essay, this time will include initial drafts, as well as revisions, proofreading, bibliography and glossary writing. Furthermore, if you are doing a science-based project, it could include synthesising data from any experiments or surveys.
Finally, the fourth stage is the EPQ log. Again, the log gives 20% of your marks, so should take about 24 hours over the whole course of the EPQ. Some students choose to complete this as they go. However, others make notes at each stage, then type it up at the end.
How should you schedule time for the EPQ?
All of these numbers can seem intimidating, but scheduling time for them makes it easy to complete the EPQ. Think Student has an ultimate guide to writing an EPQ which I used throughout the process of writing, which can be found here.
One key tool that I used throughout my EPQ process was the Gantt chart. I used this to plan all my deadlines, both those I set for myself for individual stages, as well as final ones set by my supervisor. A free template can be found here, from TES resources.
I recommend setting yourself a goal each week for how much time you spend on the EPQ. For example, I used 2 of my free periods in school each week, 1 hour after school, and 2 hours at the weekend. Within this I divided up my time into different tasks, to make sure I met my deadlines and didn’t get behind in any key tasks or areas.
Furthermore, especially when completing the log, I found looking at examples of others’ work was hugely helpful. This YouTube channel created by Martin Blyth has invaluable tips and tutorials on all areas of the EPQ, including planning and is a brilliant resource for anyone during their EPQ process.
Ultimately, if you plan well, the EPQ will be a valuable and enjoyable experience in which you can get great marks. Remember to enjoy the process, and write down anything which works particularly well, or doesn’t work, as it will be hugely helpful to you in the future, particularly if you are moving on to further study at university.