How to Write an EPQ Essay

Writing an EPQ essay can seem like a daunting task, which is why we’ve written this nine-step guide to help make the whole process easier.

In addition to the A-Levels you’re already doing, you can choose to take an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). An EPQ is an independent research project, and it’s extremely beneficial as it counts towards UCAS tariff points.

Consisting of around 5,000 words, an EPQ essay is an in-depth assignment which takes about 120 hours to complete.

That may seem like a lot of extra work to take on alongside your existing studies, however it can be hugely beneficial when applying to get into university.

Choosing to undertake independent research and reading can prove to future educators that you’re willing to take on extra work to really show what you can do academically, as well as demonstrating that you have interests that go beyond the curriculum. An EPQ sits nicely with a summer school course such as a law summer school, business summer school, engineering summer school and medicine summer school. During your course you have the chance to explore and understand your subject further, demonstrating your commitment to your studies, and develop ideas for your EPQ.

How do you write an EPQ essay?

To write an EPQ essay, you need to: come up with a compelling idea that you’re interested in, write down everything you know about the subject to generate further ideas, find the best essay question to use, reference your sources properly, write a sharp introduction and conclusion, get feedback on your essay, and make sure you double-check your work before submitting it.

The key to writing any extended document is planning, which is why we’ve written this nine-step guide to help you write the best EPQ essay.

Read on for our top tips on how to write an extended project essay.

9 steps to write your EPQ essay

1. Come up with an idea

One of the main reasons students fail their EPQ is because they’ve chosen the wrong subject matter. It’s vital that you choose a topic you’re genuinely interested in, otherwise you won’t have any motivation to work on it. Because of the extra workload, many students choose to start their EPQ over the summer holidays, and with all the distractions that summer brings (trips to the beach, sunbathing in the garden or hanging out with friends in the park) there’s even more reason to pick a subject you don’t find boring, or you’ll just look for any excuse to avoid doing it. Before finalising your topic, you might want to discuss your ideas with your supervisor so they can check you’re on the right track.

2. Write down everything you know about the subject.   

Before doing any extra reading, it’s really helpful to write down everything you already know about your chosen subject. This can help to get your thoughts and ideas – which are often jumbled up – out of your head and down onto a piece of paper or computer screen so that you can begin to organise and make sense of them. This is also useful for identifying any gaps in your knowledge. However, if the gaps in your knowledge are vast and your chosen topic isn’t giving you enough inspiration, don’t be afraid to abandon your original idea entirely and come up with something new. It’s better to start again from scratch at this stage, rather than 2,000 words in.

3. Think of a question

Whatever your chosen topic, you’ll need to think of a question to answer. This is an extremely important part of your EPQ and will form the basis of your essay, so it really is worth thinking long and hard about. The way in which you phrase your question or hypothesis will affect the structure and flow of the whole essay. For example, some typical essay question formats include ‘Compare and contrast’, ‘Critically evaluate’ and ‘Analyse and conclude’. The type of question you want to answer will affect whether you need to highlight and critique a number of theories or evaluate how useful a particular concept is. And remember that your extended project essay needs to be approximately 5,000 words long, so you should choose a question that allows for extended research and arguments. It’s also worth bearing in mind that questions without definitive answers are better as there will generally be much more to write about.

4. Research the topic

Next, you should start thinking about the main body of the essay and how you’re going to go about fleshing out your ideas. Ideally, this step should take up half the amount of total time you spend working on your EPQ essay. You should spend a good deal of time reading books, papers and online journals that have been written about your chosen subject. The Internet is an excellent source of information, but anyone can write anything and publish it online, so make sure your sources are credible and recognised by the examining body. Wikipedia, for example, should be avoided as a reliable source of information as anyone can edit the text that’s been written there. While doing your research, you’re going to come across many different opinions and arguments and it’s all going to come from a variety of sources. So now is also a good time to think about how you’re going to organise it all.

5. Remember to reference your sources

As with any piece of academic work, referencing your sources is vital so the examiners can check you’re not plagiarising. It’s also good to demonstrate that your information has come from a range of places so the person marking your essay can see that you’ve researched your topic widely and have considered several different viewpoints. You’ll need to provide a bibliography at the end of your EPQ essay and if you can’t say where your information has come from, you’ll be unable to use it, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing this as you go along. Whether you choose to create a spreadsheet on your computer or annotate photocopies and clippings with a pen, it doesn’t matter how you go about doing this as long as you remember to do it. It’ll make your life so much easier in the long-run!

6. Create subsections

Splitting your essay up into sections can help to make sure you’re writing enough and exploring the topic in as much depth as possible. Keep your word count in mind when dividing up your essay and try to split each section equally. But while mini topics are good for breaking the 5,000 words down into more manageable chunks, you have to make sure each one relates back to your original question, otherwise you could risk wasting some of those words on irrelevant information. Don’t sacrifice the important stuff by shoehorning facts and figures into your chosen subsections. It’s worth thinking about the order of these sections too. It’s usually best to write in a ‘news story’ format, with the most important subtitles at the top and the less relevant stuff filtering down to the bottom, however you could consider working chronologically if that works better for your chosen topic.

7. Write an introduction and a conclusion

As strange as it sounds, it can be helpful to write your introduction and conclusion paragraphs once you’ve completed the main body of the essay. This is because your thoughts on the subject matter are more likely to be more organised, therefore it will be easier to summarise the main points clearly and concisely. Your first paragraph should introduce the subject matter, briefly expanding upon your question and how you’re going to go about answering it, while your conclusion should refer back to the title and answer the question you asked at the beginning of your essay. Ensure that both paragraphs are as direct and succinct as possible, in order to show that you have a clear understanding of your topic.

8. Ask for feedback

Whether it’s a friend, a relative or – even better – your course tutor, it’s a good idea to have your work checked over by someone else. Because you’ve spent hour upon hour absorbed in your subject matter, you can lose sight of certain things, so it makes sense to have your EPQ essay looked at from a different viewpoint. A second opinion can ensure that everything you’ve written is concise and accurate and the person checking your work can give you advice on what to leave out or add in; especially if they already have some knowledge on the subject matter.

9. Double-check everything before submitting your work

It’s a good idea to leave it a day or so before coming back to your essay to proofread it so that you’re viewing it with a fresh pair of eyes. We recommend going over it a couple of times – once to check that you’ve covered everything in terms of the subject matter and another for housekeeping. You want to ensure that you don’t lose any marks for basic things like spelling, punctuation and grammar. You should also take this time to make sure footnotes are accurate, as well as checking over any graphs, charts, diagrams and images.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this step-by-step guide and we’re confident that you now have everything you need to go on to successfully write an EPQ essay. Good luck!