Gifted and Talented: Extended Project Qualifications
The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) was introduced a few years ago to address the concern raised by many universities that first-year undergraduates lacked even the most basic research skills. The EPQ requires students to research an area of interest to them and to produce an “outcome” – typically, an essay of 4-5,000 words – that shows the fruit of that research. Students have to learn how to use the internet wisely to identify texts worth reading, for example, along with learning how to conduct interviews, format reports, compile bibliographies and give a brief oral presentation on their research findings. It is increasingly being recognised by universities as a valuable addition to a student’s academic portfolio when making an application.
MPW introduced the EPQ in September 2015. Four students enrolled and completed their projects over the course of the next two terms. In keeping with my experience of supervising the EPQ elsewhere, I was struck by the interest and commitment shown by them in four very different areas of inquiry. Scarlett Murray looked at the problems in modern Australian society concerning the integration of Aboriginals. Ed Langley looked at how the arts were helping people become more familiar with autism. Frankie Shaw examined how music in America in the middle of the twentieth century played a role in desegregation. Finally, Alexis Reilly investigated which factor was of greatest importance in determining the success of the D-Day landings. All four rounded off their projects with excellent presentations that invited a number of questions from their Directors of Studies who came to support them. I have already received twelve expressions of interest in the EPQ for the following year and so I hope that the initial four will ultimately prove to be the start of a permanent addition to the range of subjects that MPW has to offer. Below, three of the four write briefly about what the experience of the EPQ was like for them.
I have always been interested in military history, so decided to write my EPQ on some aspect of the Second World War. Having decided on the question "What factor was most significant to the success of the D-Day Normandy landings?", I began reading. Eventually, I concluded that intelligence was the most significant after several months of researching and writing. The importance of both intelligence gathering and deception were crucial to Allied victory in Normandy, as it was to winning the whole war.
I enjoyed the research part of the EPQ most, as it gave me the opportunity to learn more about a period of history that fascinates me. Writing the essay took quite a while, but by writing it in separate chapters over two terms I managed to complete it relatively painlessly. It was a useful experience in preparation for university, as I discovered the importance of time management and choosing a topic I was already interested in.
“Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music or a book can make a difference. It can change the world” – Alan Rickman (1946 – 2016)
For my EPQ, I looked at how the performing arts are making for a more inclusive twenty-first century society. I achieved this by looking at how autism is represented in the performing arts and how people have responded to these representations. Initially, I wanted to look at a variety of disabilities within the performing arts, and I started off with a range of disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy. However, the topic was just too vast, so I had to scale back my ambitions and I settled on writing about autism. Since I made that decision there has been a tidal wave of representations of autism. Within my essay, I looked into:
1. What we mean by disability and autism
2. What the legal framework of protection is for disabled people
3. How the access to the arts and participation have marched alongside that framework
4. Gender differences between the portrayals of males and females, with detailed performance analysis
5. Education and economics as a continuum to promote change
It was sometimes hard to find the information I needed but I was proud of myself for having persevered. I learned a lot about organisation, tenacity, collaboration and myself, and my tutor acted as a critical friend and mentor, who supported my project through thick and thin. This project also boosted my confidence, and it spurred me to contact many different sources to get quotes for the essay. I got a real sense of satisfaction from completing it.
Primarily, completing my EPQ has taught me how to research independently. I found this an enormously freeing and rewarding experience, since it is so unlike the control that there is in my A-level subjects. At times, I even found the EPQ to be a refuge from the repetitive nature of ordinary homework.
My topic was on Aboriginal Australians and how they have been integrated into modern-day Australian society. This led me to some fantastic books with the springboard of Robert Hughes’ beautifully written, comprehensive, The Fatal Shore, which acted as a motivation and a lesson in writing as much as it helped with the early history of European Australia. As well as this, I found Peter Read’s A Rape of the Soul So Profound, a deeply depressing read which starkly revealed to me the tragedy of the Stolen Generations and the culturally deprived, excluded people that it has left in its wake. I think this has possibly been one of my favourite aspects of the EPQ, as your understanding triples every time you read a book.
To anybody else doing an EPQ, I would suggest that they ensure are interested in what they are studying. It sounds so simple, but it is vital. If you are interested than you will find yourself working for your EPQ just by reading on the tube home and you will see it not as work but as reading done for pleasure. The amount of work and time needed for a successful EPQ is huge, and you will not commit yourself if you are uninterested. But if you have the self-discipline and application then the EPQ is the perfect opportunity to study and write about a topic that interests you.