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Judging Guidelines and Tips

Interview Best Practices

ThoughtThoughtful Verbal Comment/ Question
This work is outstanding.If you say “Great job,” say it to every student. (BE CONSISTENT-DO NOT SHOW FAVORITISM)
This is my favorite topic/I love this topic.“How did you choose your topic?”
This project looks professionally made. I wonder if these kids had help.“How did you create your project?”
How could this student possibly have read ALL of these sources?“Please describe your research process. When did you begin gathering and reading your source material?”
This project needs so much work.“How is your project significant in history?”

Evaluation Form Best Practices

ThoughtConstructive Comment
This project needs a lot of work.You’re off to a good start. Consider strengthening your project by…
Performance is just not your thing but your research is strong.Your courage at creating a performance is admirable, but another category might enable you to demonstrate your research better. 
The documentary sound quality was awful.The audio quality of your documentary distracted from the overall project. Consider testing your audio on different systems and in different settings.
Your annotations don’t tell me whether you’ve even read these sources!Be careful to use your annotations to explain how you used your sources. 
Your project does not relate to the theme.Consider making a stronger case in your process paper for your project’s relationship to the theme.
I don’t agree with your interpretation.Reading ___ would have strengthened your entry by providing additional information on which to base your interpretation.   OR  Historians disagree on interpretation of this topic. Your case would be strengthened by finding additional evidence for ___.

Disqualification vs. Infraction

 Minor InfractionMajor InfractionDisqualification
DefinitionA violation that does not provide a competitive advantage.Exceeding any of the equalizers(time, size, words), thus creating a competitive advantage by being able to provide more information.

The ONLY grounds for this are:

  1. Reusing an entry from a previous year;
  2. Plagiarism;
  3. Tampering with another entry.
ExampleSchool name on process paper, exceeding word count by 10 words, etc. Exceeding words by 10+, size by 1 inch+, time by more than 5-10 seconds. 
ProcedureNote these in your comments. These  violations should not prevent an entry from advancing. Consider them only to break a tie between two entries that are otherwise equal.Note these in your comments.  These entries should NOT advance.  If they truly are the best, please consult with NHD staff.Please do not act on your own. Bring this concern immediately to NHD staff, who will decide if the entry should be removed from competition.

Sample Questions to Ask

  • Why did you pick this topic?  What gave you the idea to do this project?
  • What was your most important source and why?
  • What is the most important point you are trying to convey about your topic?
  • What is the most important thing you learned from this project?
  • As you did your research, what surprised you the most about the topic?
  • What did you find most difficult about doing the research for your entry?
  • How did your primary sources help you understand the topic?
  • How did you come up with the script or design for your entry?
  • What were the most important consequences of the person/event?
  • Why is this topic significant in history?
  • Is there something you were not asked but would like to talk about?

Questions NOT to Ask

  • Do NOT ask about their school, hometown, family background, or economic resources.
  • Do NOT comment on their appearance.
  • Do NOT ask students questions designed to trap or embarrass them—
    • ”Why didn’t you read the most important book about (your topic)?”
    • “How could you leave out/ignore…?”
    • “What makes you think you are entitled to write about this?”


  • Do NOT lecture students about their topics
  • Do NOT tell student how their project compares to the others or overall
  • Do NOT express your opinion about the topic

On the Judging “Floor”

Procedure for Each Entry

  1. Introduce yourselves and say “hello.”
  2. Explain the process to the student.
  3. Ask for and read the process paper and annotated bibliography.
  4. Ask the students to begin (documentary, performance) or begin viewing the exhibit.
  5. Keep the time using the timer provided (NOT your cell phone).
  6. Conduct the interview.
  7. Thank the student(s).
  8. Take notes as you go… in pencil.
  9. Stay on schedule!

*Paper and Website Judges – Please skip steps 3 and 4 (You have already examined these entries.)

Tips for Evaluation Form Comments

  • Avoid language that implies actual ranking or are just flattery.
    • Bad Examples:
      • Fantastic performance - best one today! Good job!” 
      • “This performance deserves a top award.”
    • Good Examples:
      • “Very nicely assembled documentary that is interesting and a pleasure to view. Your project is supported by a strong research base. Especially impressive are your interviews and primary sources.”
  • Reframe from negative comments that can be rephrased positively.
  • Consider individual circumstance and student’s access to resources.
  • Make sure the comments and the checkbox rankings are consistent. It is confusing to a student to receive an excellent check, but only negative comments or vice versa.
  • Use specific criticisms backed up by examples. Give the student an action plan for improvement.
    • Bad Examples:
      • You misspelled so many words on the exhibit.”
      • “You relied too much on two sources”
    • Good Examples:
      • “Although you have a good thesis statement, be sure to incorporate the theme words “Turning Point” throughout your key points. You must make the case for the connection to your theme.”