Entering academic competitions is purposefully challenging, always highly rewarding and certainly beneficial in terms of strengthening any future university application or CV. Particularly for competitive courses at leading institutions, there is a growing emphasis on super-curricular engagement with the chosen subject above and beyond the school curriculum. There is no better way to demonstrate your passion, curiosity and creativity than through producing and submitting an entry into an academic competition. These competitions are in addition to those advertised via subject teachers, year group bulletins and the Higher Education team. Pay attention to all notices and check your school emails regularly. Go on, give it a go! SY/CPD

Current Competitions

[Year 11 & 12] Dukes Education Essay Prize – The Dukes Education Essay Prize is open to all students in Years 11 and 12. It is inspired by the famous entrance test for All Souls College, Oxford, where students write an essay in response to a single word, from the perspective of a specific academic subject. The Prize rewards creativity, lateral approaches, and engagement with a subject beyond the curriculum. It is a fantastic opportunity to practice university-style assignments, and a prize is a great achievement to discuss on a personal statement. The words for this year’s competition are: Environment – Value – Citizen – Movement – Sequence – Vision – Duty. Students should pick one word as the title of their essay. They can then explore the title from the perspective of one or more academic subjects. How to enter: 1. Choose a title from the seven options above; 2. Write an essay of up to 1,500 words on that title; 3. Submit to by the deadline. Click here for more information, or speak to Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadline: 1st June 2020.

[Year 7-13] ‘Teddy Rocks Maths’ Essay Competition – The first ‘Teddy Rocks Maths’ competition is YOUR chance to write a short 1,000-2,000 word article about your favourite mathematical topic which could win you a prize of up to £100. All entries will be showcased at with the winners published on the St Edmund Hall, Oxford, website. Two prizes of £50 are available for the overall winner and for the best essay from a student under the age of 18. There are no eligibility requirements – all you need is a passion for Maths and a flair for writing to participate! Deadline: 12th March 2020.

[Year 12 Females] Newnham College Essay Prizes – We are pleased to announce that the 2020 Newnham College Essay Prizes are now open! All female students currently in Year 12 at a UK school may enter the prizes, which are offered in Biological Sciences, Computer Science, EngineeringHistoryModern and Medieval LanguagesMusicPhilosophy and Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, as well as our annual ‘Woolf Essay Prize’ with questions inspired by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. This year, we are also pleased to introduce two new essay prizes in Classics and Maths. Each of the Newnham Essay Prizes has a first prize of £400, a second prize of £200 and a third prize of £100. We welcome entries from interested students studying any combination of subjects. Each competition has a slightly different word limit, so please consult the questions and information sheet for each of the prizes. All essays must reference sources (including websites consulted) and provide a bibliography. Students may only submit an essay for one subject. Click here to find out more, or speak to Mr Yates (History) or Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadline: Friday 6th March 2020.

[Year 10-13] Write on Art Write on Art is an annual prize for young art writers aged 15–18, sponsored by Art UK and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. Art UK is the home for all art in UK public collections. It features over 230,000 artworks by over 40,000 artists. To enter Write on Art, all you have to do is pick one artwork featured on the Art UK website and write about it. What does it say to you? What’s the history behind it? How does it make you feel? Speak to Mrs Young (Art) or click here to find out more. Deadline: 31st March 2020.

[Year 12] Peterhouse Essay Competitions (History, Science & English) – Three prestigious annual essay competitions include Peterhouse’s Vellacott History Prize, the Kelvin Science Prize and the Thomas Campion English Prize. The Peterhouse Essay Competitions are a great opportunity for Year 12 students to start exploring their subject and get a taste of university-level research. It runs every year, with questions released in December and the deadline for entries falling at the end of March. Each competition has a prize pool of £750. Click here to find out more, or speak to Mr Yates (History) or Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadline: 20th April 2020.

[Year – All] GSAL Earthshot Competition – Open to all students in all year groups, this exciting competition challenges you to find creative solutions to Earth’s problems. Taking inspiration from the official Earthshot Prize established by HRH Prince William in 2019, the brief is to create and communicate an original solution to a chosen Earth problem. Can you repair the Earth before it is too late? Find out more by clicking here, and by watching this short video, or speaking to a member of the geography department. What are you waiting for? Deadline: Friday 24th April 2020.

[Year 7-13] Create a Puzzle for the Day – Create a puzzle for the Today programme’s ‘Puzzle for the Day’. Successful entries will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Puzzles that seem to work particularly well are those which are topical or fun; for example, about Valentine’s Day. Here’s the link to the website which lists all of the previous puzzles and answers. Submit your ideas via email to Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadline: None.

[Year 7-13] She Talks Science Blog – The ‘She Talks Science‘ competition run by Murray Edward’s College, Cambridge. The She Talks Science Blog is a space where young women who are interested in science can engage with one another. All you need to do to enter is write a blog-style article on anything science related. A selection of the best entries within GSAL, from both male and female students, will be published right here in The GSAL Journal. Furthermore, the best entry from a female student will be submitted to the She Talks Science blog. Please submit entries via email to Dr Dearden (Chemistry) or Mr Dodd (Geography). Deadline: None.

[Year – Various] University of Oxford Academic Competitions – Several colleges and departments of the University of Oxford run competitions which are open to students from schools and colleges. Preparing an entry for one of these competitions is a valuable experience for academically motivated students so please do encourage your students to enter. There are also some exciting prizes to be won. Click here to find out more, or speak to Mr Yates (History) or Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadlines: Various.

Past Competitions

[Year 7-9] Essay Competition 2020 – All students in Y7-Y9 are invited to enter the GSAL essay competition 2020. Answers must not be more than 1,200 words (including any footnotes but excluding bibliographies). Answers should be submitted as Word attachments by email to by no later than 4.00pm on Wednesday 12th February. Students should refer to and consider the assessment criteria here when planning, writing and proof-reading their responses. For more information, see Mr Yates (History). Deadline: Wednesday 12 February.

[Year 12] New College of Humanities Essay Competition – NCH is delighted to launch its 2020 Year 12 Essay Competition. We are inviting essay entries from ambitious and talented students from around the world, who are in their penultimate year of secondary education (equivalent to Year 12 in the UK). This is an opportunity to show both academic potential and passion in the humanities and social sciences. Entrants can choose one of the essay titles listed below. To see the competition rules and how to register for the competition please visit the NCH website here, or speak to Mrs Pratt (English) or Mr Dodd (Geography) in school. Deadline: 31st January 2020.

  • Art History: ‘Discuss the potential consequences of de-contextualisation for the art-historical study of a work of art’
  • Economics: ‘Which problems will economists need to solve within the next 20 years and will artificial intelligence help them?’
  • English: ‘We should not judge past literature by the standards of the present’. Discuss.
  • History: ‘How does knowledge of the past help prepare us for the challenges of the twenty-first century?’
  • Law: ‘Should the law allow government to strike special tax deals with certain companies in order to attract foreign investment?’
  • Philosophy: ‘Are we morally responsible for our actions, even if they are ultimately caused by factors beyond our control?’
  • Politics & International Relations: ‘How has warfare changed since WWII?’

[Year 13] St. Andrews Science & Theology Essay Prize – the University of St Andrews announces a worldwide essay competition to award a scholarship to prospective undergraduates to study theology. First prize is £40,000 towards tuition & fees (£10,000 x 4 years), and nine runner-up awards of £600. By 31 January 2020, write and submit a 1500-word essay, using one of the questions as your prompt. By 15 January 2020, apply to one of the undergraduate Divinity (or Joint) programmes using the standard undergraduate St Andrews application. Visit the St. Andrews website here, or speak to Mrs Fishburn (Religious Studies) in school. Deadline: 31st January 2020 (conditions attached).

[Year 12] Cambridge Chemistry Challenge (Chemistry) – This competition aims to stretch and challenge students interested in chemistry, and will provide an excellent experience for anyone considering taking their studies further. Set by an experienced team of teachers and university chemists, it is designed to be accessible to Year 12 students but will take them significantly beyond the syllabus and encourage them to think about science in the way they would at university. For more information, please click here or speak to Dr Dearden (Chemistry) in school. Deadline: TBC.

[Year 12 & 13] Chemistry Olympiad 2020 (Chemistry) – The RSC Chemistry Olympiad is the leading chemistry competition for students in secondary education across the UK. Run annually, the Olympiad is an opportunity for chemistry students to develop creative thinking and apply their existing knowledge in new and interesting contexts. The competition is made up of three stages, starting with a written test and ending with four students representing the UK at the prestigious International Chemistry Olympiad. Speak to Dr Dearden (Chemistry) to find out more and register your interest. Deadline: TBC.