Frequently Asked Questions
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Help For Kids
I am having problems submitting my story?
Often the pages not loading or not being able to get to the next page of registration can be cause by a browser/device/internet issue.
We recommend that you try the below:
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If you haven't received your activation email
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Some email providers can sometimes delay the delivery of email from their end it might be worth trying another email address if you have it as we have no control over what happens to the email after we have sent it successfully.
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If you are still having problems email email@example.com with as much information as to what the problem is - include any error massage or screenshots. We are a very small team and it can take up to 24 hours for us to reply.
What is 500 Words and how do I enter?
500 Words is a story writing competition for children.
You need to be between 5 and 13 years old and a full time resident of the UK.
To enter you need to write an original story that is no more than 500 words long.
Once you've written your story, you can enter it into the competition using the entry form on this website.
When is the competition open?
The competition will open at 8am on Thursday 16th January and close on the 27th February at 8pm
What is the prize for 500 Words?
As well attending a spectacular 500 Words Final at Buckingham Palace where superstar celebrities will read the winning stories live on the radio, six amazing illustrators: Tony Ross, Fiona Lumbers, David McKee, Sue Cheung, David Roberts, and Margaret Sturton – will each be set the task of illustrating one the winning stories.
The winners in each age category will also receive:
Gold Winners - Chris Evans' height in books and 500 books for their school.
Silver Winners - HRH The Duchess of Cornwall's height in books.
Bronze Winners - Their own height in books.
There is also a BRAND NEW Prize for 2020 and it doesn’t matter how good your story is just that you enter one. One entrant will be selected at random to receive a fabulous book bundle and an invite to the final (for child plus a parent or guardian). They will also win 500 books for their school – so the more pupils a school has that has entered the more chances they have of winning a brand new library.
Read more about the prizes here.
How are the stories marked?
The first round of judging will be done by volunteer teachers and librarians across the UK.
The second round of judging will be done by trained professionals at The Reading Agency; 50 stories (25 in each age category) will be shortlisted.
The writers of these 50 stories will be the competition’s finalists.
Our final judging panel will convene in May and decide on the 6 winning stories.
These 6 stories are Bronze, Silver and Gold in each age category.
When will you announce the Top 50 stories?
The Finalist stories are announced in May
Can I submit more than one story?
You can only enter one story - and it has to be all your own work.
If you enter more than one story then we'll only consider the first submission as part of the competition.
Can I write a story in Welsh/Gaelic?
All stories must be submitted in English.
Can people overseas enter?
While we would love to extend the reach of 500 Words, we already are a HUGE competition - we received over 100,000 entries last year. We're a tiny team (of three) working on this, so you can imagine that we currently don't have capacity to do so!
Can a story be submitted without an adult’s approval?
No - we need an adult to approve the entry and agree to these Terms and Conditions (including the BBC’s use of the story submitted and the fictional nature of the story) on behalf of the entrant, by way of a check-box in the online form.
The adult could be the child’s parent, guardian or teacher.
The adult must provide their own contact details (not the child’s) and the region in which the child lives.
Why do you need personal information?
The personal data provided will be used for the purposes of administering the competition and in accordance with the BBC’s Privacy and Cookies Policy.
The BBC will use the contact details provided by the adult to send general updates as to the progress of the competition by email.
For further information please see the BBC’s Privacy and Cookies Policy
Does the story have to be original?
Your story must be all your own original work - you must not copy someone else's story.
Any entry deemed to be a copy by our judges will be disqualified.
Your story must be an original piece of fiction and not an account of real events – either historical or current.
However, your stories can:
- feature well known public figures from today or from history (e.g. Wayne Rooney or Charles Darwin)
- take place in historical eras (e.g. the English Civil War)
- use real-life experiences as a creative springboard as long as the story is fictional.
Can I write about a character from a book I've read?
Entrants can use fictional or real-life characters, as a creative springboard but we're looking for made up stories, which will be marked for characterisation, as well as originality, plot, language and enjoyment.
Can visually impaired students enter?
We’ve had a great success rate among visually impaired students previously, including a finalist! Should your student win, we will make sure that the prize is appropriate.
Is there a minimum word limit?
Stories can be 500 Words or under. There is no lower limit.
Is the title included in the word limit?
The title will not be included in your word count.
Can an adult correct the spelling of a child's story?
You may correct spelling where the meaning of the word might otherwise be misconstrued. However, we ask that none of the words used are changed. Grammar also has to stay the same.
Stories are marked on their creative use of language, not on correct spelling.
May I scribe for my child?
You may scribe for your child, as long as none of the words used are changed.
Stories are marked on their creative use of language, not on correct spelling.
Will I be penalised if I write a story including violence?
We accept that stories of a dark or troubling nature will be submitted to us and while we don’t have any hard and fast rules regarding depictions of violence, we recommend that graphic depictions of extreme violence may be marked down.
What are the criteria for judging the stories?
Entries will be judged on the following criteria:
For more information about the judging process please see the Terms and Conditions.
How did we come about 5-9 and 10-13 as our age categories?
When we decided upon the age categories, we consulted the National Literacy Trust, the children's department at the Hay Festival and BBC Learning - all of whom have extensive experience of competition for children's reading and writing - and all of whom agreed our age categories were appropriate to our aim of promoting literacy in the UK.
In an ideal world with limitless funds, we would run an enormous 500 WORDS competition with lots of age categories that everyone could enter with a good chance of winning. But sadly this is not possible, so we have selected two age categories that we feel can be reasonably compared to each other.
Is the competition appropriate for children with special needs or learning disabilities?
Right from day one, Chris Evans' vision for 500 WORDS was to get children excited about reading and writing. All children, no matter what their ability.
And when considering the parameters for the competition, we consulted with the National Literacy Trust, the children's department at the Hay Festival and BBC Learning, who all have considerable experience of running competitions for children.
The emphasis of 500 WORDS - which we communicate to absolutely all of our judges at every stage - is on originality and creativity. To this end, we would like to think that children with special educational needs could still be selected to progress. Every year we get e-mails confirming that this is the case!
We do also work closely with a multitude of organisations on subjects like dyslexia, learning disabilities and vision impairment and our marketing campaign is weighted towards schools with high pupil premium. We work with about 20,000 schools on this competition, a lot of whom teach the competition in schools. We've had a number of medal winners with learning disabilities, and many among our finalists. Increasing the diversity of our finalists is a constant fight, but we are working very hard on it.
Does my story have to be written in prose?
Any submission will be judged on the same marking criteria. Your story can take any form - be that a poem, play, dialogue etc - but it will be marked on plot, enjoyment, originality, language and characterisation like any other story, and not receive any special consideration because of its structure.
I made a mistake on my story submission form - what can I do?
You will not be able to change any details or edit your story after it has been successfully submitted to us.
I didn't save a copy of my story - can you please send me a copy?
We’re sorry but we can't return stories.
This was made clear on the submission page because, with the huge number of entries to this competition, it would not be possible to cope with the extra administration required.
I've sent in my story - when will I hear back?
Once your story has been submitted you will receive an automated email receipt.
You will be notified if you have or have not been long listed from our first round of marking. Sometimes emails go astray, so please do check your junk mail folder. If you think you are missing an update, we'll endeavour to get one to you as soon as possible.
The parents or guardians of the top 50 successful entrants will usually be contacted by a member of the production team in April/May.
Those who have not been shortlisted will also be notified.
When is the 500 Words Final?
The 2020 500 Words final will be on the 12th June 2020. This will now be a virtual final and will not be at Buckingham Palace as previously planned.
Can I go to the 500 Words Final?
The Top 50 shortlisted entrants will receive a pair of tickets to the final (for the entrant and a parent or guardian).
All entrants of the competition will given the chance to enter into a random ballot to join the virtual final.
You will be emailed the link to apply for tickets if you entered a story and ticked to receive competition updated in your profile.
Winners of the ballot will be notified.
Help for Judges
Who can apply to be a volunteer judge?
Anyone who is a teacher or librarian (retired, in training or current) and a full time resident of the UK (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) can apply to be a volunteer judge as part of 500 Words.
You will be asked to supply contact details of someone who can validate your application. Retired teachers are advised to put down an old colleague as a referee if possible.
Can teaching assistants or trainee teachers apply?
We're happy to confirm that we welcome volunteer judge applications from teaching assistants and trainee teachers. If you've got the qualifications or experience to assess the written work of children, aged 5-13, then please apply online!
Why can only teachers or librarians apply?
We need our volunteer judges to have the experience of assessing children’s written work, because we’re relying upon them to bring this expertise to the first stage of our competition.
The question we ask is whether they’re able to “assess the written work of children aged 13 and under?" We receive thousands of requests to judge for the competition, and are delighted to receive them. However, we need a point of qualification or comparison by which to say that our judges definitely are eligible to mark our stories; experience in marking children’s work is crucial.
My child or class is entering the competition, can I become a judge?
Parents or teachers of children entering the competition are very much welcome to sign up to be a judge. We use a complex database which assigns stories to judges from a region different to their own, so there shouldn’t be any crossover.
Who can validate my application?
This should be a manager (e.g. Head Teacher, Deputy, or Head of Department) who can vouch for your professional eligibility and confirm they are happy for you to volunteer your time.
If you are retired or on a career break, please use your last boss or someone you deem qualified to vouch for you.
If you are having trouble getting someone to verify you get in touch with the 500 Words administrators at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was a judge last year - can I help again?
When does the judging period take place?
The judging period for 2020 is 27th February - 23rd March. Super judging will take place 23rd March - 1st April.
How many stories will a judge be asked to mark?
Volunteer judges will be asked to read a batch of about 20 stories. Each one will be no more than one A4 side. You can request more stories if you want to mark more than 20.
As a volunteer judge can I come to the 500 Words final?
All teachers and librarians taking part in the judging will be invited to apply for tickets to the virtual final.
There is only a limited number of tickets available so they will be a random draw. If you are successful you will receive a link to the Zoom Party to join the finalist while we announce the winners.