Advice for First Time Judges

If you’ve ever thought about being a student conference judge, here’s some advice to consider before signing up.  This blog is one in a series about the differences between competing in and judging student conferences.  Be sure to check out the rest of the story by reading the the pros and cons of judging and the biggest differences between competing and judging.

Judges measuring steel bridge members before construction

Read the Rules…Twice (or More)

It’s tempting to think that you already know the rules or that you can put that off until the night before.  This is especially true if you participated in these competitions as a student.  However, it’s important that you know the rules better than the students so you can make judgement calls about their performance.  These students have been studying every word of the rule book for the past nine months, so be prepared for some tough questions, on the spot interpretations, and well-thought appeals.

Enforce the Rules

Your primary job is the enforce the rules.  Don’t be afraid to assign a deduction if a team doesn’t follow them.  Your job is to interpret those rules and apply them.  If you’re judging the Concrete Canoe Competition, remember that each team has a chance to appeal their deductions.  This is a good opportunity to start a dialog about rule interpretation and allow the students to defend their decisions.

Make the Time Commitment

As I mentioned in the post about pros and cons of judging, four out of five judges agree that the largest downfall to judging is the time commitment.  If you agree to be a judge for a student conference, you need to set aside the time to do a good job.  These students spend thousands of hours working on their designs.  It’s pretty unfair to blow off all of that effort because you “didn’t have time.” Make time or don’t do it.

In my opinion, you need to set aside several hours to go through the rules a couple of times and highlight things that are important.  If you’re judging concrete canoe, plan on about 45 minutes per design paper you have to read.  Don’t expect to read them all in a single night or even a weekend.  I had to take a break after reading about four reports. Set aside about two hours the day before the competition to meet with the other judges so you’re all on the same page.  Of course, you need to be there every day of the competition, but the work doesn’t stop when the teams go home.  Often times you need additional time with the judges to discuss deductions, review appeals, and make decisions about the final products.  Finally, plan to attend the awards banquet and offer to take photos with the winners.  It’s a nice gesture and gives them an opportunity to ask for feedback.

Be Fair and Be Kind

This sounds straight forward but can actually be difficult sometimes.  In my opinion it’s better if you don’t judge the conference that you competed in.  It’s very difficult to go in without pre-conceived thoughts about your rival teams.  However, if you do judge for your alma mater’s conference, it’s wise to wait several years before doing so.  A good rule of thumb is to wait until you can honestly say, “I don’t know any of the students on the team anymore.”

Although it’s important to enforce the rules, it doesn’t mean you have to ask the toughest questions or prove that you know more than the students.  Of course you know more.  This is probably the first time they’ve even made concrete.  Just try to remember what they’re going through and be empathetic.  They’re nervous and scared and they’re all trying their best to make you happy.  It’s OK to smile, crack a joke, or just ask them how they’re feeling.

Do you have any advice for first-time judges? Leave a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Advice for First Time Judges

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