How to Become a Judge

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Leotard fashions come and go. Compulsory routines eventually change. But one hallmark of gymnastics remains: “What’s up with that score?”

Perhaps you’re a parent, coach, or former gymnast who yearns to crack the mystery of competition scores. Or perhaps you simply own a navy blazer that you’re itching to wear. Whatever the reason, if any of the following qualities ring true, you’re a perfect candidate for becoming a judge:

  • You’re passionate about the sport of gymnastics and aim to deepen your knowledge and experience.
  • You appreciate details, such as the angles of casts and the degrees of leaps and jumps.
  • You can make quick and accurate evaluations while performing basic arithmetic.
  • You enjoy listening to the compulsory floor music for hours at a time.

Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

Make sure your USA Gymnastics professional membership is in order. After, visit the judging section of the USA Gymnastics website to find test locations and dates convenient to you. You’ll also be able to purchase the compulsory book and the JO Code of Points directly from USAG.

The entry-level exams are the compulsory test (Levels 4/5) and the beginning optional test (7/8). Once you pass the 7/8 test, you must wait one year before testing for Level 9 (and the same holds true for Level 10). Passing the compulsory test means you’re certified to judge all levels up to Level 5, and passing the optional test allows you to judge Level 6 as well.

Study, study, study. Many states offer clinics and exam prep sessions; you can find your state director here and contact them to learn about upcoming events. The National Association of Women’s Gymnastics Judges (NAWGJ) website has a number of resources available, including videos and practice tests.

“Do I really need to know all of the deductions?” you may ask. The answer: pretty much. In addition, not all deductions are created equal. Some, like failing to move the springboard after a gymnast’s mount, are a flat .3. Others, like bending one’s legs, range from .05 to .3, meaning it’s up to the judge’s discretion. This can also account for a variation in scores from meet to meet for the same routine; one judge’s .05 might be another judge’s .15.

Take the exam. The compulsory test is multiple choice and features questions on skill order in the routines, skill values, and deductions and penalties. (Hint: there’s a good chance there’ll be a question on the deductions to take for a gymnast who fails to complete the beam dismount).

The optional tests include both a multiple-choice section and, for Levels 8 and up, a practical component. For the latter, you’ll watch videos of five routines on each apparatus and write down your score. You’ll need to know the special requirements, connection value rules, and the values of common skills.

No matter how prepared you are, you might walk out of the exam feeling as exhausted as though you’ve just competed in a meet yourself. (Was the Level 8 who missed her beam series three times in a row a trick question? Did that Level 10 really forget her full turn, or is your brain that fried?) However, once you receive the email notifying you that you’ve passed, it will all be worth it.

Now it’s time to suit up in your blazer, sharpen your pencil, and raise your hand, signaling for the gymnast to begin.

Diana Gallagher is a gymnastics coach and judge, former collegiate gymnast, and writing professor. Her young adult novel about a gymnast, Lessons in Falling, is in bookstores now. To learn more, visit

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