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Different Grading Models - what are the pros and cons of each?

Posted May 20 2010 12:00am 2 Comments
I have been struck by the many different ways in which martial arts students can be graded. In Ariel's latest post called 'Anxiously waiting for class tonight' , she says that she is expecting to test any time now in one of her lessons. Apparently her instructors don't announce testing dates and she doesn't appear to have a defined syllabus. This got me thinking that there are indeed many ways to grade students in martial arts. I have come across a few different grading models and I'm sure they all have different advantages and disadvantages.

In my karate club we have club gradings. These are held monthly, at a weekend (not in normal class times). All students are provided with a provisional date for their next grading. If, in the preceding two or three weeks, you are considered ready to grade by this date you are invited to attend the grading session. If you are not quite ready then your grading is postponed to a later date.

In a grading session there may be anything from about 6 students to 16 students grading together ranging over 3 or 4 different kyu grades. You are tested against a pre-set syllabus and the grading officer will alternate between segments of the syllabus for each kyu grade present. Combinations are assessed in kyu grade groups but kata are performed individually. All partner work is assessed one pair at a time or sometimes in groups of pairs (if there are a lot of people testing). When you are not being assessed you either stand quietly at the back or you may be allowed to quietly practice. Gradings generally take around 2 hours to complete but my last one took 5 hours because there were so many of us.

We are graded by our own instructor, though this is not the case for all clubs in our organisation ( SSK ) as some of the instructors are not qualified grading officers. In these clubs the instructor invites an instructor with grading officer status to grade his/her students. At kyu grade, assessment is by a single grading officer. At the end of the grading all the students line up and the individual marks for each segment for each student are announced and students congratulated. New belts can be bought on the day or later and certificates are presented a week or two later in class.

For Dan gradings the situation is different. These are not club level gradings but are done at the organisation level in front of a panel of three high ranking grading officers, one of which may be your own instructor.

This way of grading is in complete contrast with my jujitsu/kobudo club. This club is part of the World Jujitsu Federation (WJJF) and follows a WJJF approved syllabus. All kyu gradings are done locally, but externally to your own club, by a high ranking grading officer who must not be your own instructor. Gradings are held quarterly at weekends and your instructor enters you for a grading when he thinks you are ready.

At the grading there will be several dozen people of all kyu grades waiting to test (in either jujitsu or kobudo). However students are called up individually to the 'grading mats' from the 'training mats', along with their uke and are assessed on their whole syllabus within 10 to 20 minutes. All students then wait for the presentation ceremony at the end where there grade is announced and they are presented with their certificates.

Again, Dan gradings are done at national level.

When my husband was training in jujitsu at another club the grading model was different yet again. Kyu gradings were done within normal classes. There would usually just be one student testing and the assessment would take place at a suitable point in the lesson. The rest of the students would sit around the edge of three sides of the mats and any black belts present would sit along the fourth side along with the instructor who would perform the grading.

The student testing would be assessed on their pre-set syllabus, then the black belts or instructor could ask for any techniques to be repeated. At the end of the grading the lesson would resume whilst the instructor considered his 'verdict'. The student testing would then be approached privately by the instructor and told of the outcome. At the end of the lesson an announcement would be made to the whole class and the certificate presented. Again, Dan gradings were done at national level.

Lets unpick what is happening in these different grading models
1. Graded internally by own instructor vs graded externally by appointed grading officer.
2. Graded within normal class lessons vs graded in special grading sessions.
3. Graded individually vs graded in groups
4. Graded to set syllabus vs graded to unknown or individually set syllabus

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these methods?

1a. Graded by own instructor:
Advantage: Grading in a familiar environment by someone you know - less stressful.
Disadvantage: The need to maintain objectivity in assessment may lead to more stress for the instructor because he/she knows the students and may know of circumstances that lead the student to perform sub-optimally.

1b. Graded by external grading officer:
Advantage: Less stressful to grade students you don't know - easier to remain objective.
Disadvantage: More stressful to student - unfamiliar surroundings and people. Grading officer may have slightly different interpretation of the syllabus to student's own instructor so student may have to be adaptable (this might be viewed as an advantage of course!).

2a. Graded in normal classes:
Advantage: Easier to arrange. Familiar environment. Other students get a 'preview' of what to expect themselves when graded at that level.
Disadvantage: May be viewed as disruptive to normal lessons.

2b. Graded in special grading sessions:
Advantage: Can grade a lot of students together. Can focus entirely on the grading - not concerned with needs of non-grading students.
Disadvantage: Takes a lot more organisation. Grading sessions can take a long time to complete for the instructor/grading officer.

3a. Graded individually:
Advantage: Student gets instructors/grading officers full attention for whole of grading and the grading is comparatively short.
Disadvantage: May be more stressful for student as they are focus of attention all the time.

3b. Graded in groups:
Advantage: Lots of students can be graded at one time. Students very supportive of each other during the grading.
Disadvantage: Students and instructors/grading officers have to maintain high level of concentration for a long time.

4a. Graded to set syllabus:
Advantage: Student knows in advance exactly what they will be tested on and can prepare.
Disadvantage: No flexibility. Doesn't cater for students with special needs i.e disabled students who can learn some techniques effectively but cannot do others. Makes it difficult for these students to progress with training.

4b. Graded to unknown or individual syllabus:
Advantage: Unknown syllabus - tests student's ability to be adaptable and think on their feet. Student needs a broad range of knowledge and techniques. Individual syllabus - tailored to students strengths/needs rather than weaknesses. Enables students with disabilities to progress through the system.
Disadvantage: Unknown syllabus - harder to prepare for and more stressful. Individual syllabus - student may not receive training in full range of their martial arts system. Both - may result in variable standards of achievement for different students - no consistent standards or benchmarks across all students

This is not an exhaustive list of the pros and cons of different models of gradings. Do you know of any other grading models? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of these? What do you think is the ideal grading model?

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Comments (2)
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There's the "Old School" way = You're ready only when the teacher says you are.  
Hi Ciani, yep! Hadn't thought of that one!
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