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stevem's picture
Grading Awards

Hi guys,

I'm just wondering which grading 'system' people use when it comes to awarding grades. Do you use a basic 'Pass/Defer/Fail' model or do you delve a little deeper with, say, a 'Distinction/Merit/Pass/Defer/Fail' model or perhaps something totally different?

Which do you prefer? I ask as in the two arts I study both use different systems and both chief instructors swear by their own methods.

Cheers, Steve

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I tend to have the first one "'Pass/Defer/Fail'" as my model for grading

we have various sections and the candidates score up to 10/10 for each section having minimum scores for relevant grades. Each grading is a panel, it therefore goes on to an average grade for the candidate for their grading then averaged between the Grading panel to see if the pass or fail as 1 instructor could fail them but the others passed them therefore they pass, if it is tied, the senior Examiner's grading is counted for.

For me you either pass or fail, Its an individual journey anyway so what might be a pass for one person might not be a pass for another.

Quick2Kick's picture

I've found that for the most part rank is a measure time and not necessarily of skill or knowledge. To answer the question pass/fail as for preferences no test at all but rather give out promotions when needed/earned/deserved

stevem's picture

We operate a simple system at the karate club I attend. Every three months we have gradings which are in front of a panel. Students are awarde either a Pass or a Fail or, on rare occasions, a Deferral where they've almost done enough but just need to tighten up one or two things. Once complete, all students are given feedback in the form of a comments sheet from the chief instructor based on feedback gathered by the panel during the grading. It's been this way since 1984 and I've never questioned it... until I went through a different system...

The Jujitsu club I attend use a different method. Gradings are more formal and you're assessed by one senior examiner, either one to one or in pairs depending on numbers etc. The examiners are all instructors from the three main clubs which form the small association and no examiner grades students from their own club (unless it's unavoidable but it's never happened to me yet). Once you've been assessed and the day's deeds are done, you're given either a Distinction, Merit, Pass or you Fail. 

Having been through both types I can see pros and cons to both though I wouldn't expect any model to be 'perfect' in how it works - someobody somewhere will always be tricky to please!

I was asking the question as, one day, it'd be nice to have my own club and this just crossed my mind the other day and wouldn't rest. I like the idea of Distinctions etc but, saying that, I'm from an academic background so outside of martial arts I'm used to being assessed and awarded distinctions or merits or passes rather than a simple generic 'pass'. I just feel it could offer a carrot for students to push themselves that little bit further to gain the better pass rating rather than simply do enough to get by (such students are rare but not unheard of; I was a lazy sod myself at times when I was a kid); but, in saying that, I also wonder if seeing other students picking up distinctions when you're picking up merits might inadvertently damage a student's confidence? We're wanting to build students up rather than knock them down.

So, I was just curious to see which system(s) people favoured - or even objected to - as I'm sure there are other models I haven't been exposed to which work equally well.

Tau's picture

I'm an academic too (Bachelor's level) and I agree that this does affect your thinking.

I've never understood why the student gets no feedback of academic examination, just a final mark of their GCSE, A-Level or whatever.

I have chosen to use the following method in the clubs that I run. I've modified it over the years but not radically. It seems to work.

- The assessment form is started even before the grading. The student's primary Sensei will state the student's attendance level. They may also describe health or social problems that the examiner should be aware of or any other areas of particular merit related to the student's progress

- The student's primary Sensei won't grade them where possible. The rest of the assessment sheet will be completed at the grading

- Ultimately the student will get a feedback sheet summarising the above. They will get a pass/merit/distinction mark. This means everything is transparent. The pass/merit/distinction is known only to the student and the Sensei. This negates stevem's concern about damaging confidence.

The organisation that I used to teach for encouraged (but I didn't agree with or use) a system whereby every kyu-grade student got a number of stripes on their belt which was essentially their pass mark, 0-5. Very public.

As an aside, when someone tried to sue me a few years ago, my grading assessment sheet was one of the things that enabled me to defend myself. One of the claims made by the suing student's solicitor was that I hadn't assessed the capability of the student to carry out the "task." Because she had a record of marks awarded for her grading I was able to prove otherwise. Admittedly I could have faked this and created it after the event but I didn't.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture
Sad to hear of students sueing. One of the Enshin branch chiefs in Europe was sued by a husband and wife that didn't pass their tests. The claim included 'hurt feelings' which made me laugh out loud and they sought the refund of all fees paid since they started as 'they'd obviously not been taught properly'. My own club uses a panel of three and two votes is a pass. For exceptional effort they may double grade but this happens rarely. Feedback is given in private but most who get held back know they weren't up to scratch. Gary
Th0mas's picture

Tau wrote:
As an aside, when someone tried to sue me a few years ago, my grading assessment sheet was one of the things that enabled me to defend myself. One of the claims made by the suing student's solicitor was that I hadn't assessed the capability of the student to carry out the "task." ....

Wow what a total nightmare for you! kind of suggests they might have missed the point of training... unless it was just to get a nice new coloured belt...

"Fashon and accessories" Clearly that's something Iain needs to add to his martial map :)

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Personally I go with a very simple Pass / Fail; but either way myself and the rest of the panel are going to take time to give the candidate plenty of feedback on what went well, what needs improved, and what needs factored in for the next step along the way.

I appreciate this would not be practical if large number s of people were grading, but for small groups / individuals (which is pretty much how I grade these days) it works very well. For larger groups I can see how the “A,B, C, etc” rankings could work, but I feel this would also need to be accompanied by some brief written or verbal feedback so the student has direction for their retest or next rank.

All the best,


kdj-joe's picture

At my school we have pass , fail and minor fail. A minor fail is were the tester need work on one or no more that two things ie a form, required break. they are given a week or two to pratice and then retest at their home school on thos items. If they can not do it there then they retest at the nest group test about two/ three month later.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture
This subject does illustrate how times have changed. As a kid I travelled to Haringey in London, got wiped out for three hours then had my (unsigned) book returned by one of the instructors who simply said "see you in six months". I would never have dared question the examiners, I just left disappointed but determined to do better next time. Gary
Tau's picture

To clarify, I wasn't sued because of the grading. I was sued (well, they tried to sue me but failed at the first step) because of my alleged negligence in minimising risk and allowing an injury to happen. Among other things the student's solicitors claimed that I hadn't assessed the student's ability to carry out the "task," that being to recieve a throw and land safely. Her most recent grading sheet showed that I'd allocated a mark to breakfalling. It was one of several factors that saved me.

Th0mas's picture

Hi Tau

Thanks for the clarification; it moves their claim from being completely bonkers to a plain unreasonable...