A Guide for new Area Judges

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AuthorGeorge Michelogiannakis
Date Published2010-01-01
Original Sitewiki.InternationalMagicJudges.net
LinkThis article is only available on the wiki; see below.
TagsMentoring, Testing
Recommended for Level2
NotesSee judge levels for up-to-date information on judge level requirements.
AbstractThis article is aimed at freshly promoted Level 2s and gives advice about mentoring, shadowing other judges, giving them feedback and tips for testing candidates to Level 1.


Congratulations for passing your level 2 exam! We are thrilled that you are able and willing to contribute to your community in a larger scope, and especially for your desire to mentor and certify new judges. It is understandable that you have little experience in doing so at this stage. This guide aims to assist you in understanding what we look into new level 1s and how to conduct a test. However, the advice of more experienced level 2s or level 3s is invaluable in this and you should try to pursue it whenever possible.

Judge certification

Judge certification is a great responsibility towards the judge program. You are empowered with recommending new judges to the DCI. Of course you are also expected to train these candidates so that they can become ready and meet all the expectations of new level 1s. This is not as hard as it sounds and certainly after some hands-on practice you will feel much more comfortable. However, please take this role seriously and do your best.

Important When it comes to testing a candidate for a level, you must have a clear view of what you expect from a fresh judge of that level. It's easy to fall into the trap of perfection: training someone for long and testing them only when they would otherwise be experienced judges of that level. Remember that we should not expect candidates to be perfect. There should be a margin for improvement inside the level. If we make it too hard and tiring for people to get into the program or get promoted, there's a good chance they will give up and the program will lose prospective judges.

What is a level 1?

While there is no policy document defining in detail what a level 1 is and what exactly to look for, there are guidelines established by experienced judges and the DCI. To get a good picture, you must study the requirements for level 1 certification, "making a good level 1 judge" by Frank Wareman, and other such articles in the DCI article archive. As always, use any more experienced testers (older level 2s or level 3 and higher) as resources. For the rest of this section, I will try to add my 2 cents.

Level 1 candidates should enjoy judging and want to improve. They have a long road ahead of them and being enthusiastic will allow them to follow it. This doesn't mean that they must judge 3-4 times a month. If they maintain a minimum activity, pressing them may make them quit. Many people start off splitting their time evenly between judging and playing and later on devote more time to judging. If we expect them to pretty much quit on playing initially they will lose interest. Moreover, remember that a level 1 is a local judge focused in his local store. Level 1s work with and sometimes for, a retailer who often will actively look for a local judge. Their focus is not on larger-area events such as PTQs. However, they often do judge in them.

Look further into the candidate’s motivations towards judging and evaluate them. Simply being promoted from the rules advisor program is not enough. In the same way, product and compensation can be a motivation but it has to be combined by some desire to help tournaments, players and generally do a good job. Only judging for the product without another care is dangerous. Some people will do it for helping out their local communities, which is a type of people we should help as much as possible.

Level 1s must have some self-motivation to look for tournaments to judge. You can easily test that by having the candidate take the first steps and choose which tournaments to judge as part of the training. You can apply a very first filter by giving people who come and talk to you about level 1 your email asking them to write back so you can arrange training or testing. It is surprising how many people fail to do that.

Level 1s should also have a good attitude towards players. They should want to help players, not be on the look for opportunities to punish them. Players should respect them and regard them as a source of help. Some people are already the go-to guy in their local communities for any rules questions, which is a good sign. Also, since fresh level 1s are going to encounter many situations they do not know the right answer to, they should not be over-confident but know when to double-check instead.

Level 1s should be a part of the local community. Try to find out what the candidate does locally. Sometimes they are trying to organize, are already organizing, or simply are players. All of that can be fine. However, they should have played or at least seen in action an event larger than FNM.

Finally, level 1s should possess satisfactory rules knowledge. This means that they should be able to deal with easy and moderate questions presented to them. They should not remember rulings, but rules which they use to produce rulings. Level 1s should also have a good understanding of policy and the PG. Again, details may be missed but they still must be able to deal with the common tournament situations. It is too early at this point to ask that the candidate understands the philosophy.

When a person approaches you expressing interest towards level 1, remember to do a small 1-2 question pre-screening before sending him away with homework. The candidate may be more ready than you expect. Other than that, I like to point out that we are looking for people who are actively interested in judging, and that judging can be fun!

The first steps

The first step in this process is for someone to contact you regarding the judge certification program. Being approachable and available is the key. You should try to make people comfortable with talking to you. This can be accomplished by maintaining the proper attitude in person, maintaining a presence in the internet, providing contact information, and other ways. We do not want possible future judges to be deterred because they were uncomfortable with talking to you.

Often people will just want to know what it’s about. That is great since they gain a better understanding and respect for the program. People will also often ask you how they can test. This is where you new role comes into play.

First explain to them what being a judge is all about. Judging is fun and a great way to give back to your community. It’s also a good way of being involved with DCI games without participating as a player. Then explain to them how testing works. Candidates are usually asked to judge a certain number of tournaments with the person who will later test them. This is the training period and its length depends on the progress of the candidate. As soon as they are ready, the certifying judge will proceed with testing.

So, when a person approaches you, discuss with them the process. If that person is still interested, explain to them what they must do in terms of rules and policy preparation before their first training tournament. Do not scare them away! Also, they don’t have to have completed this preparation before judging for the first time. After all, only with applying this knowledge in practice will it stick with them. Give them hints and tips for preparing. A good approach would be to ask them to study the important parts of the comprehensive rules, and just read the rest. The important parts are the very basics that you are aware. For example, state based effects, type of effects, interaction between them, turn structure, etc. Also ask them to skim through the rest of the comprehensive rules. The idea is that they must be able to know when to look for in the document when trying to justify a ruling. For policy they must study the appropriate documents. However tell them that this is not as hard as it sounds since they are most likely familiar with many of that stuff anyway.

Ask them to use the internet. There are rules articles and forums out there that are great resources for practicing rules and policy knowledge. Of course there is also the judge center with practice tests. They should certainly do at least some of that before their exam. It is also recommended to take and pass the rules advisor test as a benchmark of their rules knowledge. Remember to give the candidate your contact information so they feel welcome to contact you with questions. It’s also good to ask them what’s up every now and then. After some undefined period of time, that person will contact you and you will agree it’s time to start training.

Training tournaments

The goal of the training tournaments is to expose the candidate to real life judging. This way they will really see if they are interested in judging. It’s also the way to develop the soft skills required for level 1. Your part of this process is to guide them from start to finish so they understand what judges do. Again, make them feel welcome and motivated to keep on judging. You should observe them throughout the day. This serves the purpose of providing feedback in the end and evaluating the candidate towards level 1. Have a chat with the candidate at the end of each tournament for this purpose. Make him understand where they are at and what they must do next. When you feel they are ready to test, let them know and arrange it. Read the "Reviews that work" by Mike King article for insight on this.

For gathering feedback during the tournament it is necessary to observe the candidate. Depending on the staff demand of the tournament you may not be able to shadow as tightly as you would like. However, even observing every once in a while from a distance serves the same purpose and can achieve the same results. Throughout this document, “shadowing” refers to whatever observation you are able to perform.

As a shadow, your role is to observe. Try to truly be in the shadows (hence the name), letting the judge act without feeling pressure. During the course of the tournament do not step in, unless you see that the tournament’s integrity is being damaged by mistakes or excessive delays are being or will be caused. If that happens, talk privately with the judge in a friendly and mild manner and let him know of your suggestions.

One extra challenge is that players will know you and may ask you to confirm rulings or procedures, even as they are being made. Use all your diplomacy skills in these situations to reassure the player, but most importantly let the judge do his work. If you think the judge is about to make a mistake, gently ask to talk to him away from the table. Read "Shadowing" by Chris Richter for more information on shadowing.

Certification logistics

You are able to generate written level 1 tests in the DCI judge center. You do that through the “exams” section and then the appropriate buttons in the self-explanatory screens that follow. Generated tests contain a random selection of 25 questions from that level's pool. Each question accounts for 4% and no partial credit is given in questions with multiple answers. When the test is generated, print it for the candidate as well as an answer key (for you). You may also have the candidate take the test sitting in front of the computer instead. We do not set a time limit to the written test to avoid stressing the candidate. Remember to destroy the paper documents when the whole process is over.

There are two types of written tests: personalized and generalized. The former are generated for a specific candidate. When the exam is done, you must enter the answers as provided by the candidate by clicking on that test and then on the appropriate link. The questions in that test are marked in the database so that future personalized tests for that candidate will not contain the same questions. Generalized tests are not generated for a specific candidate, thus future tests the candidate takes may have some questions in common. Also the generalized test itself may have questions already viewed by the candidate. You should therefore always use personalized tests if at all possible.

The next step is to actually administer the exam. From a logistic point of view, the exam consists of a two-part interview divided by the written test. Before handing out the written exam you want to collect information about the candidate and probe him on his skills. At this time you should also screen the candidate's rules and policy knowledge. You should avoid testing the candidate the first time you meet him (the exception being mass certification – see below). Ask to work with the candidate until you feel you have a confident image of him. Often just asking the candidate to judge with you shows their commitment.

At the end of this process you should have a clear view of the candidate. Proceed with giving the candidate the written test if you consider him ready for the next level and you expect that he will pass the written test. It is acceptable to have a small degree of uncertainty regarding his rules knowledge. This will go away with experience as your evaluation skills against the written test expectations improve. We should be not handing out tests, which are confidential documents, to candidates who are unlikely to pass. This is the role of the online practice tests.

Do not neglect to ask other judges for feedback on your candidate, regardless of whether you consider your view on him solid or not. Your peers will be happy to assist you with evaluating judges or candidates (and you should be willing to do the same). Their feedback is invaluable as it will either confirm your opinion, or open your eyes to aspects of the candidate you had not noticed. After scoring the written test, continue the interview by revisiting the questions the candidate answered incorrectly. I prefer keeping the candidate's attention by announcing the result after visiting the wrong questions, but you might have to adjust depending on the candidate's stress level. Promoting someone who scored below the passing minimum is unusual and undesirable, but possible. Proceed with this in exceptional cases or when other circumstances exist as well, but bear in mind that the minimum scores already include a margin for ”moments of stupidity” (e.g. missing a word in the question).

The last step is to create an interview review through the “create” tab in the reviews section. Before navigating to enter the review content you are asked to enter the written test's ID (a unique number assigned to each written test), the score percentage and the level that you recommend the candidate should be certified at. That will almost always be his old level plus one if he passed, or his old level if he failed. Interview reviews should always be entered if the candidate was given the written exam. The body of an interview review is identical to that of an evaluation review. Therefore, same principles apply. Once you enter the review the level change will apply as soon as the review gets approved. That may or may not be automatic. In any case, your part is over. If asking to promote a candidate with a score below the passing minimum, be sure to clearly explain the extenuating circumstances in the interview review.

Mass certification

Mass certification is the act of interviewing and perhaps testing someone who you had no chance of meeting beforehand. This occurs at PTs and GPs, but it can also happen if you travel to another region, which has no judge capable to test. This section aims to provide some first tips although you will normally only be exposed to this after you have gained experience in testing. Therefore it should not be your focus for now.

The majority of people who walk to you expressing interest for level 1 are far from ready. Thus, it is important that you screen the candidates before proceeding. This can be just a short series of basic questions such as state-based effects, turn structure, etc. They will show you if the candidate has studied the rules or not. They should also gauge the candidate’s commitment at the event as well as at home. If they just want to be “entertained”, you shouldn’t waste time on them.

If the candidate seems informed, it's time to start the pre-written interview. This is the same as already presented for a level 1, with the exception that you have not met the candidate before therefore you have to rely solely on the interview to probe the skills you want. This will make the interview longer and more demanding, but you can achieve your goal. Try to present interesting questions to the candidate and see how he would deal with them. You reach many conclusions about his knowledge and attitude this way. Moreover, his enthusiasm towards judging will probably be apparent early.

If the candidate has no judging experience, try to arrange that he judges for 3-5 hours at the side events. All certified judges should have some judging experience. Finally, if you are facing a large volume of incoming candidates, you may need to apply extreme measures. You can interview them all together as a group. A group interview has all the candidates seating together answering your questions in a random order. This has the advantage that the unprepared candidates immediately understand they are not ready by comparing themselves to the prepared ones. The disadvantage is obviously that it takes longer and it is more tiring for everyone. Remember that it's perfectly within your power to turn people away if they came in too late to give you enough time to adequately interview them.


We hope this document helped to clear some things in your mind. Please do not be overwhelmed by all the above. Much information is included for completeness. All of the above will come naturally to you after a while. Until then, try to take your time and remember that you were promoted to level 2, so you have the necessary skills already. It’s only a matter of learning how to use them in practice. Remember to use the judges around you! Talk to your fellow level 2+ judges, since they have done it before. The DCI judge program is a peer program where each one of us assists the other. There are many resources around you for help. You are now entering another level of giving back to your community which we trust will prove even more fulfilling.

For any questions or comments please let me know at mixelogj13@yahoo.co.uk. I hope I helped introducing you to your future.