Being asked to judge any event is an honor. It should be a point of pride that others value your work in a particular field enough to allow you to adjudicate. However, it is also a great responsibility, as participants place their hopes and hard work on display for your judgment. While we can enjoy the compliment of being asked to judge, it is of equal importance to put our egos aside and approach each item we are assessing with an open mind. How you conduct yourself during judging is a reflection of your character; preparing your state of mind can mean the difference between encouraging a participant to try harder the next time or giving up completely.
Education in the arts has spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars developing rubrics and formalized systems to help adjudicators have specific criteria in mind. Whether you are judging a painting, musical performance, or theatrical audition, having a breakdown of the important elements in front of you helps to insure you consider all aspects of the subject. Judging a model show, which is an artistic endeavor, should be no different. Many shows have already adopted judging rubrics, but even if you are judging a contest without one, you should have specific criteria in mind before you approach the first piece. The criteria often includes construction, painting, finishing (weathering, decals, shading, etc.), and accuracy/interpretation. Each should be considered on its own merit before determining the final ranking of a model. The judging criteria also allows for specific and constructive criticism.
Construction should be easiest to agree upon. If, for instance, an aircraft has uneven wings, a car has wheels that do not all touch the table, or large seams are visible, it should be obvious to a judge and reflected in the score. But, when judges do not approach a piece systematically, they can be blinded to basic construction flaws by a great paint job or after-market parts. Conversely, spotting an obvious flaw upon the first look may prevent a judge from seeing other aspects of the finish that are done very well. By approaching each of the criteria elements separately and in a specific order, adjudicating is an accurate process for placement rather than a gut feeling.
The remaining elements present difficulty because of their subjective nature. While decal application may be somewhat cut and dried, the other aspects have as many different approaches as there are modelers. So, it is incumbent upon us to let go of our bias, and look for substance rather than style. For instance, determining if a paint job and/or weathering are well done and appropriate for the piece is much different than deciding if it is done the way you would have done it. Modeling would be a very boring hobby if we all did the exact same techniques. We should revel in the diversity of modeling styles and a good judge is able to determine what level the techniques used have been mastered. Approaching judging with this in mind may even inspire you to try a few new tricks.
Accuracy/interpretation is perhaps the trickiest aspect of all. Looking at any piece, you are often asked to determine how accurate it is. You must be careful with this. While most photos may indicate a particular configuration, it only takes one authentic photo with a different scheme to invalidate your judgment. You may have to determine if the modeler tried to build an accurate standard version of the piece and fell short with the accuracy or if they had a different interpretation altogether. If you know the piece, this is probably fairly obvious. If you do not know the piece, relying upon your judging criteria will allow you to place the model based on the merit of the work. A great model with a different interpretation is still a great model, and should be judged as such.
A judge must suppress their bias when it comes to subject matter. You may love Corvettes, and are drawn to them on the judging table. Does this mean they deserve a higher ranking? Should you automatically judge it down because you expect more from a Corvette than other car models? While you may be answering no to these questions, separating this preference while in the show room does take a bit of will power. Breaking the criteria into its individual components helps you more easily become an unbiased judge.
Another preconception that judges struggle with is based upon the modelers. Judges often know who built the model being judged and form an unintentional bias, favorable or unfavorable, based on their experiences with the modeler. An experienced modeler may be judged favorably even if the piece does not meet his usual standard. It is also possible for a novice modeler to focus a lot of energy into getting a piece right and actually do an exceptional job but be judged more critically because of the pre-knowledge of the judge. The solution to judging bias is to study each piece carefully and judge the model, not the modeler.
The next time you are asked to judge, keeping this approach in mind will serve you. Judges that make snap decision based upon first impression, what they like or how they think a piece should be finished do not gain a reputation as a fair and impartial adjudicator. Remember, shows are meant to promote the hobby, not tear modelers down. A systematic method of judging with constructive comments will help to improve the skills of everyone.