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How Do Judges Score Beauty Pageants?

12, June 2017

Wouldn't you like to get into the mind of a pageant judge and know exactly what they are looking for? Know exactly how they score the contestants? While we can't read minds, we can give some insight on how exactly judges score beauty pageants.

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Miss Universe Belize 2019 with the judging panel. Photo: Miss Universe Belize Instagram

How Do Judges Score Beauty Pageants?

Every system is different

Before we even get into how the judges themselves score beauty pageants, it’s important to know how the pageant you are competing in scores as a whole. Do all areas of competition carry the same weight? Are certain areas worth a bigger percentage of your score than others? Do optional scores count to overall placements? These are the questions that if you are not asking, you should be! Pageants like USA National Miss have an equal scoring system. Interview, runway and evening gown are all worth exactly 1/3 of your total score. Pageants like the Miss America system have a percentage-based score. In the local pageants, interview is worth 30% of your total score, talent is 45% and evening wear is 20%. Knowing exactly how the pageant scores are calculated to determine the winner and how the pageant system treats scoring will help you not only better prepare for the pageant but also get a better understanding of how the judges score.

Start with a clean slate

There are some pageants, usually larger state or national pageants, that will give contestants a “clean slate.” This is usually when there is a preliminary competition and the semi-finalist or finalists have their preliminary scores “wiped clean” and they re-compete. Ask the director, previous contestants, or even previous judges for insight to how this works for the system you are competing in.

Individual scoring vs. comparative scoring

There are some systems that have their judges score each contestant contingent only on what they do during their individual times on stage. There are other systems that will invoke “comparative scoring” where the judges will rank you based on how you perform in comparison to the other contestants. Comparative scoring is not a common practice, however, some systems and judges do score this way. Usually, comparative scoring is used in glitz and semi-glitz pageants where there is a group line up and awards are given for things such as best hair, smile or gown. (Read: What is the Difference Between Natural and Glitz Pageants?)

Miss Universe Canada Western Ontario Judging Panel. Photo: Jeanne Eid Instagram

 Decimals

Some judges will score using decimals. Usually, this is used by the head judge at a pageant to help prevent ties. However, some pageants require for all of the judges to use decimal points. This system is very different from a pageant that only uses whole numbers. When judges use decimals for scoring, the scoring range can differ drastically. Some judges will only score using a “9” and the decimal point will be the sliding scale of 1-10. Other judges will completely use the entire range given to them.

Not all 6’s are equal

Many contestants worry when they receive a low score. Sometimes, a 6 for one judge can be equivalent to a 10 of another judge. How so? Well, get your thinking caps on because we’re about to hit you with some pageant math. Say there are three judges, each scoring on a scale of 1-10. If each judge gives at least one contestant a score of 10, then the max points for any one area of competition is 30. That is pretty easy and simple math. Now, let’s say that between those three judges, one of the judges only scores girls between a 4 and a 6. If this judge gives no contestant a score of 10, then the max number of points achievable in any area of competition is 26. Therefore, if that one judge scores you a 6, and the other two judges score you with 10’s, the weight of that one judges 6 is equivalent to the other two judges 10’s.

Are you with us so far?

Now, this is where it gets a little tricky. Although the max number of points allowed in an area of competition is 30, as per the pageant, this is not always the maximum number of points achievable. If two judges never give over an 8 and one judge never gives over a 6, the maximum number of achievable points for one area of competition is only 22. Meaning for a pageant with three areas of competition a perfect score is 66 and not 90. Of course, without the full score sheet of every contestant in a pageant, you will never know if that 6 you receive is equal to 100% or 60%. However, if you win with two 8’s and a 6, you can assume that those 8’s are not equal to 80%, however, you cannot assume that they are equal to 100% either.

What judges are looking for:

So by now, you should almost be a pageant judge scoring expert. You know that every system weighs scores differently, that some pageants and individual judges will use decimals, and now you even know that not all 6’s are equal. What you don’t know yet, is what judges are looking for when they score a pageant. The simplest answer: confidence. They are looking for a girl that can do the job, do it well and be 100% genuine.

Logan West, Miss Teen USA 2012, said, "Win, loose, or draw, just know that when you put it all out on the stage, don't second guess anything. Be yourself, and do your thing!" Moving forward, just remember that every judge is going to score and judge every girl differently. They each have their own unique opinions on what a titleholder should look like and what she should act like. While you will never be able to please everyone, as long as you please yourself, you can always walk away a winner.

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