The following is an excellent article on the Grading process written by Shannon Taekwon-Do Instructor and National team coach mr Adrian Byrne 5th Degree. Thanks to Mr Byrne for permission to reproduce his work here.
What is a Grading?
Gradings are a way to put down markers of our progress in Taekwon-Do over time. They divide all the possible things you could know or train at into small but meaningful chunks which, when developed in sequence, allow you to achieve your full potential in the art. There are 10 grades from White to Black belt for all students to progress through (though we do split the earlier grades for our youngest students). The grades allow you to set major training goals that aren’t so far apart that you lose focus.
Gradings are exams, conducted with qualified examiners (who will always be 4th Dan or higher) that are intended to determine if you have reached proficiency in the techniques and curriculum associated with that grade. They are formal events, as you might expect, but like all achievements a successful grading is a cause for celebration.
How long between grades?
There is a minimum time between grades, however it is more often the student’s proficiency rather than the minimum times that determine how fast an individual moves through the grades. Because of the careful way in which the syllabus is structured, mastering the basic elements over the first 4 or 5 grades makes the next grades far easier. On the reverse however, any persistent errors developed in the first grades make all further grades impossible until they are corrected. It’s really important to take your time, get things right and not rush. Especially in the beginning.
Do gradings have a cost?
ITA gradings cost €25. You should return the grading application form with the €25 in advance of the grading. This will help us to ensure the groups are properly managed and the timing of the grading is as accurate as possible. You will receive an ITA Kup Certificate and your new belt/tag if you are successful.
What can I expect on the Day?
In the week before the grading you will have been given an arrival time for your grading. We try to ensure that each of the grading groups have their own time slot and so nobody is waiting too long before or after their exam. Some things you should know:
Always arrive 15 minutes early to prepare.
There will be an area for spectators to watch the grading but we do expect quiet in the hall as a courtesy to those testing.
When your name is called always reply loudly with ‘Yes Sir’ or ‘Yes Miss’. It sets the right tone.
When you’re testing, avoid watching the other people around you (there will be groups of 4 to 8 people) as it makes you appear unsure of yourself
Start as you mean to go on, grading is about you showing your abilities as best you can.
If you make a mistake, try to forget about it and move on. It can happen to anyone.
Make sure you learned your theory and terminology. It’s the last part of the exam and you want to finish on a good note!
What can I do to prepare?
If you don’t already have an ITA Training Manual the first step is buy one and read the section relevant to your grade. You can check it out by following the link below.
You’ll be able to see what techniques, sparring, breaking, terminology etc. are required for your particular grade. There are detailed explanations and illustrations of all the fundamental movements which should help with home practice.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you attend the classes regularly. The instructors plan the classes in blocks or seasons and so when you miss a class the subject matter may not be repeated for several weeks or months. If what you missed was something that you need to know for your grading, you will need to ask a black belt to go through it with you. This won’t be during normal class time, and might need to be on a day when there are extra assistants or on an open mat Thursday. Keep in mind also that we offer three days per week training in Shannon from yellow belt up. Those aiming for blue belt and higher need to keep in mind that the scheduling is based around 4 hours per week training. Those attending 2 hours of training will usually grade at a much reduced rate to those regularly training 4 hours per week.
The second major factor is home training. Most people, especially in the first 2-3 years of Taekwon-Do training train two times per week with the club. This is enough to make sure that the main coaching points of all the major skills are learned, throughout the first 4-5 grades. It also ensures a good amount of group practice which is needed to improve sparring and learn self defence. It isn’t sufficient however, to maintain and continue to improve the learned skills as you progress past yellow belt. The more skills and techniques you know the more time is needed to maintain them while learning new things. We usually notice flexibility and kicking ability in particular start to drop as children get older and advance through the grades. Regularly stretching at home, practicing legwork, and stepping through fundamental movements and patterns will all help to make the club training more productive.
All training, whether at home or at the club should be for a purpose. Going through the motions doesn’t bring about results as you might hope! Attention to the detail and focus on improvement is needed to get the most value out of your training time. Set small goals for each session, challenge yourself and make a note of how you got on. Do it every time!
A final step is to study a little and often from the ITA training manual. Understanding the techniques, their purpose and the specific details helps to improve performance in practice. Getting an early start on learning the terminology will reduce stress in the days before the grading. It will also help you to have a good overall understanding of what you need to know and how close you are to knowing all the elements.
Responsibility for preparing to grade is shared between the instructors and the students (and the parents of younger students). The instructors will work to ensure the teaching is complete, correct and that correction and feedback are regular and productive. Students have to work to implement corrections, attend classes regularly, practice in their own time and take responsibility for their own learning. Parents need to maintain the link between what the student does at home and what they do in the club, asking questions, keeping involved, helping with encouragement and motivation. Together we can achieve great things but alone we will be frustrated.
What if I’m told I shouldn’t grade?
This happens to almost everyone at some point. The dates of the gradings are fixed points and they have no regard for whether you are ready or not. The instructors will give you feedback and will let you know if you should test. If we don’t ask you to test you should:
Make sure you understand why, what you need to improve and how long the instructors think it will take to make the improvements.
Reset your goals, making sure you’re prioritising the areas that need improvement
Persistently attack any areas that are holding you back until they are dealt with
You should not:
Feel like it’s a judgement on you personally, it most certainly is not, it’s only a reflection of where you are with this part of your sporting life
Become disheartened and try less hard
Become angry and blame others or circumstances
What happens if I pass?
If you are successful you will be told at the end of your grading. You will be given your new belt/tag either immediately after the result or at the next class. You will usually receive your certificate within the next week.
What happens if I don’t pass?
If you are unsuccessful you will be asked to try again at the next grading. You will be given feedback at the next class about what the examiners felt you needed to work on. The instructors will work with you to set goals, and work towards improving the areas that needed work.
What is the difference between a pass and a distinction?
The range of grades available are:
A | The student is advanced. The performance is at a higher standard than one would typically expect at this grade
O | The student is at an ordinary level. The performance is at the expected level for this grade. The O grade is often divided into O+ / O / O-, reflecting the range of abilities that typically fall within this grade.
L | The student is at a low level. While the student can demonstrate a familiarity with the syllabus the level of performance is below expectations. Additional remedial work will be necessary before they can progress.
T/A | The student will be asked to please try again at a later date. The performance is below the acceptable level for this grade.
The examiners will only announce T/A’s, passes (L’s and O’s) and Distinctions (A’s) on the day of the grading. The additional information is for the instructor and student to discuss in private.