I judged my first writing contest this year. If you’re a writer, it’s a must-have experience because it’ll help put the process into perspective.
I judged five submissions, taking care to fairly evaluate each entry based on the criteria listed on the score sheet. There was one writer who stood out above the others. She (or possibly he) had a mastery over words and told an interesting tale. I was impressed.
As I calculated the scores for each of the entries, I expected to see a significant spread between this writer and the others, but I didn’t.
I reviewed each score I’d given. In my day job, it’s what we refer to as a reasonableness check. It didn’t make sense that this person’s score was not considerably higher. But after reviewing the score sheet questions and the scores of all five entries, I concluded there was nothing to change.
So, why didn’t this writer score significantly higher when the writing was so much stronger? It was the score sheet. It asked very specific questions, each rewarding either basic writing mechanics or a formulaic story structure. Since most of the writers met these requirements, all the scores were similar, and this particularly good writer did not shine above the others.
Consider the impact when entries in the same category are assigned different judges.
Different people judge differently. While it’s hard to criticize people when you know they’ve put their heart into their entry, I try to give an honest critique with lots of details. Without it, the writer cannot improve and be ready for their big break when opportunity knocks.
But, I had to ask myself, do all judges do this? Or do some find it more difficult than others to give lower scores? I’m convinced the answer is, more often than not, yes. With this the case, a mediocre writer could outscore more talented writers simply by the judges assigned. It’s similar to evaluations in the workforce. One boss might give you a rating of exceeds expectations for the exact same work that another would give you meets expectations. The quality of the work is the same. The difference is the people doing the evaluations.
I turned the entries I’d judged into the contest coordinator and checked the contest website regularly until the finalists were announced. I’d hoped to see the title of the entry that stood out from the others listed as a finalist. It wasn’t.
Months later, this continues to bother me. Knowing the limitations of the score sheet and the complications of multiple judges, I have some serious doubts about the contest. Were the writers listed as finalists truly better than the writer that so impressed me–OR–did they just have a different judge?