A scribe is a giant compass that draws circles on the ice. You can use one to draw your circles before skating your figures or to check your work after you’ve done them. They’re no longer common in stores, but they are still available.
The ISI has announced the figures for national competitions held in 2021. They’re listed on the ISI site and pasted below.
These are the figures that will be skated at the conferences the ISI designates as “national”—including ISI Worlds and ISI Adult Nationals. Local competitions often use these figures too, but are not required to. Check with the local organizing committee when entering non-national events.
WFS exams differ from ISI and USFSA tests in that the figures do not have to be taken in any particular order. You can test any figure you like whenever you’re ready. Many special figures are available for examination; details are in the exam catalog (available with membership).
It’s impossible to fail WFS exams. Instead of being told you’ve passed or failed, you get a numerical score for each figure. The scores range from 1 to 6 and represent three levels of achievement: Encouraging (1–2), Competitive (3–4), and World Class (5–6). You can re-take an exam as many times as you like to earn the elusive 6—only one has been given as of this writing.
Exams and friendly competition are offered at the Figure Festival, during the workshops, and by arrangement in Lake Placid and a few other locations. If you are interested in taking an exam, contact the World Figure Sport Society to arrange it.
USFSA figure tests were the standard for many years, and are still the most commonly discussed. They are still on the books and can be offered by request. You have to take all the figures in a test at once (except that the higher-level tests can be split in half; these splits are listed in the Rulebook as part A and part B). If you fail one figure, you have to re-take the whole test (or half test)—unless you got enough points on the other figures to bring your test up to passing overall.
The standard track tests are Preliminary and then numbered, First through Eighth. There is also a special track for adults (age 21 and up): Bronze, Silver, and Gold. If you’ve passed standard track tests, you can cross over into the adult tests following the new chart or simply pick up where you left off. If you’ve forgotten what level you reached, the USFSA can look up your test history, or you can search for your name the Skating archive on the members only site.
For the 2018–19 season, the USFSA revised the figures rules so that only one judge is required for a test at any level. This should make it easier to test, because there aren’t many figures judges left, especially at higher levels.
USFSA figure tests are not normally listed on test registration forms because they are uncommon, but this doesn’t mean you can’t take them. Talk with your club’s test chair about scheduling yours. Lake Placid Skating does explicitly offer figure tests by arrangement; see the test registration form for details.
Figures are rare at USFS-sanctioned competitions, but they do exist. Upcoming events that offer figures are included on this site’s calendar, but if you really want to compete, you might prefer a different organization.
The ISI (Ice Sports Industry, formerly Ice Skating Institute) focuses on recreational skating and stresses participation and inclusion; tests and competition are meant to encourage participation. Figure tests are available on demand—ask the skating director at your nearest ISI rink. The ISI tests follow essentially the same structure as the USFSA tests, with the numbers incremented by one and a few figures moved up or down a level. For example, ISI Figure 4 is USFSA Third Test plus the back serpentines from second tests.
To compete in ISI events, you must be a member. To test, you should be a member so you can have the tests registered. Registration means that whoever judges your test sends the results to the ISI, where they’re kept on file. If you want to compete, you have to have your tests registered. The ISI also allows you to take tests without registering them, which is sometimes done in introductory skating classes. They only count toward class placement.
The ISI allows skaters to test figures one at a time, which means you can break the tests up into as many pieces as you like instead of having to test a whole bunch of figures all at once. This also means that if you fail one figure, you don’t fail the whole test. Your test is considered “incomplete” until you pass that figure, which you can do by itself. There’s no need to re-skate the figures you’ve passed to finish the test. You do have to pass all the figures in one level before moving on to the next, though. When the test is complete, your program manager registers it with the ISI and you get a cute patch.
Only one judge is necessary for ISI Figure tests 1–6. For 7–9, three judges are necessary, and five judges are required for 10, which consists of special figures. The judges are typically skating coaches who have passed an ISI judging exam. There are restrictions on when and where high-level tests can be taken, which may make them more difficult to schedule.
If you’d like to take ISI tests, talk with your program manager about setting them up. If your rink doesn’t have an ISI program, reach out to a nearby rink that does. They may be happy to accommodate you. The ISI has a list of participating rinks (which doesn’t seem to be working right now).
Some ISI competitions offer figure events (Figures, Creative Figures, and Free Figures). Upcoming events that offer figures are included on this site’s calendar. They are common at ISI national competitions and sometimes appear in local ISI-endorsed competitions. If you want to compete in figures events, but they’re not listed on the application, ask the contact person to offer them. ISI competitions are pretty flexible, and they may be able to oblige you! To compete, you must have passed the corresponding ISI figure test. USFSA tests do not count. Your figure tests determines your level in all three events.
Since the ISI doesn’t include descriptions of all the figure events online, here are some excerpts from the 2012 ISI Handbook. They don’t include all the details, so you’ll want to check the most recent version.
The figure(s) to be skated during the competition may be announced just prior to the competition or in the competition information materials. … All Figure 1 skaters, regardless of age, are permitted to indicate the center of their eight with a scratch of their blade. Some rinks use colored markers to mark centers, where visibility is difficult. … For ISI Figure events, two tracings (instead of the normal three) may be skated if time is of the essence … If the figure does not have a designated starting foot, such as forward outside eight, then the skater may start the figure on either foot as long as the required two (or three) tracings are performed on each foot.
The figures to be competed change annually and are announced on the competition information page. The figures for national competitions in 2019 and 2020 are in the chart below. Local competitions may make different figure selections.
Forward Outside Waltz Eight
Forward Inside Eight
Backward Outside Eight
Forward Outside Three to Center
Backward Inside Eight
Right Forward Outside Three
Forward Outside Loop
Forward Inside Loop
Left Forward Inside Bracket
Backward Outside Loop
LFO Change Loop
LFO One Foot Eight
LFO Paragraph Three
RFO Paragraph Three
LBO Paragraph Double Three
RFO Paragraph Loop
LFO Rocker Double Three
Figures selected for ISI national competitions in 2019 and 2020.
In this event, skaters use their imaginations to create variations of the conventional school figures. … These variations should be based on test level figures. The figure is limited in size and may not exceed a conventional 3-lobe figure. One circle figures are acceptable. The design may be laid out once, or laid out and retraced the same way or in a variation, with no more than three tracings. … No turns are permitted from higher test levels. … Competitors must submit a drawing on 8 1/2″ by 11″ paper of their figure to the Referee prior to the start of the event.
The time limit has been 1:30 for all levels since 2016.
In this event skaters use their imaginations to “draw” pictures on the ice through skating edges (i.e., spell out their names and create their own unique figures). … It should be noted that a higher Technical Merit score will be given for those skating on one foot and utilizing edges. Two foot skating and “drawing” with the heel of the blade should be kept to a minimum … Costumes can be worn to match the figure skated—patriotic for a flag design, a mouse for skating a cheese design, etc. Competitors must submit a drawing on 8 1/2″ by 11″ paper of their figure to the Referee prior to the start of the event.
There are limits on size (no larger than a regular two-circle figure) and time (1:30 for all levels). Since 2014, skaters must lay out and retrace (two or three tracings), but the retracing can be in a variation.
Yes, you can still take tests and compete in figures!
When testing or competing figures, you can expect to skate your figure(s) on a sheet of clean ice while one or more people watch you. When you’ve finished, the judges walk on the ice examining your tracings carefully. The details of this process depend on the organization running the event, but they are all based on this general idea.
There are several skating organizations that offer figure tests and competitions in the US and internationally. A list of upcoming figure competitions is on the events page.