August 26 - August 28
September 19 - September 23
October 3 - October 9
October 8 - October 9
March 17, 2023 - March 20, 2023
This organization runs the annual World Figure & Fancy Skating Championship & Festival as well as numerous workshops. Upcoming events that offer figures are included on this site’s calendar.
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.
You can compete in the World Figure & Fancy Skating Championship or (if you’re under 21) in the World Junior Figure & Fancy Skating Championship. The figures for these events are selected and announced in advance. You can compete all the figures (16 for the Championship) or select individual figures. Less formal competition is offered at the Figure Festival and in the workshops scattered throughout the year.
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 ISI Handbook, 2012 edition (Plano, TX: Ice Skating Institute), 221.
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.
|Level||2019 Figure||2020 Figure|
|Figure 1||Forward Outside Waltz Eight||Forward Inside Eight|
|Figure 2||Backward Outside Eight||Forward Outside Three to Center|
|Figure 3||Backward Inside Eight||Right Forward Outside Three|
|Figure 4||Forward Outside Loop||Forward Inside Loop|
|Figure 5||Left Forward Inside Bracket||Backward Outside Loop|
|Figure 6||LFO Change Loop||LFO One Foot Eight|
|Figure 7||LFO Paragraph Three||RFO Paragraph Three|
|Figure 8||LFO Rocker||RFO Rocker|
|Figure 9||LBO Paragraph Double Three||RFO Paragraph Loop|
|Figure 10||The Flower||LFO Rocker Double Three|
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 ISI Handbook, 2012 edition (Plano, TX: Ice Skating Institute), 219–220.
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.The ISI Handbook, 2012 edition (Plano, TX: Ice Skating Institute), 219.
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.
You can pace out a circle using bladelengths or steps. Mark the center of your eight and measure eight to ten bladelengths or about four paces. Make a mark. This is the center of your circle. Measure eight to ten bladelengths or about for paces further along the long axis and make a mark. Measure eight to ten bladelengths or about four paces to either side of the center and make more marks. Now you have four marks on your circle: one at the center, one at the top, and one at each side. Connect the dots to make a circle. Repeat for the other side.
If you want to be very accurate, calculate the ideal radius of your circle in inches (1.5 times your height) and measure the length of your blade. Divide the radius by the length of your blade to get the number of bladelengths to use.
In general, the diameter of the circle should be approximately three times the height of the skater. To set your scribe to the right length, calculate your height in inches and multiply by 1.5. A skater who is five feet tall should use a setting of 60 inches times 1.5 = 90 inches, or a little more or less depending on personal preference. Judges seem to like big circles, so if you’re unsure, make them bigger. This table of figures circle sizes will spare you the math.
For loops, the diameter of the circle should be approximately the height of the skater. That means if you are five feet (60 inches) tall, you should set your scribe to 30 inches. Generally, standing with your feet as far apart as they can go without too much difficulty is about the right radius; you can pivot around one foot and draw with the heel of the other to get a reasonably close loop circle. The loop itself should be about one blade-length wide and 1.5 blade-lengths long.
Roller skaters use standard figure circles painted on the floor. For circle figures (the big ones), the standard diameter is six meters (19 feet). For loops, the standard diameter is 2.4 meters (eight feet).
Look for poorly attended freestyle and public skating sessions. These may be early in the morning or in the middle of the day, depending on the time of year and your local rink culture. Then, go and do figures. The conditions are less than ideal—people will probably skate right through your patch—but you’ll be able to do more than you expect.
Special blades designed specifically for figures are no longer made, but some stores still have old ones in stock. If your local skate shop has been around a while, it may be worth asking if they still have any. Here are some places that you can try. The models to look for include MK Silver Test, MK Gold Test, Wilson Figure, Wilson Comet Test, and Wilson Pattern 88.
- People on the Compulsory Figures Project Facebook group may have blades they’re willing to part with
- EBay occasionally has patch blades for sale
- Midwest Skate Supply, Novi, MI, has lots of patch blades available to order online
- Lake Placid Skate Shop, Lake Placid, NY, had some unused Comet Test blades available in 2015
- Simply Skating Consignment, Wyomissing, PA, had a few pairs of patch blades in stock as of June, 2019; models include Silver and Comet Test
- The Skater’s Edge WNY, Buffalo, NY, had about 10 pairs in stock as of February, 2019; models include Gold, Silver, and Comet Test and Pattern 88 in sizes 9, 9.25, 9.33, 9.5, 10.25, 10.5, 10.66, and 11 inches
- The World Figure Sport Society, Lake Placid, NY, has many patch blades available
- You can always have a pair made by asking your skate sharpener to remove the bottom toe pick from a pair of freestyle blades and giving them a patch sharpening
Patch blades (blades that are designed specifically for figures) are not the same as freestyle blades. They lack the bottom toe pick and that they are sharpened to a much flatter radius of hollow. Both of these are modifications that can be made to existing blades: you can make a pair of old freestyle blades into patch blades by grinding down the toe pick and giving them a patch sharpening.
Sharpening blades for figures is a bit different from sharpening them for freestyle because the radius of hollow is so large. Patch hollows start at one inch and go all the way up to three or four; freestyle hollows are typically around half an inch. With large patch hollows, there is little margin for error, so an experienced skate technician is essential.
If you don’t want to have two pairs of skates, you can ask for a combination hollow (typically around 3/4″) for both figures and freestyle. This was commonly done by low-test skaters back in the day. It will probably feel very strange if you’re used to an ordinary freestyle hollow, though.
|Blade name||Manufacturer||Rocker radius||Factory ROH||Notes|
|Comet Test||Wilson||8.5 ft||1 in||Matched for use with Coronation Comet; polished hollow.|
|Gold Test||MK||7 ft||1 in||Contoured radius toe pick; hide-honed; special hollow grinding. Essentially Phantom (freestyle blade) without the bottom pick.|
|Pattern 88||Wilson||7 ft||1 in||Available as one-piece blades or set of sole and heel plates. Blades can be detached and changed.|
|Silver Test||MK||7 ft||1.5 in||Parallel; contoured radius; shallow ground edge; based on MK Professional blade.|
|Wilson Figure||Wilson||8 ft||1 in||Small pyramid tooth. The low toe pick leads to this blade being mistaken for a freestyle blade.|
|Futurist T||Wilson||Toe pick as Wilson Figure.|
Sources: Alice Berman, Skater’s Edge Sourcebook (Kensington, MD: Skater’s Edge, 1995), 47 and John Misha Petkevich, The Skater’s Handbook (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1984), 40-41. The italicized text has been added, and the notes on Pattern 88 blades have been combined from separate entries for the full blades and the fittings.
For general information on equipment, see the base post.