The 4-H Cooperative Extension Department of the University of Delaware summarized an answer to this question and much more in the excerpt from a UDel Extension publication from 2006:
What is Judging? Judging is making a decision and telling why it was made. Seldom a day goes by that you do not have decisions to make. When you buy groceries you must constantly choose between brands while considering quality, size, end use, and cost. How carefully we select the apples from a grocery shelf! Also consider the many decisions involved in the selection of an automobile! In 4-H, judging is essentially a matter of comparing two or more items. If 4-H members know what factors make up an ideal birdhouse, dress, or loaf of bread, they are more able to recognize top quality products, to know good standards, and to make wise decisions based on facts.
Why Have Judging in 4-H? Judging is a valuable teaching technique for the 4-H leader. It provides another way for leaders to present project information to the 4-H members. Judging can be used by leaders to stimulate interest in a subject or as an incentive to motivate better work. Judging teaches 4-H members to: •Observe carefully •Recognize good products, articles, animals •Improve their own work •Make wise selections •Make their own decisions •Express themselves clearly •Appreciate opinions of others
When and How Does Judging Training Start? Judging training can start [anytime]. Successful judging depends on knowledge of the product or animal to be judged. With this in mind, it is easy to see that the basis for judging starts when the leader begins teaching members about the products they are making or growing. Judging training needs to come at the beginning of the projects so members may use this knowledge in selecting materials or animals for their projects. It would be a continuous learning process used often during the year. Before 4-Hers can learn to evaluate or judge their products, they must know something about standards and quality. Members are ready to compare when they become familiar with the characteristics of a product, know the terms that describe it, and have some idea of what a good product really is.
Scorecards or score sheets are available in most of the 4-H project materials so members can study the characteristics of a good product. Other ways 4-Hers can study standards and quality are: •Read project materials. Study and discuss facts in your project bulletins. List the important qualities mentioned. •Study pictures. Use pictures from magazines to help members select desirable qualities. In some projects, like dairy cattle, you can get pictures made especially to teach judging. •Discuss sample products. Have members bring samples of a predetermined item made or grown to a club meeting. Have them compare their items to the characteristics of a good product. Discuss ways they might improve their items next time. •Take tours and trips. Visit farms, stores, and processing plants. Ask the people in charge what they consider when judging their products.
How Do We Teach Judging Skills? •Study the Judging Criteria. Before attempting to judge a product, study the scorecard that applies. Scorecards have been developed for many 4-H projects. If a scorecard does not exist, discuss major characteristics and the importance of each. It is not necessary to memorize the scorecard. Rather it is important to know which characteristic to compare and which are the most significant. •Judge One Article. Use the information found on the score sheet and apply it to a product. Evaluating a single item or animal early in the project would be time well spent before setting up a full class.
•Judge a Class of Four Items. Remember judging is a comparative process. One product is compared to another under a given situation and the member must decide which is better of the two and tell why. When a decision is reached with the two, compare the top with the other two products. The next step would be to compare the two remaining products for second and third place. By adding one additional product we have a “standard class” of four products. The process as outlined is continued to choose the best of the four products, which is second, third, and fourth. With four in a class, the decision making process is a little more complicated. Let’s consider ways of judging a class of four.
•Analyze the entire class from a distance. Look for something that stands out — an easy top or bottom or maybe the class divides itself clearly into a top and bottom pair. This helps narrow the class and gives a mental picture that will help as reasons are given.
•Examine the class at close range. Your placing may be confirmed or changed by closer examination. Handle the products, it this is permitted, to help discover finer points of quality.
•Make a final decision.
•Take notes to prepare for oral reasoning.
What are Oral Reasons? Giving reasons (why a class was placed a certain way) is probably more important than the actual placing. Giving reasons separates the lucky guessers from the good judges. Reasons can be oral, written, or both. Members probably learn more by giving reasons orally. If there is a limiting factor (such as time), written reasons may be given. Giving reasons helps members to:
•Organize their thoughts •Learn to express themselves in a logical, convincing manner •Speak effectively •Develop a system for analyzing a situation •Think more clearly on their feet •Improve their voices •Develop their memories
Even though this information was written with 4-H in mind, it can apply to all youth judging contest contestants. Take a look under "Judging Contests" above to learn more about judging contest opportunities offered around the Sunshine State!