In each round, students compete against other students from other high schools (usually). Each performance is evaluated by a judge, who writes comments on a critique sheet that will be used by the competitor to enhance his/her performance at coaching sessions. After all performers have given their pieces, the judge ranks them by giving them a number, 1 thru 6. A 1 is the highest rank, while a 6 is the lowest. After all three rounds of competition, each competitors ranks are added together, and those with the lowest totals (with the most 1's and 2's, usually) advance to the final round. However, at most tournaments, the top two competitors in each event (the two with the lowest total) score team points, whether they advance to finals or not.


All these ranks and scores can be confusing at times. Here's a more detailed description of the whole scoring mechanic. Each competitor is given a rank between 1 and 6 in each round, 1 meaning 1st, 2 meaning 2nd, and so on. After the preliminary rounds, the three ranks are added together - thus someone who got a 1, 2 and 3 would have a total of 6. The people in the tabulation room put together a list of finalists (aiming for a six-person round), comprised of the top-ranking competitors. Usually, students with totals of 3 (1-1-1) or 4 (1-1-2) get in automatically, while people with totals of 5 (1-2-2), 6 (2-2-2) or even 7 (2-2-3) may sneak in depending on how many 1-1-1's and 1-1-2's there were in the tournament. In case of ties, more than six competitors may be in a final round. The team usually gets points from the top two performers in each event. When scoring for the team, each 1 is worth 6 points, each 2 is 5 points, each 3 is 4 points and so on. Thus, a person going 1-1-1 would get 18 points for the team (6+6+6), while a person getting 1-2-3 would get 15 points for the team (6+5+4). Generally, only preliminary rounds count toward team score totals (though at some tournaments, only final rounds count for scoring).


In final rounds, the top competitors in each event compete against each other. While there is only one judge in each preliminary round, there are usually three judges in each final round. Each judge ranks the competitors individually, and all ranks from all judges are added together to get a total final score for the competitor. Thus, a competitor who got 2-2-3 would place higher than someone who got 1-1-6 (2+2+3=7, while 1+1+6=8, and 7 is less than 8). The finalists are organized according to their final round ranks, and the competitor with the lowest total wins 1st, 2nd lowest wins 2nd, and so on. All finalists get a trophy or medal, but students finishing lower than sixth (in final rounds with more than six competitors) are all given 'finalist' medals.)