2019-20 GOE Guidelines Explained

When the new rules for the upcoming synchronized skating season are published each year, many of us gravitate towards the technical documents. But trying out a “GOE first” mindset could be what really sets your team apart this season.

There are always many new technical details to understand, and determining which difficulty levels will be appropriate for your team is of course a crucial part of program construction. But year after year, I see many teams focus only on technical aspects, and treat GOE as an afterthought.

Teams prioritize getting their levels called, without realizing that attention to GOE can actually help improve their technical scores. Having good shape, unison, speed and flow goes a long way towards the successful execution of all Elements — and especially those like Intersections, weaving Circles, and Moves Elements where there’s little room for error when skaters are in close proximity.

With that in mind, here are the important things to note about GOE in ISU Communication 2246.


GOE Calculation


Judges apply GOE criteria to Elements in the following order:

  1. Key Aspects / Bullets
  2. Additional Aspects / Bullets
  3. Positive and negative Adjustments

This calculation system is largely unchanged from last season. Judges have been instructed to look at positive aspects of an Element before negative aspects for years. When you’re evaluating your own team’s progress, do the same. First, look at what the team is doing well. If you find it difficult to pick out positive aspects of an Element, know that the judges are going to struggle to award bullets as well. That’s a sure sign your GOE is going to be in the negative range — and often indicates the team is also going to struggle with their technical call.

The number of bullets required to achieve a particular grade is the same as last season. Coaches and skaters should learn these — it only takes one more positive bullet to improve your score.

+4 and +5

The calculation required to reach +4 or +5 has changed. Last season, all of the Key Aspects had to be Excellent to get to a +4 (and +5). This season, a team can achieve +4 with only two Key Aspects present (and Excellent).

Like last season, all bullets awarded must be done with Excellent execution to reach +4 or +5. Also like last season, +5 cannot be awarded if the Element contains any errors, and +4 cannot be awarded if there are any Major errors.


GOE Criteria

Key Aspects / Bullets

If you remember nothing else about GOE, remember these three criteria:

  1. Shape
  2. Unison
  3. Speed & Flow

This is what the judges look at first, and this is what skaters and coaches should be paying attention to in every. Single. Element. Spending time working on these will improve your GOE, PCS, and technical scores.

Pay attention to the nuance of the language. All Elements have “a shape,” but to award the Shape bullet the Element must have Above Average shape. That includes spacing between both lines and skaters.

Having good Unison doesn’t just mean the team is in time — it means they are performing as a unit. There is a sameness about how they move.

Having good Speed & Flow isn’t just about going fast. It’s about having control, and using pace and velocity intentionally.

Last season, there were 5 Key Aspects, and this season there are only 3. However, the criteria is very similar overall. While last season, Shape and Spacing were different bullets, now spacing is considered part of Shape. Similarly, Speed and Flow were separate bullets last year, and now they are combined into one. Unison was its own Key Aspect last year, and is again this season. Quality has been removed as a Key Aspect, though elements of Quality are reflected in other bullets.

Additional Aspects / Bullets

If you think of Key Aspects as the foundational bullets, then the Additional Aspects are a way to level-up your GOE. The Additional Aspects are the bullets you can start to focus on once the Key Aspects are solid. For instance, you may choreograph a variety of holds, but the team still has to do them well in order to get credit — and without good Shape, Unison, and Speed & Flow, it will be difficult to execute changes of hold well.

Getting the Key Aspects strong is what will allow your team to execute the Additional Aspects well enough to get credit for them. For example, the team can start to genuinely reflect the character of the music in an Element when good Shape, Unison, Speed & Flow just come automatically and the skaters don’t have to think about them.

The Additional Aspects add another layer to the basics. As a judge, I like the change from last season’s Specific Criteria, which were specific to the nature of each Element, to Additional Aspects, which are broader. For one, it makes the criteria easier to remember! More importantly, I think it allows teams to be more intentional and systematic about how they expand their GOE vocabulary as their skills improve.


After adding up the Key Aspects and Additional Aspects, judges consider:

  1. Anything about the Element that made it extra impressive
  2. Errors that detracted from the success of the Element

Though they change a bit every year, the Adjustments generally reflect the unique qualities inherent to that Element. For instance, in the Pivoting Element, extra credit can be given (or taken away) based on the quality of the pivoting action. In the Moves, Pair, and Lift Elements, flexibility is more important than in other Elements.

NHT stands for No Higher Than. When a team does something that matches the NHT criteria for an Element, that means that’s the highest GOE that can be awarded, even if the judge was going to award a much higher GOE before that error occurred.

It’s especially important for teams to learn which errors will result in a Reduction or NHT. These penalties can be costly, especially when there may also be a technical reduction. For instance, this season judges must reduce the starting GOE by 2 grades if skaters don’t intersect at the same time in an Intersection. Last season, not intersecting at the same time was also a technical penalty (reduced level). Though the Technical Handbook for this season has not been published yet, if that call applies again, it means teams will take a big hit if they don’t intersect at the same time.

If it hasn’t sunk in by now, yet one more reason to focus on the Key Aspects is that if a team is lacking in all 3 of them, judges must apply an Adjustment of No Higher Than -3 for the Element — no matter how creative or original it was.



I hope this review of the new GOE criteria will help you think a bit differently about how you can apply the criteria to create opportunities for success. If you only take two things away from this article, let it be the following:

  1. It’s all about those Key Aspects. Focus on them first.
  2. Working on GOE will improve both your technical calls and Program Component Scores.

I’m still planning to review this season’s technical requirements, and explore PCS in more detail in future posts. Until then, happy learning.