What to expect when you’re testing

On Monday, I ditched work for half a day to take my first-ever MITF test.

If you think the culmination of months of practice being a five-and-a-half minute test (sandwiched in a two-hour round trip to get to the testing rink) is anticlimactic… well, welcome to ice skating. Thank Cthulhu I’m terrible at math so I don’t find it absolutely maddening how incremental progress adds up to a proportional eternity spent working toward a singular goal. Because this sport is all about the hours and days and months that no one sees as you chip away at the same thing over and over again until that glorious AHA! moment finally tumbles from the heavens to reward you for your lavish sacrifices of bodily harm, frozen thighs, and agonizingly slow progress.

And, so help me, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I have a lot of tangled-up feels to keep working through in regard to the test itself that are slowly becoming their own vaguely cohesive blog post (and you can thank pre-test nerves and post-test emoting for the radio silence here). But I wanted to finally kick off Ask an Adult Skater by tackling this topic while it’s still fresh, especially since I’ve been fielding all sorts of questions about it these past few days—and realizing that the incredible amount of preparation my coaches and peers offered up still left me with some test-day questions of my own. Because you never know everything you should ask until you get there.

(Oh, and I passed. Onto Pre-Bronze Free Skate and Bronze MITF—the latter of which I ran through with my Wednesday coach yesterday and, hoo boy, do I need to get comfortable with change-of-edge footwork while moving.)

Ask an Adult Skater: What do I need to know about testing?

Congratulations—you decided to take the plunge and submit yourself to testing! Welcome to a world of repetition, asking your coach to kill you before running through these moves one more time does, and, ultimately, one helluva payoff. It’s been a few days and I am still reduced to the happiest tears mulling over how emotionally significant something that lasts less than six minutes can be.

Before we start, some clarification: I’m speaking from the vantage point of USFS testing. I have very little idea if/how ISI testing varies from it—though my primary coach is preparing my freestyle class to take the ISI Bronze test, and my impression is that their testing curriculum is more streamlined; that is, one test measures your footwork AND freestyle prowess, rather than USFS's dual-track testing of Moves in the Field (MITF) and Free Skate. I’ll have a more tangible understanding of those variances at some point in the nebulous future.

Also, I'm just one person. I can only speak confidently of my own experiences, but I do have the good fortune of being in touch with lots of other adult skaters who've been doling out pearls of wisdom for months.

So. As an adult, you have two options: You can opt for the Standard Track (which is geared more toward younger skaters looking to compete) or the Adult Track (which is judged a bit more leniently to account for adult bodies’ limitations but, especially in terms of MITF, jams more elements into each test). I opted for the Standard Track purely out of impatience: My coach offered me the chance to take the Pre-Preliminary test instead of its Pre-Bronze counterpart because it was available sooner and guaranteed that each skater would test one at a time, and I jumped at the opportunity to put this bloody test behind me sooner (the only difference between the two is that the Pre-Bronze test includes forward and backward crossovers, and have I mentioned how attempting a high-speed mohawk is tantamount to an early death as far as I’m concerned?). Honestly, now that I've gone through the testing experience, I’m running right back to the Adult Track. One of my coach’s younger students was testing right after me and, while she was a super sweet little kid (who wished me luck right as I stepped on the ice and damn near made me cry), I’m preeeeeetty sure her mother and I are the same age and that was just a layer of weirdness that I wasn’t expecting.

If you’re like me, your first Test Day is the most significant moment of your ice-skating endeavors so far. It’s a validation of all you’ve been working for, confirmation that everyone isn’t just telling you that you’re good to make you feel better, and proof that you have dedicated yourself to something worth agonizing over. It’s important not so much for what it is but rather for what it means and what it signifies. And, if you’re also like me, it can inspire such a bellyful of butterflies that it makes you wonder if you can at least impress the judge(s) by how far your center-ice projectile vomiting can go. I want to spare as many people as I can from that same harsh sting of stomach-churning nervousness that turns your legs to jelly (and makes attempting a half-rink spiral on a bum ankle more of an adventure than it’s ever been) so that this milestone is as enjoyable and positively memorable as it ought to be.

DON’T be freaked out by a quiet rink
You know how freestyle sessions usually have some kind of ambient background tunes, someone’s program music playing, and coaches directing their students? How group lessons are organized chaos filled with echoing laughter, conversations between coaches and students, and voices amplified by the rink’s unique sound-bending acoustics? How public skates are one big wall of sound? Yeah, forget all that: When you’re testing, especially when skaters are tested one at a time (yes, be forewarned that some sessions will have multiple skaters on the ice simultaneously), the rink is eerily, off-puttingly silent. Every scratch, every accidental toe push, every effing sound you make thunders through the rink with an otherworldly ferocity, and I am beyond grateful that I was warned about this beforehand. And even though I was bracing for it, it still startled me—I was really hoping that skating with my heart in my throat meant that a Poe-like pounding pulse would drown out everything else, but alas. Stick around for the others skaters and be comforted by the fact that it’s only natural to hear the slicing of a blade through a hard surface to remind yourself that perspective can be a nasty, tricksy beast.

DO bring some moral support
Your coach is obviously there to support you and cheer you on, but they’ll have other responsibilities—and they may have some of their other students testing that day, too, so their attention is going to be divided among any number of things. Having someone who’s there solely because you are is so! beyond! worth it. The gesture alone is invaluable and reminds you that you have a support network who just wants to see you succeed and be happy: My husband offered to take the morning off work to come watch me test (and also so I wouldn’t have to drive under the influence of nerves, though I think he was partly worried that my road rage would be downright newsworthy if it was compounded by anxiety), and it meant the world to me that he voluntarily came along for the ride. You’ll also have a lot of time to kill once you get to the rink: I had to be there an hour before warmups, and it only takes so long to find exactly where you’re testing (my facility had three rinks), lace up, check in with your coach, and stretch. Your mind can wander to some pretty ruinous places with all that space to roam, and having someone you trust there for company keeps your meandering mind reigned in with idle chatter, inside jokes, and occasional encouragement. Bonus: You’ll also have someone to watch your skatebag and sundries, and also record your test (because even if it takes you some time to work up the courage to watch the video, you’ll be grateful that someone thought to capture that milestone for you).

DON’T spend lavishly on test attire
I bought a black long-sleeved leotard, a black shrug sweater, and a black skating skirt for about $50; I REALLY wanted to test in black leggings and a nice black top because, honestly, it felt so pretentious to me to “dress up” when all I was doing was showcasing some foundational elements, but you have to abide by what the judges expect. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to go all out when you start competing, and don't rob that experience of its own milestones by jumping the gun with pretty, blingy skating dresses that'll be treated to an abbreviated debut at a test: Here, you’re just sitting around a rink waiting for your turn, waiting for your results, waiting for your coach to have a spare second so you can pay them their testing fee and adequately thank them for their support. (Relatedly, I have no idea if thank-you post-test gifts are a thing, but I adore my coach and am so giving her a card and a small token of my appreciation.) Be presentable but comfortable. It’s important that you look “neat,” so pull back your hair, tame those flyaways, and dress so that it doesn’t distract from your skating.

DO invest in some tape for your laces
Apparently, you’re supposed to tape down your laces so they’re not flying everywhere along with you. I didn’t realize this until my coach was recounting some of the testing horrors she’s seen over the years and mentioned that one skater had frayed, flapping laces that she failed to tape down—I promptly forgot to buy skating tape of my own (masking or medical tape should do just fine in a pinch); luckily, my coach came prepared and had a brand-new roll all ready to go. You’ll use it if you keep testing and competing, anyway, so have a roll tucked away in your skatebag.

DON’T neglect all the non-test elements you’re working on
I lost my scratch spin for a few weeks because I was so hell-bent on not sucking at my waltz-eights and getting my left spiral as close to on-par with my right one as possible that I totally stopped working on everything else. I am not the first to make this rookie mistake and I will not be the last, and everyone’s skating journey is peppered with those moves that took forever to master, fade away at the drop of the hat because skating is the devil like that, and are a fight to regain. I recently spent one two-hour practice session working on nothing but left spirals and clawing my way back to proficient scratch spins. Literally, yesterday’s lesson was the first time I felt good about my scratch spin in almost a month. It was so demoralizing to lose something I spent 10 bloody months trying to regain, and it sucked. Don’t be like me and work almost exclusively on your test elements at the cost of everything else. It’s needless frustration that will only try to undermine your mental game.

DO practice and prepare as much as you can
Practice and preparation are crucial: The judges want you to pass, of course, but they’re not gonna baby you. Your coach won’t, either. You’re on your own when you test, and knowing what’s expected from you will help you navigate everything from the test itself to the transitions between each element. Unless you’re an unflappable natural skating prodigy, do yourself a favor and DO NOT wing your tests! The best way to not sacrifice everything else you’ve worked your ass off for is not to fill your practice sessions with test elements but rather to supplement them with additional ice time, and I wish I’d figured this out sooner. It was a great way to finally coax myself onto the additional freestyle sessions I’ve been needing to hit up but kept talking myself out of. Both your skating and confidence will benefit from ramped-up ice time, your non-test-element skating won’t suffer, and it’ll give you a chance to dedicate some practice time exclusively to the test at hand—AND have muscle memory on your side. This is especially important so you, uh….

DON’T lose track of how many waltz-eight circles you've done so far
If you like wondering how well you hide your internal panic then you’ll LOVE getting so absorbed in ensuring your figure-eight pattern is symmetrical enough that you’ll have a moment of “OH WAIT OH FUCK HOW MANY CIRCLES DO I HAVE LEFT!?” I had gotten into the bad habit of just practicing waltz-eights like a woman possessed until my legs were threatening to secede from my body: It definitely helped me in my efforts to proficiently do them, but it completely undermined my sense of timing in terms of how long it takes to execute all four circles because I just kept going and going far beyond the prescribed two tracings. There’s nothing like that inner meltdown when you’re unsure of the most basic arithmetic; fortunately, both of my coaches were ADAMANT about consistently starting my waltz-eights in the same direction, and the process of elimination (“I know I’ve done at least one eight, I started on my left foot, and I’m on my left foot now, therefore—”) paired with rapid-fire mathing all saved the day. But, man, if I weren’t already immune to being a bundle of nerves on ice, that might’ve been the point where I just lost it. Guys, counting to four is surprisingly taxing when you’re also silently counting off in sixes as you three-turn, glide, and step.

DO give yourself the day off
One of the biggest challenges of being an adult skater is balancing your skating with your adulting. If you have to test on a work day, do yourself a favor and just take the day off if you can. If you have to retry, giving yourself a day to lick your wounds before rising up like the unstoppable badass you are is a perfectly normal, very human reaction: Your feelings are valid and you need a chance to wallow before steeling yourself to thoroughly trounce the test on your next go at it. But if you pass, the most anticlimactic thing you can do is return to the daily grind and routine when all you want to do is celebrate (one of my skating pals told me that I deserved a drink after passing, and not being able to raise a celebratory glass or three to my biggest accomplishment as a skater to date was one brutal letdown). What’s more, when your astoundingly supportive loved ones spend all morning stalking your social media pages for updates so they can be primed to flood your phone with congratulatory texts telling you how proud they are of you, all you want to do is let yourself be overwhelmed with love and just curl into a ball of grateful vulnerability because it’s a lot to process when you realize that everyone who means the most to you really, truly understands that skating means a whole awful lot to you, too. And it’s hard to do that when you’re at work and trying to meet deadlines. Celebrate that shit instead! Whether you pass or have to retry, you put yourself out there, you set a goal, and you did the thing. You deserve a day to focus on having the bravery to take that plunge.

DON’T confuse your LTS number for your USFS number
…because they’re actually two different things. You’re assigned a Learn to Skate (LTS) number when you sign up for LTS classes, and it begins with an “L” to designate it as such. You’ll have to buy a United States Figure Skating member number (grand total for me: $151) to register for things like testing (and, later, competing); this number is how your coach will input your testing information to prove that you passed. Save yourself, your coach, and the poor folks at the USFS HQ who are fielding your progressively frantic calls the headaches by actually listening when your coach tells you to register for a USFS number. The good news? You CAN retroactively purchase the correct number; your test scores will be on hold 'til your payment processes. (Do, uh, I really need to qualify how my perpetually spacey self figured this out?)

DO remember that you’re doing this out of love
The absolute best advice I got was when one of my favorite adult skaters and I said goodbye last Saturday, and her parting wisdom was “Most of all, have fun. You do this because you love skating.” And it was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s so easy to get all caught up in progress, perfection, and passing that you can lose sight of the passion behind it all. Leave your heart on the ice. It’s safe there because it’s where you belong. Being an adult skater comes with scads of hurdles, but its rewards are more than proportional. Skating is where my brain finds some peace, my body finds its purpose, and my heart finds another home. There are always new goals to reach for and new battles that your mind and body will wage against each other, but each one is just part of the greater journey. Progress is its own reward, but so is letting the world melt away and just being in the moment when you’re on the ice. And when the nervousness threatens to bubble up to dangerous, sabotaging levels, remind yourself that it comes from a place of being deeply invested in this sport: You wouldn’t take it so seriously if it didn’t warrant being held in such high regard. This is your moment, and it's just the first of many you worked your well-toned skater's ass off for. Enjoy every second of it!

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