Understanding the Level 3 Exams

About the Author

John Brian McCarthy is a Level 3 Judge from Arlington, VA, USA. He manages the Level 3 advancement exams. You can also find him at many Grand Prix, taking appeals in burgundy or taking photos for the Judges at Work albums.

 

 

When you were studying to become a Level 1 Judge, you probably focused a lot on the test. When you were studying to advance to Level 2, you probably split your focus between passing the test and completing the other requirements, particularly the evaluation of your performance at a Comp REL tournament.

Many judges preparing for Level 3 are very focused on soft requirements – gathering recommendations, embodying the qualities of a Level 3 Judge, passing the panel. They’ve already taken a number of rules and policy knowledge tests, they take rulings at every tournament, and they can explain the philosophy behind policy. As a result, the Level 3 Exam can catch them off guard – they didn’t know how much they didn’t know. And some what they did know turned out to be apocrypha.

I’m going to give you two questions that were recently retired from the L3P as an idea of the kind of questions you can expect. Try to answer them correctly – you’ll find out which answer is correct, and why, at the bottom of the article:

1.Anthony casts Skeleton Scavengers. After Skeleton Scavengers resolves, Nadine casts Maggot Therapy, targeting Skeleton Scavengers. In response, Anthony casts Puncture Bolt, targeting Skeleton Scavengers. In response to Puncture Bolt, Anthony activates Skeleton Scavengers’s activated ability twice. What happens after each instance of Skeleton Scavenger’s ability has resolved?

A) Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is regenerated twice. Maggot Therapy resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is put into Anthony’s graveyard, then Maggot Therapy is put into Nadine’s graveyard.
B) Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers isn’t regenerated and is put into Anthony’s graveyard. Maggot Therapy is countered and is put into Nadine’s graveyard.
C) Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is regenerated once. Maggot Therapy resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is put into Anthony’s graveyard, then Maggot Therapy is put into Nadine’s graveyard.
D) Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is regenerated once. Maggot Therapy resolves. Skeleton Scavengers remains on the battlefield.
E) Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers is regenerated once, then is put into Anthony’s graveyard. Maggot Therapy is countered and is put into Nadine’s graveyard.

2. Andre attacks with Battle Hurda and Stampeding Rhino. Nanette declares Palace Guard is blocking Stampeding Rhino and Battle Hurda, and that Pillarfield Ox is blocking Stampeding Rhino. Which of the following best explains the announcement of the damage assignment order?

A) In the declare blockers step, Nanette announces Palace Guard’s and Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order. Then Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s and Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order.
B) In the declare blockers step, Andre announces Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s and Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order. Then Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s damage assignment order.
C) In the first combat damage step, Andre announces Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. In the second combat damage step, Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s damage assignment order. Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s amd Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order.
D) In the first combat damage step, Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s and Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s amd Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order.
E) In the declare blockers step, Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s and Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s and Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order.

 

In this article, I’m going to break down how the Level 3 Exam works, dispel some myths about it, and give you some suggestions on what to study. But first…

 

A bit of history

Before testing on JudgeApps, judges took exams on Judge Center, a Wizards-managed property. Former Level 3 Judge Brian Schenck managed Judge Center testing for Wizards, and he put quite a bit of thought into what a Level 3 Judge test should look like. Based on conversations with the Level 5 Judges at the time, the three principles Brian used were:

  1. Level 3 Judges should be experts in rules and policy
  2. Level 3 Judges should possess broad knowledge and depth of knowledge
  3. Level 3 Judges can answer questions from any format

From these principles, Brian created the Level 3 Practice test, or L3P, and the two Level 3 Certification Exams, L3A and L3B. One innovation Brian had was that while the Level 1 and Level 2 exams included broad pools (both for repetition and test integrity reasons), the Level 3 Certification Exam would be somewhat static – most Level 3 Judges would have similar exams, to ensure that broad knowledge. For example, you can take a Level 2 exam that might happen to not include any questions on HCE or it might include several questions on HCE, but almost every Level 3 exam will include two questions on the parts of a turn.

Every candidate for advancement to Level 3 takes the L3A. Candidates who don’t pass the L3A would have a chance to re-test with the L3B. The L3B was designed to be more difficult – the program didn’t want candidates just going in again without studying and guessing better the second time, but instead wanted them to really master the rules and policy knowledge areas they missed the first time and shore up anything about which they were unsure.

During the Judge Center era, a total of 155 Level 3 Certification Exams were administered, with a pass rate of 86%, a median score of 86% and only two perfect scores (both perfect-scoring judges are still active today!).

 

The Modern L3P test

Today, the L3P is a 25-question, open-book timed test. It includes 17 rules questions (from the CR) and 8 policy questions (from the MTR, IPG and JAR). Candidates have 100 minutes to take the test – enough time to carefully consider their answers but not enough time to scour the CR for the answer to every question. Candidates need a score of 80%, or 20 correct answers, to pass.

Since JudgeApps testing went live, more than 260 L3Ps have been administered. 74% of L3P takers passed on their first try.

Questions on the L3P will assume that you have access to the CR, and won’t shy away from esoteric keywords whose reminder text isn’t helpful (looking at you, Soulbond). They also generally can’t be answered by looking at the oracle notes for the cards involved.

There are presently almost 240 questions in the L3P pool, so we do have room for candidates to retake it (which is common, due to the lag between a candidate’s TLTP qualification and advancement checklist submission), but we don’t have enough questions for you to spam it. After failing an L3P, candidates are expected to study up on the things they missed before going to their mentor for another try.

Of the 10 L3P questions that judges most often missed, topics include:

  • Copy effects
  • State-based actions
  • Replacement effects
  • Keywords
  • Steps of casting a spell
  • State-based actions again
  • Tournament errors
  • Layers
  • Parts of a turn
  • Even more State-based actions

 

The L3A and the L3B tests

The L3A and L3B are each 50 questions including 35 rules questions and 15 policy questions. Unlike the L3P, these tests are taken on paper, and are untimed.

While you need to take this exam with a Level 3 Judge as proctor, that doesn’t mean you need to do so at a Grand Prix – I took my L3A in Ryan Stapleton’s kitchen while he made guacamole. Of course, not everyone is lucky enough to have a Level 3 Judge in their metro area, so taking your test off-shift at a large event or conference is also a possibility. Don’t plan on testing and paneling at the same event – you’ll want to take the time to thoroughly prepare for both, and the stress will make you perform worse.

Since exams moved to JudgeApps, 16 judges have taken L3 Certification Exams with a pass rate of 75% and a median score of 83%. These are difficult tests, and it’s important to study hard for them.

The Level 3 Certification Exams particularly focus on rules and policy that comes up at tournaments. While we want your knowledge of the comprehensive rules to be comprehensive, we’re not going to test you on subgames, because there are no tournament-legal cards that create them. We’re looking for judges who can serve as experts at tournaments, not win Judge Tower.

 

Where do new questions come from?

If you take a Level 3 exam today, you’ll see a mix of questions about older and newer cards and rules. New content is being added to the L3P, L3A and L3B every quarter, with almost all of it coming from the L3 Update Quizzes. With each expansion, Steven Zwanger’s Update Quiz project creates a couple dozen questions to test the current Level 3 Judges to ensure their rules and policy knowledge remains up to date. These quizzes are a required part of Level 3 Maintenance, so you know that judges taking the quiz are putting in a real effort to answer correctly.

The response rates from the L3 Update guide which questions migrate to various other exams. We don’t want to create questions on the Certification exams to be too easy or too hard, nor do we want questions that are entirely answered by knowing new keywords or reading Toby’s blog. However, as policy and rules change, questions can become outdated – for example, the change to Bribery and IDAW broke a number of questions.

In addition, I regularly monitor the pass rates on individual questions, and will flag a question for replacement if the response rate is too high or too low. We don’t want too much variance on the test or a candidate could get all easy questions or all hard questions, making it a poor gauge of whether the candidate is ready for advancement. The questions at the beginning of this article were both removed from the L3P – one had a 100% pass rate, the other had a 33% pass rate. Try to guess which was which!

 

Study Guide

Taking an L3A or L3B means being expected to have outstanding knowledge of Magic rules and policy. After all, we expect someone passing these exams to be ready to back up judges on the floor of a Grand Prix, take calls on camera at the Mythic Championship, or Head Judge a StarCityGames.com Open.

While the L1 and L2 tests have excellent study guides, the L3 tests do not. Instead, almost everything is fair game. However, here is a list of topics you won’t find on the L3 tests:

  • Anything related to silver-border cards
  • Anything related to Vanguard
  • Ante
  • Conspiracies, schemes, phenomena and planes
  • Subgames
  • Everything in CR 8 except for two-headed giant
  • Everything in CR 9
  • Rochester Draft
  • Everything in MTR 10
  • MTR Appendices A, C, D, E and F

When taking the L3P, it’s okay to consult the documents online. But remember that you’re up against the clock, and that you won’t be able to do so on your certification exam. So consider making note of questions where you had to look up a rule so you can study that area in depth later.

You may find more multi-select questions on the L3P, L3A and L3B than you did on previous exams. In many cases, these questions are there to test not only how well you know the answer to the question, but also why that answer is correct.

 

Conclusion

I hope this was a helpful introduction to the Level 3 exams. If you asked players what their number one expectation of judges is, I suspect the answer would be “Answer rules and policy questions correctly,” and that’s even more true for Level 3 Judges. While studying for your advancement exam can be an additional stress in an already stressful process, testing is an important tool to ensure the quality of Level 3 Judges remains high and we continue to earn players’ and tournament organizers’ trust.

If you have feedback on a question on any exam, please click on the question number after you’ve taken your test and submit it via the form. These comments are emailed to all the admins of that exam, and stay attached to the question so even if we don’t make a change immediately, we’ll keep an eye on it.

Lastly, as promised, the answers to the questions from the beginning:

1) B. Puncture Bolt resolves. Skeleton Scavengers isn’t regenerated and is put into Anthony’s graveyard. Maggot Therapy is countered and is put into Nadine’s graveyard.

When Puncture Bolt resolves, 1 damage is dealt to Skeleton Scavengers and one -1/-1 counter is put onto Skeleton Scavengers. Since Skeleton Scavengers has toughness 0, it isn’t regenerated and Skeleton Scavengers is put into Anthony’s graveyard when state-based actions are checked. [CR 704.5f][CR 704.5g] Maggot Therapy is countered on resolution and is put into Nadine’s graveyard. [CR 608.2b]

2) E. In the declare blockers step, Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s and Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s and Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order.

After blocking creatures are declared, the damage assignment order for each creature is announced in the declare blockers step. Andre announces Stampeding Rhino’s and Battle Hurda’s damage assignment order. [CR 509.2] Then Nanette announces Palace Guard’s amd Pillarfield Ox’s damage assignment order. [CR 509.3] While Battle Hurda has first strike, that does not affect when its damage assignment order is announced. [CR 509.4]

 

A Note about the Future

This article was started before the Judge Academy announcement, and we don’t yet know what the Level 3 Exam is going to look like in the future. However, it will hopefully help candidates no matter when they take the exam, or at least provide some historical context as changes roll out.

8 thoughts on “Understanding the Level 3 Exams

  1. I apologize that this is on the wrong post but I have been reaching out for two weeks on this subject. I am a level 1 judge here in Missouri and it is still saying I am unrecognized on JudgeApps. I’ve tried contacting Eric Levine and I’ve not had any luck. I just need to know what I need to do to make sure I don’t miss out on being part of the Academy.

  2. Maggot Therapy isn’t countered, it doesn’t resolve.
    This was changed in Dominaria’s rules update, and it’s important because Multani’s Presence exists.

    1. Hi – thanks for pointing this out! I’ll update the article. I believe this question was paused before this change was made (though Multani’s Presence existing is an example of something we don’t test on the L3 Exams, because I don’t expect it’ll ever come up at a tournament).

  3. The explanation to question one should be updated since spells are not countered on resolution for quite a while now when all their targets become illegal but instead don’t resolve, are removed from the stack and put in their owner’s graveyard.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out, Christian! I believe this question was paused before this change was made, but we’ll update the article to make sure it’s clear here.

  4. For what it’s worth, Skeleton Scavenger’s Oracle text differs markedly from its printed card text. Since the helper link for it only returns the printed card image and not the Oracle text, there’s potential for confusion here that might be addressed in the explanation for the answer.

    1. Good point. In the Exams interface, we have the neat flippy cards that switch between oracle text and card images, but here, you only get card images.

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