Here's What the Green, Yellow, and Red Figure Skating Scoring Boxes Mean

We break down figure skating's colored scoring system to keep you in the know.

Olympic figure skating has fascinated fans for years due in no small part to its history of boundary-pushing. This year alone, viewers of the Beijing Olympics have witnessed history in the making, from a record-breaking quadruple jump to the first figure skater to represent Mexico in more than 30 years. And while the showmanship remains a spectacle to behold, the scoring system can be a bit baffling. 

The judging and scoring process for some Olympic sports is fundamentally simple. In skeleton, for example, the competitor that makes it down the track fastest wins. Figure skating is not one of those sports, and if you're the type of person who only tunes in to watch once every four years during the Winter Games, it can be tough to keep up.

Fortunately, viewers can see colored boxes on their screens that change either green, yellow, or red as each skater competes, which helps communicate how well a skater is doing in real-time and lends some transparency to the system. So, here's what you need to know to stay in the know. 

click to play video
Courtesy of NBC Sports

The colors represent the technical score 

Without getting too complicated, judges score figure skating routine scores in two categories, the technical elements involved and the artistry of the overall program. To determine the technical score, a panel of judges gauge how well skaters execute things like spins, jumps, footwork, transitions, and other elements in real-time. Each element is worth a particular base score. The more complex the move is the higher its base score. Essentially, judges assign an overall technical score by adding up the scores of all completed maneuvers (more on that in a minute). 

So, how do judges know what maneuvers to look for? And how do commentators know when a skater has screwed up or missed something? Well, each competitor has to submit a sequential plan for their skate ahead of time. Accordingly, each technical element they intend to execute appears in a box on your screen. Then, to the right of the technical element is the base score. 

The different colors indicate how well skaters perform a technical element 

Since the eagle-eyed technical judges know what moves to look for, they can fairly and quickly assess how well a skater performed a technical element. The final box to the right of the base score will turn green if the skater successfully completes a technical element. If the skater fails, it will turn red. A yellow "Review" indicates that the judges aren't quite sure and will need to review it, which is why you'll notice the yellow quickly turns green or red.

click to play video
Courtesy of NBC Sports

But it's not only about colors, it's also about numbers

While the color-coded system can help viewers better understand how well a skater is generally doing from a technical perspective, the number of points the skater will actually receive for each technical skill they attempt, which is the number shown within the colored box, is a bit complicated.

For example, every technical element they attempt, whether performed successfully or unsuccessfully, will receive a "grade of execution," or GOE, within a range of -5 to +5, which is added to or deducted from the base value. So, if you see a green box, it means the skater got a positive GOE for a particular element. From there, they'll either receive the full number of base points the move is worth, slightly less if the judges think something subtle went wrong or was lacking, or more if it was practically perfect. If you see a red box, the skater did something wrong and received a negative GOE.

The judges take the base value of each element and add or subtract the GOE they gave them to come up with the final technical score. Those same judges will also assign a program components score based on the artistry of the overall program, though that gets even more complicated. Alas, because of this, the colored boxes do not reflect this score.

Ultimately, the technical score is combined with the program components score to determine the skater's segment score for the event. Does your head hurt yet?

Just remember, don't let having a grasp of what the box colors mean convince you that you're at all versed in the exceeding complexities involved in figure skating scoring. Trying to understand everything about it is enough to make you dizzy. However, if you feel like trying, this primer should help set you straight.

Check back during the games for all of Thrillist’s continuing Olympics coverage. Think of us like an all-knowing friend watching along with you to answer all the important questions, like how heavy are Olympic medals. We'll explain everything from curling rules and figure skating scoring to what OAR means, why winning athletes are receiving stuffed animals and much, much more.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Joe McGauley is Thrillist's Editorial Director, Commerce. Follow him @jwmcgauley.