The Lead Test →

What are the gym employees going to ask me on my lead test?

Every gym is a little different in the way they orchestrate their lead climbing test. Sometimes it's a super structured affair. Sometimes it's more loose and ad-hoc. But the test will generally consist of two parts, (i) a questionnaire or interview, followed by (ii) a hands-on exam where you'll have to belay and climb on lead.

During the interview, you'll be asked about your climbing experience. Be prepared to answer questions like the following:

  • How many years/months have you been climbing?
  • How much of that has been lead climbing?
  • Are you lead certified at other gyms?
  • How many indoor/outdoor pitches have you led?
  • Where did you learn to belay?

You'll also be asked safety-related questions:

  • What is back-clipping and why is it dangerous?
  • What is Z-clipping, why is it dangerous, and how do you prevent/fix it?
  • What safety checks do you and your partner perform before climbing?
  • What's the danger in putting your leg in between the climbing rope and the wall?
  • What's your preferred clipping technique?
  • How do you position yourself when belaying?
  • How much slack should you allow your climber?
  • How do you clip the anchors?

You should also be prepared to respond accurately about any idiosyncratic rules of your particular gym, e.g. rules about where to stand, what terrain features to avoid, issues of spacing between climbers, allowed belay devices, communication protocols, etc.

During the hands-on portion, you'll probably be asked to demonstrate lead belaying followed by actual climbing. As you do this, you may have to field particular questions about what you're doing, what safety concerns there are, and if you or your partner is doing anything wrong.

Finally, you'll be asked to catch and take a lead fall. The climber may be asked to fall at the clip or high above the clip, with or without any announcement. This is a critical part of the test and the tester will judge your belaying in terms of your ability to provide the proper safe catch.

When it's your turn to climb and take the fall, you'll be judged on your climbing confidence: how smoothly and poised your movements are, how well you clip the draws, how much hesitation you exhibit, etc.

If you don't pass the test immediately, don't worry. Some gyms have unofficial policies of making everyone fail the first time. If there's something you need to work on, just have some practice and re-take the test.

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