I've been running Mountain Leader courses (click here for our ML courses) for years now and whilst working on Training courses or Refreshers the topic of conversation inevitably comes on to Assessment top tips at some point!
In that vein I've put together my top five general tips, in no particular order.... But do remember, as a potential Mountain Leader you shouldn't forget the assessment is just a little snap shot and the real focus should be on becoming an awesome leader for working with your future clients and giving them an ace time....
1. Relax Where does all the pressure come from on an assessment? It's all from yourself, not the assessor (well not me or the top people I employ on our courses!) Remember that we want you to pass! No one likes telling a client that they're not up to the required standard and will have to come back to redo some element of the course. We love being out in the hills and want to have a nice time so will do our best to put you at ease and get the best out of you. Hopefully on an assessment you'll learn something new that you haven't seen before, treat it as a way of showing off your skills and as another learning opportunity too.
2. Be Prepared If you have spent plenty of time out on the hills practising and logging plenty of Quality Mountain Days then you'll cruise your assessment. Remember the magic number of 40 QMDs, that is a minimum, most (but not all) strong candidates with have lots more. The assessors are not trying to catch you out, simply we are giving you the opportunity to show us that you can competently meet all the aspects of the syllabus.
Some people benefit from doing a one or two day refresher course, this could either be to brush up on your skills if it's been a while since your training or as a mock assessment to confirm you are at the required standard and boost your confidence moving on to assessment.
3. Bullet Proof Tactics Candidates often make their lives harder than they need to by coming up with rushed and convoluted plans. KEEP IT SIMPLE! Remember the simple things like hand railing nice obvious linear features and using attack points to get you close to that tiny re-entrant the assessor has asked you to get to. Minimise distances that you need to walk on a bearing with pacing by getting close to the feature first, this will make your life easier and give you less opportunity to make an error. The same goes for the other aspects like rope work, which is very simple these days. You can do everything with an overhand knot if you want - just don't over complicate systems and make sure all anchors are indestructible, without forgetting what the rest of the group are up, are they getting cold for example?
4. Take Your Time There's no rush on an assessment, that doesn't mean an assessor wants to see you faffing around though! For example, when navigating a leg, once you've reached your target, take a few minutes to get all the information from your surroundings and relate them to your map.
Does everything fit? I'd suggest three solid points of justification for every decision and that goes for relocating when you not leading too, which is often harder. That bit of high ground 20m away? Go and stand on it, look around. Same goes for route finding on rockier terrain, don't be afraid of leaving your group in a safe spot to have a quick drink whilst you nip round the corner to see which is the best way through any obstacles.
5. Enjoy it! It's five days in the mountains with like minded, psyched people, how cool is that! You will learn new things (maybe even teach the assessor something!), meet new people, probably go to a new area in the hills, have two wild camps, play with some ropes, cross a river and chat about flora, glaciation, maybe some local myths or legends and get excited finding tiny contour features. It's a little holiday really!
A few random tips, of which there could be loads!
1. When asking your client to step into a rope loop, why not get them to put it over their head instead? You're on sketchy, rocky ground and they might be nervous so why have them hopping around too?
2. Be organised in camp. It's really easy to see experienced campers, all their kit is squared away at no risk of getting wet or blown away when that squall hits.
3. You've followed the above tips and have taken your time to justify your location, so when you tell the assessor where you are, say so confidently instead of going "Err, I think we are here". Be confident, be happy!
4. Have a spare compass and head torch.
5. Keep your exped pack as light as possible - within reason, see this previous blog: Lightweight but sensible ML Exped Kit
6. Eat well and keep hydrated. You'll perform better well fuelled.
The ML is a great award, it opens up so many opportunities for leading groups and maybe even progressing on to other Mountain Training awards such as the Winter ML or the Mountaineering & Climbing Instructor Award.
Best of luck!