In gymnastics, athletes are scored on how well they perform certain skills at different levels of difficulty. The athlete who scores the highest on an event or on a series of events wins.
Gymnastics is a lot less straightforward in how athletes are scored when compared to other sports. A particular area of confusion is the fact that not all gymnastic competitions use the same system. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) switched the official scoring system to make the final score more comprehensive for elite level competitions like the Olympics. However, the female collegiate and Junior Olympic levels still use the old system. Male collegiate and Junior levels use a modified system that's very close to the elite level scoring system.
In the US, gymnasts can test into the elite level after completing 10 "junior" levels. Once gymnasts enter this elite level, they will be scored based on an execution and difficulty score.
The execution score is determined by a panel of six judges. They will each start at 10 and make deductions from there for any faults/mistakes related to artistry, execution, or technique. All judges will come up with their own score. The highest and lowest scores will be dropped. They will then take the average of the remaining scores to determine the athlete's overall execution score.
Two people work together to determine the difficulty score. They add up the points based on the 10 highest difficulty skills. Every skill has a predetermined value based on how difficult it is. If one skill is used twice, it can only be considered in the difficulty score once. In addition to the skills being tallied up, gymnasts can also earn points based on connections between two high-level skills. These points are available in the uneven bars, balance beam, and floor events for women and in the horizontal bar, rings, and floor events for men. Also, in each level, there are "element group requirements" that must be included in a routine. If these are all met, an athlete will earn another 2.5 points.
The final score is calculated by combining these two score totals, minus any deductions.
In the NCAA and Junior level female competitions, scoring works as it originally did in the FIG. Gymnasts start out with a score based on the difficulty of their routine. If they meet all the difficulty requirements for their level, they will start with a 9.500. They can add on "bonus" points by adding more challenging skills and connections to their routine. Gymnasts try to do this so that there is more of a buffer for later deductions.
The final score is then the base score minus any deductions that occur in the routine. A gymnast can receive a maximum score of 10.
No matter which type of scoring system a gymnast is using, there are always deductions throughout the routine. There are execution deductions which relate to the performance of a skill. These can include gymnasts' legs coming apart while flipping on the bars, legs not reaching 180 degrees or more during a split/leap, falling, or wobbling. In elite levels, deductions range from 0.1 to 0.8 points and from 0.1 to 0.5 points in Junior Olympic and collegiate levels.
Artistry deductions are more subjective. Athletes can get points deducted for not looking confident, not being expressional, or if their routine lacks a personal style.
ND stands for neutral deduction. These are deductions that a head judge will subtract from the final score. They apply to larger rules that a gymnast breaks. Some examples are a routine going too long, a gymnast showing up late to perform, or if a gymnast's clothing doesn't meet regulation requirements. If a college gymnast was going to receive a perfect 10, a neutral deduction could bring the true final score down to a 9.9.
In the female collegiate and Junior Olympic level, and the old FIG scoring system, a perfect 10 was the highest a gymnast could score. These are very rare though. With the new FIG system it is difficult to put an exact number on the max score possible. Technically, it would be 20 but difficulty scores don't go to 10. They are usually no higher than 6.5. So a total score of around 16 is what gymnasts aim for.
The scoring system was changed in 2006. In this change, the coveted perfect 10 was lost. This was done because the FIG wanted to encourage gymnasts to complete more challenging routines. The new system creates a larger difference between gymnasts based on the difficulty of the skills they are attempting. This encourages athletes to keep trying new skills rather than just perfecting old ones to get a perfect 10.