I have just booked myself onto an SPA assessment course and I'm pretty confident in all aspects of the syllabus but then again i think everyone has to be to book the course in the first place. I just wanted to draw on others experience and see what areas are common for people to be failed on.
Not failed on it, but it was pointed out to me that I didn't tend to use screwgates on all my belay gear on my personal day. I was advised that if I did it on the group day I would be in trouble (not that I would have done).
Also, you hear constant stories about screwgates not done up - always best to check everything again.
I suspect that most competent trad climbers will breeze the personal day. It's the group day that can be more challenging. We had a very real and very hyperactive group of cub scouts for my assessment, which was challenging to say the least. It really forced us to focus on quick decisions, quick rigging, spotting (and avoiding) problems and keeping the group occupied at all times. Those are the areas I think it is wise to really work on and get in the front of your mind.
In reply to Jackspratt: It tends to be the stuff you don't normally do in day to day climbing. The most complex bit rope work wise is the realisable abseil so if you haven't done these much you need to make sure you can get them rigged fairly swiftly and have it work nice and smoothly. I spent the night before re learning how to do half hitches until I had it wired.
In reply to Jackspratt: Number 1 deferral is the releasable ab. Be slick at sorting out the stuck hair type problem.
Make sure you know how to sort out climbers stuck on ledges etc too.
Other than just be sensible, methodical and slick and it will be all good.
Main defferal on courses that I have helped on has been the abseil set ups and senario's. PRACTISE as it really does show if you have neglected this, and is really important as its one of the more common things youll be during in a hope successful career in the outdoors!
Dont just be used to one 'perfect' system of doing things, big heavy rucksack over a cliff is a good training day on your own. Go out with instructors who have livid it, an visit the crags in teh area where you have booked your assesment. Take a walk round the tops, with aguidebook to work out good set ups etc
Also be confident in what you are doing, dont be afraid to ask questions as if your ready see the assessment as an opportunity to develop your learning even more. Dont just acceept the 'yep thats fine' as the what if's or what the assessor would have done better.
In reply to Jackspratt:
Screw gates not done up.
Picking routes too hard for group.
Put helmets on ASAP and leave them on.
Check harness and helmets after breaking for lunch.
Keep an eye on group and keep them back from the edge of the cliff.
In reply to Jackspratt: I have only worked on a couple of assessment, so this is hardly definitive.
The weak candidates did not have a good appreciation of the crag as a WORK environment and how the CRAG should dictate where and how to rig. From your training (and consolidation) you should have a variety of options and techniques open to you. The assessor will want to see clear evidence that you can select an appropriate one for the specific route or area of the crag, not that you can just reproduce a 'set method' or exactly copy a diagram out of Libby Peters.
Many candidates at some point placed mediocre or poor anchors; some candidates from a lack of climbing experience but others through 'silly' errors. If you are testing a block etc. do it properly - don't just give it a half-hearted tap - imagine you're in a burning building and a loved one is trapped beneath it. Remember to check the rock around anchors and most importantly if the anchors are poor, move somewhere better.
SPA is a basic qualification, so keep things simple. Study the crag and have a clear plan before you start rigging.
If you are not happy with what you have rigged, the assessor won't be happy either, so fix it.
Finally, if you are going to practice, do it at the crag. Everyone can rig quickly on the stairs at home.
There seems to be a recurring theme (obsession?) with screwgates and whether or not they are done up. I can empathise. One of my biggest fears during my own assessment was to discover I'd left a screwgate not done up.
As an experienced assessor, I can categorically say that it is normally one of my LEAST concerns to discover a candidate has failed to do up a screwgate. For sure, some are more important than others - belay plate krabs for example, but it's always slightly disappointing to see how many screwgates (all done up of course, and many back-to-backed!) that can be deployed in a system that ultimately consists of crap anchors.
The ability to choose when, where and how to use screwgate krabs both in personal climbing and group climbing sessions is often an indication of a candidates all round climbing experience and general awareness.
I don't (quite) think it would be fair to say that the number of screwgates on a candidates harness is inversely proportional to their performance - however in my experience the screwgate issue is usually a bit of a red herring. Worry less about your screwgates and more about:
-Choosing and using sound anchors
-Appropriate and efficient rigging systems (plural - not just one 'almost-do-it-all' version)
-Good group abseil set-up, management and simple problem solving
Things that I have noticed after talking to people who have done their assessment and doing mine.
Clear, accurate and correct communication - mainly in problem solving:
Is there any need to tie off, release and lower a client if they have their finger nail stuck? Can you not just hold them still and ask them to remove it from the big shiny metal thing that the rope goes through?
In personal climbing, make sure you have let your partner know what's going on. I got lucky and did mine with someone I climb with regularly and could pretty much do things without talking at all (not saying we did that). But if you end up with someone who is nervous, or you haven't climbed much with. talk with them. Climbing (and instructing) is as much about, if not more, working with other people as it is the hard skills (rope work) that hopefully you already have nailed.
I didn't get a live group to play with unfortunately. If this is the case for you and the assessor acts as a client. Remember they are a client, check all their equipment, harness, helmet, appropriate footwear. Don't be afraid to tell them to go more left or right, feet wider a part, lean back, blah blah blah. this will prove confidence as well as knowledge of the subject you're getting assessed in.
I've enjoyed writing this, maybe I should go back into OE.
In reply to Jackspratt:
Make sure your log book is up to date.
Your personal profile is filled in.
You have a valid first aid certificate.
Keep your rope work simple.
Check you and the assessor are talking the same langue.
In reply to Jackspratt: make sure you are keeping yourself safe at the top when setting up, sounds obvious, but I know someone who got so caught up with his rigging he forgot to attach himself into the system