Scoring Basics: How To Win In Competition

IDPA scoring sheets

Scoring Basics: How Do I Win This Thing?

Now that you’ve made it to your first match, and had fun shooting it, you’re probably wondering just how to tell if you did well against the other competitors. While in many sports, matches aren’t exactly alike because the stages and people are different, you can still look at your scores to see what you did well or what you might want to work on. Understanding how the scoring system works gives you a more complete picture than just seeing what place you finished in.
The simplest scoring method seen in competitive shooting is based on the points shot. Most common in precision sports, different areas on the target have a designated point value. For each shot through the target in the marked area, you get corresponding number of points. For many sports, if the bullet hole touches or breaks the line around an area, you will receive the higher number of points that go with that area instead of the lower scoring area that the majority of the hole lies in.

USPSA scoring

Using an official USPSA overlay to make sure a hit “broke the perf”.

Points shot is the basis of the other most common scoring methods: “time plus” and “hit factor”, both of which are generally used to score various action sports.
Time plus scoring starts with how long it takes a competitor to complete a stage, with the beginning normally signaled by the beep of a shot timer. Shot timers are like stopwatches that record how long it takes between the start beep and each gunshot it detects. When a competitor finishes the stage, the “raw time” is the amount of time between the start beep and the last shot. Timing can be as precise as hundredths of a second – for instance, 2.36 seconds to draw a pistol from holster and shoot six rounds.
competition timer

A well-used Competition Electronics Pocket Pro shot timer

The “plus” part of time plus comes with various penalties that might result from not shooting the target the required number of times in the highest scoring area or from not following certain procedural rules of the game, such as shooting only from within the shooting box in USPSA or reloading when not permitted in IDPA. Each of the penalties is assigned a time value, so that the competitor’s final score for the stage is the base time plus the penalty time. The lowest time, to include all of the add-ons, wins.
IDPA scoring sheets

IDPA score sheets, an example of time plus scoring.

Hit factor scoring also starts with raw time. However, this scoring method then continues by adding the number of points shot by the competitor in that stage and subtracting points for various penalties. By dividing the total points by the raw time, a hit factor for that stage is calculated. Because closely skilled competitors can have stage times that differ by only hundredths of a second or a point or two, hit factor often goes out as far as four decimal places. Highest hit factor wins.
For example, in USPSA, hits in the primary scoring zone on target are valued at five points each. If a competitor shot 10 targets with two rounds each, and hit the “A zone” with each shot, then the total points would be 100. If it took the competitor 12.5 seconds to complete the stage, then her hit factor would be 8.0000. The math seems complex, but it boils down to “shoot as accurately as possible, as fast as possible” for the best score.
USPSA scoring sheet

A completed USPSA score sheet, showing the math for hit factor calculation

Hit factor and time plus scoring may be further complicated by something called factoring. Factoring is used as a way to prevent performance on one stage from overwhelming final scores for an entire match. It’s essentially just grading competitors on a curve.
Each competitor’s time or hit factor is calculated as a percentage of the stage winner’s performance. The stage winner is then awarded the maximum number of points available for the stage, which may be either the actual points available or an arbitrary number set by the match director. Each other competitor then receives a percentage of the maximum points matching their percentage performance. These days, factoring is usually done automatically by a scoring program like PractiScore.

PractiScore on an iPad, showing factored stage finishes

Knowing how a match is scored can help you understand your performance and how to balance your accuracy and speed. However, being confused by the scoring method and ignoring it entirely until you become comfortable competing? That’s normal and understandable. You can worry about it later.

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