Overview of the new 2023 classification system

The new UK archery classification is a significant change compared to the previous system. Let’s take a look at the what’s new –

Classification Levels

Old SystemNew System
3rd Class
2nd Class
1st Class
Bowman / Junior Bowman
Master Bowman / Junior Bowman
Grand Master Bowman
Archer 3rd Class
Archer 2nd Class
Archer 1st Class

Bowman 3rd Class
Bowman 2nd Class
Bowman 1st Class

Master Bowman
Grand Master Bowman
Elite Master Bowman
Old and new systems compared

The new system has a few notable changes to the classifications available.

  • Nine levels rather than six – This allows archers to move up in more achievable steps rather than getting stuck at some of the larger jumps.
  • No specific junior classifications – Same terminology is used for both juniors and adults.
  • Tiers – The new system is divided into 3 tiers, which have different eligibility rules associated with them


The scores required to gain certain classifications have always been tied to particular points on the handicap scale. This was never made very clear in the previous system, but these handicaps are now shown on each of the classification tables at the top of each column. All of the scores down each column represent the same level of performance, and so mathematically speaking, none should be any easier or harder than any other. The only difference might be psychological – some people for example might find it easier to gain classifications on single distance rounds, some might prefer rounds that spend less time out at the longest distance etc.

This observation highlights a useful property of the handicap system – that it can be used to compare performance across rounds. The handicap tables are an excellent tool for analysing your performance, setting targets or working out what your expected score for a round might be. This is not just limited to standard rounds either. If you want to shoot 63 arrows at 91.3 metres on a 97cm Worcester face, then you can calculate the handicap table for that round, using our tools here.

So, how are these handicap levels decided for each classification band? In the old system the bands were set based on the percentiles of scores being shot in a particular category. GMB represented the top 1% of scores, MB 4%, and so on down to 3rd Class being pegged at the 90th percentile. However, this was also the source of many of the well-known issues in the previous system.

  • In small categories where there was not enough data to sensibly identify percentiles, the scores were quite erratic, and could be skewed dramatically by one particularly exceptional archer.
  • Blindly following the percentiles in each category meant there was no consitistency between categories, which created some strange steps as you progressed through the age groups (most notably being the step for U18 Longbow women into the adult category where the scores became significantly easier)
  • The steps between classifications in the same age groups were also wildly inconsistent, with some enormous steps, and some tiny ones, again in the under-represented cateogies.
  • There is no systematic UK-wide collection of score data, so these exercises often involved scraping data from published sources, which was time-consuming and biased towards more elite events where the scores are more likely to be published.

So, the 2023 classification system does not use percentiles. A more pragmatic approach was used where the scores at the top end were set by looking at the abundant score data at that end of the spectrum, and then fixed sized steps follow downwards from there. The size of those steps for different bowstyles was also informed by score data, as the overall range of performance varies between bowstyles.


Not every round is eligible for every classification and not every type of event can lead to every type of classification. This was true in the old system and is equally true in the new system.

Even though the handicaps underlying the classification should create scores of equal performance levels, other factors, like distance are clearly important. It would not seem right, for example, to be able to earn a GMB or EMB when shooting at 10 metres!

In the old system there were requirements on the number of rounds (3) and the type of event (MB and above had to be shot at a Record Status event). In the new system, the eligibility rules are slightly more complex, but these changes are worth it as they make the system more accessible to more people. The table below summarises the eligibility requirements of the new system.

Sub-LevelsAward Requirements
From rounds totallingRoundsType of eventAdministered by
Archer TierArcher 3rd Class12 dozen arrowsAll rounds of an appropriate distanceAny eventClubs
Archer 2nd Class
Archer 1st Class
Bowman TierBowman 3rd Class18 dozen arrowsAny competitive event
Bowman 2nd Class
Bowman 1st Class
Master Bowman TierMaster Bowman36 dozen arrowsAge-appropriate rounds in the York/Hereford/Bristol, WA1440, and WA720 round families.Any Record Status Competition ArcheryGB
Grand Master Bowman
Elite Master Bowman

The first thing to note is that now instead of requiring 3 rounds to gain a classification, the volume is now expressed in a total number of arrows. This allows more mixing and matching of eligible rounds, and especially at the lower end of the spectrum, allows classifications to be potentially gained from only a single 12 dozen round, or 2x 6 dozen rounds. This will allow novices, who might not shoot rounds very frequently, to get a first step on the ladder more easily than before.

The classification tables (which you can access from the menu at the top of the page) show which rounds are eligible for which categories of archer. The rules that determine which values are present in that table will be the subject of a separate blog post later. The one exception to those distance rules are the “prestige rounds” which are the 3 families of rounds that allow you to claim the highest MB Tier classifications.

This is actually very similar to the old classification system, where MB, JMB, and GMB classifications could only be acquired when shooting the 12 dozen rounds – the 1440/Metric rounds or the York/Hereford/Bristol rounds. In the new system, the appropriate World Archery 720 rounds are also now eligible for these top tier classifications, although the arrow volume requirements mean you will need to shoot more of them. The addition of the 720 rounds corrects an oddity in the previous system where you could win the Olympic or World Championships shooting these rounds, but at most you could claim a 1st Class badge back in the UK.

Good news for beginners

One of the key design philosophies of the new system was to make it more accessible for novice archers, especially adults. In the old system for example, a Recurve Man would have had to shoot 50m/50yd to even get their first classification. Most coaches would agree that this is further than most novices should be shooting in their first year or so, and meant that they were either rushing to higher poundages too quickly, or were just excluded from the classification system altogether. Thankfully, other award schemes, such as the popular 252s filled this void, but when the classification system was redesigned, maximising the inclusiveness of all archers was paramount. In the new system adult recurve archers can now get their Archer 3rd Class classification by shooting rounds at 30m/30yds such as the 4-dozen Warwick 30 for example. 50+ archers can get their Archer 2nd Class award at the same distance.

Stretch Targets for the Elites

At the other end of the spectrum, the new system provides some stretching new targets for the highly competitive archers for whom the previous system did not provide any motivating targets. The new Elite Master Bowman (EMB) classification is set at scores that would put you in the top half of the leader-board at international World Cup events and represents a truly remarkable achievement for any archer. It is likely we will see only a small handful of these awarded each year, and none at all in many categories.

This combination of accessibility at the A3 end of the spectrum and genuinely stretching targets at the EMB end of the spectrum should provide something for everyone in this new system.



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8 responses to “Overview of the new 2023 classification system”

  1. Phil Reay avatar
    Phil Reay

    I have one big comment to make. Why 50+? All archers at 50 should be able to hit the 100yd/90m distance with no trouble at all (I know that myself and just about every archer I know were very capable of this distance). The cut off point should have been set at retirement age, 67 now as it is above this age that the muscles start to degenerate and the drawing back of the heaver bows (especially longbows) becomes a lot harder.
    Move the age limit UP

    1. Chief Geek avatar
      Chief Geek

      I guess the first thing to clarify is that this is not specifically a classification issue. The classifications merely reflect the official UK age groups which were changed back in October 2022, which included a long-overdue alignment with World Archery categories. So, that’s where the 50+ group comes from, rather than it being anything specifically tied to the classifications. More info on the age group changes here https://archerygeekery.co.uk/2023/01/17/a-graphical-look-at-the-new-archerygb-age-groups/

      Also worth stating, as there has been some confusion, that the 50+ age group is definitely not mandatory. 50+ archers do not need to compete in that age group or shoot shorter rounds, or use those classification tables, it’s all entirely optional, and I expect many, maybe even the majority of over 50s will continue to just compete in the normal open adult category.

      On your actual question – is 50 the correct place to draw a line? I think my hunch is the same as yours, that 50 is probably a bit low. I’d quite like to gather enough data to look at this question statistically. I would expect to see a noticeable inflection point somewhere along the age spectrum, and it would be interesting to see where that is. If I can pull together enough data, I’ll do that analysis and post something here.

      I don’t think there’s anything stopping ArcheryGB adding more age-groups above this World Archery 50+ category (e.g. 60+, 75+), so it’s worth lobbying them if you have a strong view on where a better line would be, but for now the alignment with World Achery on the 50+ category at least fixes the inconsistency where that age group was being used in UK WRS tournaments but not recognised more generally.

    2. Rod Blount avatar
      Rod Blount

      Totally agree 100%

  2. Greg [newly 50+ archer by lots!] avatar
    Greg [newly 50+ archer by lots!]

    I presume that we 50+ archers would be allowed to shoot as Senior if we so chose.
    In a way it like archers shooting Asian style bows would compete as Barebow archers. It’s their (our) choice to be different, after all.

    1. Chief Geek avatar
      Chief Geek

      Yes, the 50+ category is entirely optional. There is no obligation to shoot in that category, shoot the shorter rounds, or use the 50+ classification tables.

      In fact even your use of the word “allowed” feels too strong as it implies it would be an exception, when it’s not. 50+ archers can shoot in either of the categories they are eligible for.

      This has been a source of much confusion and will hopefully be cleared up during this first outdoor season of using the new category.

      1. Rod Blount avatar
        Rod Blount

        Just find all this totally confusing, alot of members at Derwent Bowmen have said the same. Maybe due to lack of information given at the club or on notice board.

        1. Chief Geek avatar
          Chief Geek

          If you have any suggestions of things you’d like to see to make it easier to digest, just let me know and I can write something here or pass it on to ArcheryGB to get them to do something.

          Ultimately, despite my geeky 10 page explanation, it’s important to remember that the classification system is basically still just based on a look-up table of numbers, just like it always was, and you have to hit those qualifying scores a number of times to get the award. There’s a lot of underlying maths, algorithms (and politics!), but none of that matters as just like before, there’s a table of numbers to lookup scores in.

  3. Andy Taylor avatar
    Andy Taylor

    The one part of the new system I don’t understand is ‘volume of arrows’ for classifications vs ‘3 round average’ to get a starting handicap.
    This means that (since everyone started with no handicap under the new system), archers are gaining classifications before they get a handicap. I wish someone could explain the thinking here – surely we should be encouraging people to gain a handicap so they can track improvement, rather than just encouraging people to get badges.

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