How Discerning is the Technical Challenge in GBBO?

IRT baking

Are the technical challenges which are judged blindly good indcators of if a baker will win overall?

Michael DeWitt

My wife and I love to watch the Great British Bake Off on Netflix. The competion is for the most part collegial in general and all around feel good television, especially at night. After watching several seasons of the show, a lingering question came to mind: how good are the judges at estimating talent?

The format of the show is composed of three rounds; the first and third rounds have themes/genre of baked good that the contestants knew about in advance and could decide (and practice) what they wanted to make. The second/middle round is composed of a “technical” challenge where the bakers have all given the same ingrediants and instructions and asked to make something of which they had no prior knowledge. Unlike the other rounds, the judges judge each bake blindly in the technical (and of course the contestants make the same dish).

Enter the Pyschometrics

This set-up is perfect for understanding how well the judges can estimate “ability” to use a psychometric term. Because we have contestants facing the same exact challenge and being judged blindly, we can use pyschometric tools to judge the “ability” of the baker and the “difficulty” of the challenge. There is a lot of noise on these measures due to the fact that contestants are eliminated after each show meaning that they do not get a chance at each challenge, but it will give a little bit of insight the ability of the bakers. We can then compare the outcomes of each round with the judged “technical” ability.


High stakes tests like the GRE and GMAT use something called Item Response Theory (IRT) to measure “ability.” The tests work by matching item difficulty (or how hard a question is) to the test-taker’s latent ability (tendency to get the right answer). Test takers should get the correct answer for those items where their ability is greater than the item difficulty, should get those items wrong where the difficulty is greater than their ability, and some distribution due to the measurement error in both ability and difficulty.

The key contribution of IRT over classical test theory (in my opinion) is that there is some latent noise in the test question/item.

IRT typically required a single “correct” answer. When we are looking at the rating of Bakers from 1 to N bakers, we need to observe the continuous data of the data. Enter the Continuous Response Models which allow us to use the principles of IRT for continuous data. In particular we will use Samejima’s continuous response model for the ranking of contestants.

Analysis Plan

So now we can lay out our analysis plan:

Getting the Data

The first part in this analysis is getting the data. Luckily, Wikipedia, the grandest resource on the interweb, provides these data in a regular pattern.

First, we will load the usual suite of packages for webscraping and analysis.

Show code

To run an initial test, I am just going to pull Season 3.

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url <- ""
content <- read_html(url)
tables <- content %>% html_table(fill = TRUE)

We can see that there are 15 available. The second table gives us the biographies of the contestants:

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Baker Age Occupation Hometown Links
Brendan Lynch 63 Recruitment consultant Sutton Coldfield [4]
Cathryn Dresser 27 Shop assistant Pease Pottage, West Sussex [5]
Danny Bryden 45 Intensive care consultant Sheffield [6]
James Morton 21 Medical student Hillswick, Shetland Islands [7]
John Whaite 22 Law student Wigan [8]
Manisha Parmar 27 Nursery nurse Leicester
Natasha Stringer 36 Midwife Tamworth, Staffordshire
Peter Maloney 43 Sales manager Windsor, Berkshire
Ryan Chong 38 Photographer Bristol [9]
Sarah-Jane Willis 28 Vicar’s wife Bewbush, West Sussex [5]
Stuart Marston-Smith 26 PE teacher Lichfield, Staffordshire [10]
Victoria Chester 50 CEO of the charity Plantlife Somerset [11]

With a little bit of work, we can turn the third table into a nice representation of the results.

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tables[[3]] %>% %>%
  .[-1,1:11] %>%
  setNames(c("baker", sprintf("%s",1:10))) %>%
  melt(id.vars = "baker") %>%
  .[,round_num:=as.numeric(variable)] %>%
  filter(!value %in% c("", "SB")) %>%
  mutate(perf = sprintf("%s %s", value, round_num))->performance

baker variable value round_num perf
Natasha 1 OUT 1 OUT 1
Peter 2 OUT 2 OUT 2
Victoria 3 OUT 3 OUT 3
Stuart 4 OUT 4 OUT 4
Manisha 5 OUT 5 OUT 5
Ryan 7 OUT 7 OUT 7
Sarah-Jane 7 OUT 7 OUT 7
Cathryn 8 OUT 8 OUT 8
Danny 9 OUT 9 OUT 9
John 10 WINNER 10 WINNER 10
Brendan 10 Runner-up 10 Runner-up 10
James 10 Runner-up 10 Runner-up 10

Now the more challenging part is to parse all of the results. I am going to use some loops and index variables because I can’t think of a more expediant way to do it.

Importantly, each baker will appear for as many challenges in which they participated. This means someone who was eliminated after the first show will only have one record (enter measurement error) and those who participated in later rounds will appear multiple times.

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technicals <- list()
z <- 1
for(i in seq_along(tables)){
  x <- tables[[i]]

  interesting <- grepl(pattern = "Baker|Technical", names(x))


  y <- x[,interesting]

  names(y) <- c("baker", "technical")

  y$technical_no <- z

  technicals[[i]] <- y
  z <- 1+z


out_long<-, technicals)


baker technical technical_no
Brendan 10th 1
Cathryn 5th 1
Danny 7th 1
James 2nd 1
John 11th 1
Manisha 6th 1
Natasha 12th 1
Peter 3rd 1
Ryan 8th 1
Sarah-Jane 1st 1

Now with a little nore parsing we can extract the result and associated rank of the bakers.

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out_long[,rank := as.numeric(stringr::str_extract(technical, "\\d+"))]

out_long[,rank_ordered:=12 - rank]

out_long[,baker_id := as.integer(as.factor(baker))]

baker technical technical_no rank rank_ordered baker_id
Brendan 10th 1 10 2 1
Cathryn 5th 1 5 7 2
Danny 7th 1 7 5 3
James 2nd 1 2 10 4
John 11th 1 11 1 5
Manisha 6th 1 6 6 6
Natasha 12th 1 12 0 7
Peter 3rd 1 3 9 8
Ryan 8th 1 8 4 9
Sarah-Jane 1st 1 1 11 10

Modelling the Data

In completely transparency, I utilized code from which provided an excellent starting point for the analysis.

The code is lightly modified (just to tighten some priors) because of the

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 // From
    int  J;                    //  number of items
    int  I;                    //  number of individuals
    int  N;                //  number of observed responses
  int  item[N];          //  item id
  int  id[N];            //  person id
  real Y[N];             //  vector of transformed outcome

  parameters {

    vector[J] b;                 // vector of b parameters forJ items
      real mu_b;                 // mean of the b parameters
      real<lower=0> sigma_b;     // standard dev. of the b parameters

    vector<lower=0>[J] a;       // vector of a parameters for J items
      real mu_a;                 // mean of the a parameters
      real<lower=0> sigma_a;     // standard deviation of the a parameters

    vector<lower=0>[J] alpha;   // vector of alpha parameters for J items
      real mu_alpha;             // mean of alpha parameters
      real<lower=0> sigma_alpha; // standard deviation of alpha parameters

    vector[I] theta;             // vector of theta parameters for I individuals


     mu_b     ~ normal(0,5);
     sigma_b  ~ normal(0,1);
         b    ~ normal(mu_b,sigma_b);

     mu_a    ~ normal(0,5);
     sigma_a ~ normal(0,2.5);
         a   ~ normal(mu_a,sigma_a);

     mu_alpha ~ normal(0,5);
     sigma_alpha ~ cauchy(0,2.5);
         alpha   ~ normal(mu_alpha,sigma_alpha);

     theta   ~ normal(0,1);      // The mean and variance of theta is fixed to 0 and 1
                                 // for model identification

      for(i in 1:N) {
        Y[i] ~ normal(alpha[item[i]]*(theta[id[i]]-b[item[i]]),alpha[item[i]]/a[item[i]]);

Now we just compile the model and format our data:

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mod <- cmdstan_model("irt.stan")

dat_stan <- list(
  J = length(unique(out_long$technical_no)),
  I = length(unique(out_long$baker_id)),
  N = nrow(out_long),
  item = out_long$technical_no,
  id = out_long$baker_id,
  Y = out_long$rank_ordered

baker_list <- out_long %>%
  select(baker_id,baker) %>%

We can then fit the model with our data.

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fit <- mod$sample(dat_stan,
                  parallel_chains = 4,
                  max_treedepth = 15, adapt_delta = .99, refresh = 0)
Running MCMC with 4 parallel chains...

Chain 2 finished in 24.7 seconds.
Chain 4 finished in 25.4 seconds.
Chain 3 finished in 27.6 seconds.
Chain 1 finished in 29.1 seconds.

All 4 chains finished successfully.
Mean chain execution time: 26.7 seconds.
Total execution time: 29.3 seconds.

We’re interested here in theta which represents the ability of the bakers.

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combined_out <- fit$summary(variables = "theta") %>%
  mutate(baker_id = as.numeric(stringr::str_extract(variable, "\\d+"))) %>%

out_come_with_rank  <- combined_out %>%
  arrange(desc(median)) %>%
  mutate(outcome_modelled = row_number()) %>%
  select(outcome_modelled, baker) %>%
  left_join(performance) %>%
  mutate(outcome_realized = case_when(
    value == "Runner-up"~2,
    value == "WINNER"~1,

outcome_modelled baker variable value round_num perf outcome_realized
1 James 10 Runner-up 10 Runner-up 10 2
2 Brendan 10 Runner-up 10 Runner-up 10 2
3 Danny 9 OUT 9 OUT 9 4
4 John 10 WINNER 10 WINNER 10 1
5 Cathryn 8 OUT 8 OUT 8 5
6 Victoria 3 OUT 3 OUT 3 10
7 Sarah-Jane 7 OUT 7 OUT 7 6
8 Ryan 7 OUT 7 OUT 7 6
9 Peter 2 OUT 2 OUT 2 11
10 Manisha 5 OUT 5 OUT 5 8
11 Stuart 4 OUT 4 OUT 4 9
12 Natasha 1 OUT 1 OUT 1 12

Now we can see what the correlation of ability performance is:

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(correlation_analysis <-out_come_with_rank %>%
  ) %>%
  as.matrix() %>%
  cor() %>%
  .[1,2] %>%
[1] 0.85

Not too bad! It would seem that there is evidence that the performance in the technical is correlated with the final result (thank goodness).

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combined_out %>%
  ggplot(aes(reorder(baker,median), median))+
  geom_pointrange(aes(ymin = q5, ymax =q95))+
  theme_classic() +
  geom_text(data = performance,
             aes(x = baker, y = 0,
                 label = perf), inherit.aes = FALSE,
            hjust = 0,nudge_x = .2 , size = 2)+
    title = "Who Was the Most Skilled Baker in Season 3?",
    subtitle = glue::glue("Using Samejima’s Continuous Response Model (CRM)\nBased on Technical Round Performance\nTechnical Performance Correlation to Final Results {correlation_analysis}"),
    caption = glue::glue("Data: Wikipedia\n See {url}"),
    x = NULL,
    y = "Skill"
  ) ->p

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out_come_with_rank %>%
  select(baker,outcome_modelled,outcome_realized) %>%
  mutate(color_use= ifelse(outcome_modelled >outcome_realized,
                           "Better than Skill", "Worse than Skill")) %>%
  ggplot(aes(y = reorder(baker, outcome_modelled)))+
  geom_point(aes(x = outcome_modelled), color = "orange")+
  geom_point(aes(x = outcome_realized), color = "blue")+
  geom_segment(aes(x = outcome_modelled,
                   xend = outcome_realized, yend = baker,
                   color = color_use))+
    title = "Comparison Between Outcome and Modelled Skill",
    color = "Outcome",
    y = NULL,
    x = "Rank"
  scale_color_manual(values = c("green", "red"))+
  scale_x_continuous(breaks = seq(1,12,1))->p2


Next Steps

This analysis only covers one season. It would be neat to come back and do all of the seasons to get a feel for the level of difficulty of the different rounds (i.e., was the technical in round 3 of similar difficulty in each season). Additionally it would be neat to see if this relationship between the technical score and final outcome held up in each season.


If you see mistakes or want to suggest changes, please create an issue on the source repository.


Text and figures are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 4.0. Source code is available at, unless otherwise noted. The figures that have been reused from other sources don't fall under this license and can be recognized by a note in their caption: "Figure from ...".


For attribution, please cite this work as

DeWitt (2021, Sept. 23). Michael DeWitt: How Discerning is the Technical Challenge in GBBO?. Retrieved from

BibTeX citation

  author = {DeWitt, Michael},
  title = {Michael DeWitt: How Discerning is the Technical Challenge in GBBO?},
  url = {},
  year = {2021}