I just wanted to share how it's done where I'm at. Kyu ranks are handled accordingly and pretty much like everywhere else. In fact, we are probably Aikikai standard (although I know the dan time requirements are longer than Aikikai standard) in our requirements.
However at yudansha level my instructor has chosen to walk a different path. All yudansha exams are demos. You get 5 minutes +/- to do your thing (literally). Music is perfectly acceptable during the test. I believe we will one day see some really bizarre stuff.
On our last batch, the board consisted of 2 sixth dans, 2 fifth dans and a fourth dan and while all were Aikikai, some were different branches of the Aikikai (we also had a Capoeira demo at the end of the tests). Whether they were thrilled that we were done in under an hour or genuinely liked the tests I don't know. The consensus however is that good Aikido was performed. This seemed to surprise a couple of people who believed we are pretty out there in what we do (we are, just not in the way they thought). A couple of the demos were flat out outstanding in my opinion and admittedly a couple were so-so.
We've received a handful of compliments from those in attendance (maybe those who thought we were total losers didn't bother to comment?). The general line was that we actually brought a bit of art into this martial art and at least 2 instructors have admitted to rethinking their testing process after this (changing it remains to be seen).
My own take is that with this methodology I saw unique individuals showing a bit of who and what they are. What I more typically see in tests is individuals showing what their instructors or shihan are. For me personally, that is a huge difference.
[Edited by Erik on October 30, 2000 at 11:50pm]