A Friend of mine got his last grade (nikyu) by being it awarded as oppossed to a grading panel.
We had two senior Swedish (noticing a pattern?) Instructors over for a weekend course and our sensei asked them to have a look at this guy who they were thinking of grading up. So they watched him and, in effect tested him, for the whole weekend.
Then at our next training session he was award the next grade.
I think it was a nice way of doing it (course work over exams as it were) but i think it's probably important to see how people deal with grading pressure by the time they are nearing dan grades.