Judging Debate

Debate Judging Resources

Public Forum (PF) and Lincoln-Douglas (LD)

In debate, each round will have two debaters, or two teams, depending on the event.  Prior to the start of the round, the judge will pick up a ballot from the tournament organizer. The ballot is where judges will record their thoughts on each performance, suggestions for improvement, and general feedback for the performer. At the end of the tournament, each school will receive all the ballots written about their competitors so contestants can use your feedback to improve!

There are two sides to every debate, one side supports the resolution being debated, the other side negates the resolution. In Policy Debate and Lincoln-Douglas Debate, the sides will have been decided before the round. In Public Forum Debate sides are determined by a coin flip at the beginning of the round.

All debate events have a unique order to the round, divided into three parts: speeches, cross-examination, and prep time. Speeches are where the bulk of the debating is done, with each team presenting and reinforcing their arguments while refuting their opponents. It is common for judges to flow a debate, which means the judges will take notes about the speeches in order to keep track of the debate.

Cross-Examination is a period of time where debaters can ask each other questions. There are some differences between kinds of debate, but the purpose of cross-examination remains the same; asking questions that will allow the debater to make stronger arguments. It is up to you whether or not to flow this part. Typically, this is not a time for debaters to be making arguments, instead, it is to clarify their opponents positions.

Each event gives debaters a set amount of prep time, where competitors can take a moment to prepare for the next part of the debate. Competitors can take prep time between speeches and should notify the judges when they begin and end prep.

The judge will watch the entirety of the debate and then decide which side won. Depending on the tournament, judges can give an oral critique or disclose the results of the round. An oral critique is when the judge provides the debaters with immediate feedback by talking with both sides after the debate. Similarly, a disclosure is when the judge reveals which side won the debate right after the round.  Neither of these are necessary, and, be sure to check with the tournament organizer before giving oral critiques or disclosing. When filling out the ballot, you may be asked to assign competitors speaker points, typically on a scale from 20-30, with 30 being outstanding. After the decision has been made, judges should return their ballots to the tournament organizer.

During preliminary rounds of the tournament, there is usually only one judge per round. However, when students begin competing in elimination rounds, rounds will have more than one judge. This is called a panel.

Public Forum

Check out this quick video that explains the basics of understanding and judging Public Forum.

Lincoln Douglas

Check out this quick video that explains the basics of understanding and judging a Lincoln Douglas debate.