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How to Judge a Debate (Video)

Here are some excellent instructions from Cindy Sidwell on how to judge a debate round. This video covers what to expect when walking into that first debate round, how to fill out your ballot, and so much more. As coach Sidwell puts it, “Our debaters can’t compete without wonderful people like you willing to give up your time to judge!” Thanks for judging and best of luck!

Key Points

  • In Public Forum (PF) and Lincoln Douglas (LD), there is usually an A Flight and a B flight. Stay in the room for both and make sure the right debaters are debating at the right time.
  • Write down names and codes on the ballot before the round starts. Don’t ask what school they are from. If you know, don’t use it for or against them.
  • Tell the debaters your background and how you judge. If you have no judging experience, let them know so that they can adjust to you and give you a great round.
  • Be attentive: Take notes.
  • Put aside any biases you may have on the topic and only judge what the debaters are saying.
  • If you think of an argument against one of their arguments, it shouldn’t be used against the debaters.
  • Give time signals and/or let them time themselves. Don’t stop them from timing themselves.
  • Give a Reason For Decision (RFD). This is the ARGUMENT that wins. The best speakers may or may not win, but they shouldn’t win just because they are great speakers. This is debate and there are speaking events for that.
  • Fill out ballots throughout the round. Write while the debaters are taking prep time. Fill them out quickly, give an RFD, give speaker points, make sure a winner is listed with the side, the code and the names.
  • If you take an hour to fill out your ballot, the entire tournament is waiting for YOU.
  • No oral critiques or keep them to a couple of minutes again to keep the tournament moving.
  • Don’t disclose who won or lost. It really can make the kids want to give up.
  • Thank you so much for being willing to judge! You are providing an incredible service and good Karma should be coming your way.
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