7337 Bollinger Road, Suite E, Cupertino, CA 95014 ♦ Phone: 408-777-8876 ♦ Fax: 408-503-0884 ♦ E-mail: info@communicationacademy.com

Fall 2017 Classes

How to Judge a Debate

Hi parents! Thank you so much for volunteering your time to help make debate possible!

Judging a debate round can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. Below you will find links to helpful videos and downloadable pdfs of common judging instructions & sample ballots. You will also find some helpful hints for the tournament and an FAQ.

Video Links



  • Get to your round early so that it can start on time.
  • You may be asked to judge a double-flighted round, or a round that has two back to back debates. Check with the person who hands you your ballots!
  • If you have a question, your team’s coach or a tournament official will be happy to answer it.
  • Bring a pen and paper to take notes with.
  • Bring a snack and a book or some work for the downtime in between rounds.
  • The debaters will be happy to accommodate you. Before the debate begins, you can ask them to speak more loudly, more slowly, or take into account that this may be the first round you’ve ever judged.
  • You can tell the debaters to time themselves and each other. Most of them carry their own stopwatches.
  • It’s usually not okay to tell the debaters who won immediately after the round. It is sometimes okay to give them verbal critiques after the round.
  • Meals and snacks are generally provided at no cost for judges. Many tournaments have special dietary options if you let them know in advance.

Judging FAQ

What if I disagree with what the debaters are saying?

Please remember that students do not control which side of the debate they represent and must be prepared to debate both sides. It is their opponent’s job to tell them why they are wrong, not yours. Unless they debaters say something really offensive, hear them out and judge them fairly.

Who is supposed to speak first?

In California the Affirmative team always speaks first and the Negative team always speaks second. The first partner on each team will have the first and third speeches on their side, while the second partner will have the second and fourth.

Are the debaters allowed to talk to each other during the debate?

Yes. Debaters are encouraged to whisper to one another while no one else is speaking. If one debater is giving a speech, the other three debaters in the round must remain silent. Debaters are allowed to pass written notes to their partners while they are speaking.

What’s a Constructive?

The constructive is where each side makes their case for why you should support or oppose the topic. These speeches are the first two speeches you will hear.

What’s a Rebuttal?

The rebuttal is where each side responds to their opponent’s case. Usually, debaters will respond to each of their opponent’s arguments individually. These speeches are the second two speeches you will hear.

What’s a Summary?

The summary is exactly what it sounds like. Each team will explain why what has happened in the debate so far should lead to them winning. These speeches are the third two speeches you will hear.

What’s a Final Focus?

The final focus is where both teams will try one last time to sway your ballot by focusing the debate down to its most important issues. These are the final two speeches you will hear.

What’s Crossfire and how does it work?

Crossfire is the three minute segment where the previous two speakers have a chance to ask each other questions. Both debaters may ask questions and both debaters should answer the questions they are asked within reason. The first crossfire happens after both teams give their constructives and the second happens after both teams have given their rebuttals.

What’s the Grand Crossfire and how does it work?

The Grand Crossfire is when all four debaters have the chance to ask and answer questions at the same time. It occurs after both teams have given their summary.

How does prep time work?

Each team gets 2 minutes of preparation time in the debate. Either partner may use any amount in between speeches as long as they do not exceed 2 minutes total. It is very common for the debaters to take their prep time in 30 second blocs. It’s very common for teams to delegate the responsibility of keeping track of this time to the debaters and their opponents.

These kids are talking really fast! Can I ask them to slow down?

Yes. The most important part of the debate is that the judge understands what the debaters are saying. It is common for judges to tell students to speak more slowly before the debate begins or gently and briefly remind them to slow down between speeches. Do not interrupt speeches. Judges may punish the debaters with lower points or even with the loss of the debate if they don’t comply.

Can I ask for to see the debaters’ evidence?

Yes. You may ask to see any piece of evidence that the debaters read and the debater must be able to provide it. Try to limit your requests to pieces of evidence that are critical to your decision.

How do I fill out the ballot?

Most ballot forms that you will fill out ask you to do 4 main things:

  • First, be sure to take down the names or codes of each individual debater in the order that they are speaking. It is very common to make the debaters fill in their own names and order before the round starts.
  • Second, you will be asked to make a decision about who won the round. There should be a line near the middle of the ballot that asks you to fill in which team (Affirmative or Negative) won. Circle the winning team just in case!
  • Third, you will need to assign each individual speaker points. This portion reflects how well you rate the debaters as speakers. Extremely low and extremely high scores should be rare. The top scoring team does not necessarily win the debate, although they often will.
  • Fourth, in the blank portion at the bottom of the ballot, briefly leave some feedback for each student and a short explanation about how you made your decision. Coaches and students will appreciate specific details because they can use them to improve after the tournament.

How can I tell who won?

Ultimately, only you will know what you find to be the most persuasive, but it’s important to not do work for the debaters. Instead, look to the reasons that the debaters tell you that they have won the debate and how the debaters compare those issues to their opponents. You should base your decisions on how persuasive you find their arguments, not who was the best speaker.