Notes for Adjudicators:
compiled by Christopher Erskine (Australia)
with Rosemary Dixon and Andrew Stockley (NZ),
Elizabeth Virgo (Bermuda) and David Pritchard (Wales)
Introduction: The Worlds Style
The rules of debate at the World Schools Debating Championship are a
unique blend of rules from different nations. No single country invented
the style, and no single country uses the style as its own national
Each debate has two teams. Each team has three debaters, who each
speak once. After each speaker has spoken once, each team has one
reply speech. This can be given by the first or second speaker on the
team. The reply speech is half the length of the main speeches. During
the main speeches the opposing team can offer points of information (see
section 5). However, no points may be offered during the reply speeches.
The motions that the teams debate are general issues rather than specific
programs or proposals. Thus the government team may have to argue in
favour of voluntary euthanasia as a principle: it would not have to put
forward a specific legislative proposal to implement euthanasia except,
perhaps, to define the motion or demonstrate that regulating euthanasia
is practical. The emphasis is upon the principle, not the specifics.
The debate is between teams, not individuals. Each team member has a
specific part of the team case to present, and must also attack the other
side and defend the team from attack. As the debate progresses, more
and more time must be spent dealing with issues already raised in the
debate, and less and less time must be spent on new argument and
Each team must persuade the audience that its argument is superior. To
do this it must present sound logical arguments, it must present them in
an interesting and persuasive speaking style, and it must structure and
priorities its arguments. All three aspects of debate are given emphasis.
This competition does not encourage just pure argument or pure rhetoric
on their own, but an effective blend of both.
It is an international contest. Issues must have an international
perspective, examples must be relevant to the global community, and
there must be tolerance of difference to a far higher degree than in
national or local competitions. In particular there must be tolerance of
differences in language and accent, or if we are not careful the English
language can divide us instead of uniting us.
The competition includes teams of vastly different background, not only in
debating but even in English itself. While each team nurtures the hope
that it may win the Grand Final, mere participation is a worthwhile
experience in itself for all the teams. Success in the competition can be
measured according to who wins the Grand Final : success can also be
measured by exposure to new ideas and development of personal skills.
Both aspects of success must be given due allowance by judges.
Before discussing specific matters, let me outline three fundamental
1. A good argument is a good argument, no matter where a team comes
2. Everybody else except you has a funny accent.
3. Just because teams back home wouldn't do it doesn't make it wrong.
The first principle says that logic is universal: your country doesn't have a
monopoly on it. To put it another way, don't prejudge debates by the
nationality or background of the teams. Non-English-speaking teams have
defeated some of the top teams in past years, teams from small nations
have won the Grand Final, and teams from countries in their inaugural
year in the tournament have beaten long-established teams.
The second principle says that you should be prepared for major
differences from what you are used to back home - accents, terminology,
even the examples used to illustrate an argument. Your first international
debate can be a real culture shock.
The third principle says that not everything that we do back home is
essential to good debating. Each country has its own style of debating,
which leads to particular national rules about what debaters can and can't
do. But in the different style at a world competition. some of these rules
from back home might be inappropriate. So leave your rule books in your
suitcase and concentrate on the essentials of good debating.
(1) The Mark Sheet
In 1993 the World Council adopted a standard mark sheet. Marks are
awarded to each speaker as follows:
In the reply speeches, the marks are halved. There is no global mark for
Remember that this is a different mark sheet from what you are used to at
home. You can't judge these debates by adapting the international
mark sheet to fit domestic mark sheets with which you are more familiar.
So leave your own mark sheet in your suitcase along with your national
rule books, and look at this mark sheet with no preconceptions of what
the categories mean.
Content covers the arguments that are used, divorced from the speaking
style. It is as if you are seeing the arguments written down rather than
spoken. You must assess the weight of the arguments without being
influenced by the magnificence of the orator that presented them.
Content will also include an assessment of the weight of rebuttal or clash.
This assessment must be done from the standpoint of the average
The adjudicator's job is to assess the strength of an argument regardless
of whether the other team is able to knock it down. If a team introduces a
weak argument, it will not score highly in content even if the other team
doesn't t refute it. Two consequences flow from this, however:
First, if a major team argument is plainly weak, an opposing team which
doesn't refute it may well have committed a greater sin than the team
which introduced it. In effect the team has let the other team get away
with a weak argument. This is not an automatic rule, but is true in many
cases. Of course, it must be a major argument, not a minor example
which the opposing team correctly chooses to ignore in favour of
attacking more significant points.
Second, adjudicators have to be careful not to be influenced by their own
beliefs and prejudices, nor by their own specialised knowledge. For
example, if you are a lawyer and you know that a team's argument was
debunked by the International Court of Justice last week, you should
probably not take into account this special knowledge unless the ICJ's
decision was a matter of extreme public notoriety.
Distancing oneself from personal attitudes is particularly difficult in
international competitions. Teams may use examples from your part of
the world that you know to be wrong, but would you expect people from
other countries to know that the example is wrong ? For example, I doubt
that I would penalise a team which had an incomplete though superficially
correct understanding of Australian foreign policy. But I would be less
understanding of a team which displayed an incomplete understanding of
American or Japanese foreign policy, for example, because of the
importance of' those countries in so many international issues.
The term is perhaps misleading. Adjudicators are not looking for speakers
who are stylish, but rather they are looking at the style of the speakers.
Style covers the way the speakers speak. As has already been noted, this
can be done in many ways, in funny accents and with the use of strange
terminology. Put the strangeness out of your mind and be tolerant of
different ways of presenting arguments.
There are some particular things that you need to be warned about in
Debaters from some countries (especially Australia and New Zealand)
tend to speak very quickly and can be quite aggressive.Debaters from
other countries (especially North America) tend to be slower and more
For some teams, English is a second language and there are occasionally
strong accents, odd words and (once or twice) a pause while the speaker
thinks how to express the thought in English.
North American teams tend to use large foolscap pads and speak behind
lecterns: Australian and New Zealand debaters use small palm cards and
speak in front of the lectern.
None of this matters!
Yet things as trivial as the use of palm cards and standing in front of
lectern have been commented on in international debates, on one
occasion a Grand Final! Any adjudicator who finds these things important
should seriously consider whether they should be adjudicating in this
competition. You will be seeing highly skilled debaters presenting very
sophisticated arguments. If the best you can say is that they should be
using palm cards rather than writing pads, you've probably missed the
point of the debate.
Of course a speaker's style may cease to be an expression of a particular
national debating style and become intensely irritating to everyone. For
example there is still a speed limit on speaking, even though it may be
higher than you are used to back home. But be tolerant of differences,
and only intervene when a speaker's style has gone beyond what
everyone would accept.
1.2.1 Accents and National Characteristics
Linguists tell us that some accents are more "acceptable" than others. For
example, BBC Southern English has become the Received Pronunciation in
Britain. Regional accents such as West Country are quaint and rustic, but
are often thought to be a handicap for someone who wants to be
successful in politics or big business.
Virtually every English speaking country faces this problem. It affects
accents within a country, and also accents between countries. The
comedian Peter Sellers was responsible for a great deal of humour at the
expense of Indian accents, yet in reality these accents are no more lilting
or incomprehensible than Welsh or Irish accents. Australians snigger at
New Zealand accents - but other countries can't tell the difference
Teams should not be penalized just because their accent is less
acceptable than others. Nor should teams be rewarded for the good
fortune of coming from a region whose accent is more acceptable than
others. Of course nobody would consciously penalise a team in this way,
but the influences of acceptability of accents are subtle and pernicious.
Can we truly place our hand on our heart at the end of a debate and say
that we were not swayed by the "cuteness" of one team's accent or the
"stridency" of another? Perhaps we werenâ€™t: speakers can be cute or
strident in the way they speak but were we marking the speaker or the
There is a further and more difficult issue involved here. Teams from non-
English speaking backgrounds may well speak English with a "foreign"
accent. We tend to judge them more harshly because of this fact, whether
we are conscious of it or not; but if we analyze closely the way these
teams speak English, we find that many of them are very fluent in English
and are readily understandable. If anything some of these teams are
more understandable than the occasional broad Glaswegian or high-speed
Australian that we get from native English speaking teams.
However, while we must give due credit to teams for whom English is a
second language, this is not the same thing as giving credit to these
teams for the very difficult task of debating in a foreign language. Judges
might be tempted to be sympathetic and mark these teams on a more
generous scale. This is against the rules (see Rule 18(b)).
Non-English-speaking teams take part in the competition on the same
footing as native English speaking teams. They take part knowing that
they will be against teams for whom English is a first language. If this
sometimes leads to one-sided debates, that is a fact of life in the
competition and should be reflected in the marks. But if they are
genuinely as fluent and persuasive as the native English speakers, one
should mark them accordingly.
Strategy requires some attention. I think it covers two concepts:
1. The structure and timing of the speech, and
2. Whether the speaker understood the issues of the debate.
These matters are sufficiently important to justify taking them separately.
1.3.1 Structure and timing
A good speech has a clear beginning, middle and end. Along the way
there are signposts to help us see where the speaker is going. The
sequence of arguments is logical and flows naturally from point to point.
This is as true of a first speaker outlining the government case as it is of
the third speaker rebutting the government case. Good speech structure,
therefore is one component of strategy.
Timing is also important, but it must not be taken to extremes. There are
two aspects to timing.
1. Speaking within the allowed time limit, and
2. Giving an appropriate amount of time to the issues in the speech.
As to the first, a speaker who goes significantly over time (for example, 9
minutes in an 8 minute speech) ought to get a penalty. Equally, a speaker
who goes significantly under time (for example, 7 minutes in an 8 minute
speech) in most cases would get a similar penalty. Bear in mind,
however, that timing is only one element of strategy. A speaker whose
only sin is to go over time might still get a reasonable strategy mark if
every other aspect of strategy was quite outstanding. It would not be a
brilliant mark - there would still be a penalty - but it would not
automatically be a very low mark either. It all depends how good the rest
of the elements of strategy were.
As to the second, a speaker ought to give priority to important issues and
leave unimportant ones to later. For example it is generally a good idea
for a rebuttal speaker ( i.e. anyone other than the first speaker for the
government) to begin with the attack on the other side before going on to
the speaker's positive case This is because it is more logical to get rid of
the opposing argument first before trying to put something in its place.
A speaker should also give more time to important issues. If there is a
critical point that buttresses the whole of that team's case, it ought to get
a fair amount of time so that it can be properly established. But if there is
a point that is fairly trivial, it doesn't deserve more than a trivial amount
So the adjudicator must weigh up not only the strength of the arguments
in the content category, but also the proper time and priority that was
given to them in the strategy category.
1.3.2 Understanding the issues
Closely related to the last point is that debaters should understand what
the important issues were in the debate. It is a waste of time for a
rebuttal speaker to deal with trivial points if crucial arguments are left
unanswered. Such a speaker would not understand the important issues
of the debate, and should not score well in strategy. By contrast, a
speaker who understood what the important issues were and dealt with
them thoroughly should score well in strategy.
It is very important that adjudicators understand the difference between
strategy and content. Imagine a debate where a speaker answers the
critical issues with some weak rebuttal. This speaker should get poor
marks for content, because the rebuttal was weak. But the speaker
should get reasonable marks for strategy, because the right arguments
were being addressed.
(2) Logical Argument
There are two ways to prove that a proposition is true.
1. You can look at every known instance and show that in each case the
proposition holds good.
2. You can analyse the proposition and show that it is supported by other
In debating it is usually impossible to use the first type of reasoning,
because we debate generalisations with millions if not billions of known
instances. So, we have to use the second type of reasoning. However, an
amazing number of debaters don't seem to understand the difference.
2.1 A Hypothetical Example
Suppose that two teams are debating the motion that "this house believes
that we are all feminists now". The government chooses to interpret the
motion reasonably literally: How does it prove its case?
Obviously it cannot ask everybody in the world whether or not they are
feminists. Nor can it rely upon opinion polls: if the motion was as simple
to prove as that, it wouldn't have been set for debate. Instead, it is going
to have to make some generalizations about the motion in order to
present a coherent argument within the time allowed.
For example, it could look at the public attitudes of important institutions
in society such as governments big businesses, schools, religions, the
media and sport. Part of its reasoning process would be that when the
major institutions change their attitudes they either reflect the views of'
the general public or, perhaps, lead the general public towards new
The first government speaker could outline a central thesis that went
something like this: "In today's society the major institutions generally
adopt feminist attitudes. These institutions either lead society (such as
the media) or reflect the views of the majority in society (such as
parliaments and big business).
From that point onwards we know what the government team Is going to
prove. When it discusses the role and attitudes of each major institution
in society we can see why it is doing it and where the argument is going.
The same thesis will run through all three government speakers so that
all of them have made their contribution to proving the government case.
I don't want to get side-tracked into an argument whether this is a
winning case or not. Rather, I want to illustrate the point that the
government team has to present a generalized case and prove it logically,
rather than relying upon large numbers of examples in the hope that
these will do the job instead.
2.2 One Case or Several?
If we accept that a case has to be a central thesis supported by each
speaker, it is obvious that a team cannot be internally contradictory in its
team case, it is a debate between teams, not a discussion between 6
individuals. All speakers on a team must be contributing to the same
case, not to different ones.
Using the feminist example above, suppose that the first government
speaker had outlined the case set out above. The second speaker could
not present an argument that said that we were all hypocrites who merely
gave lip-service to feminism. While this is a valid government case it is
quite inconsistent with the case presented by the first speaker, if we were
all hypocrites, then the major institutions in society would not be
reflecting any general attitude in support of feminism.
2.3 Rebuttal or Clash
The use of generalized cases has consequences for rebuttal or clash. The
opposition team cannot concentrate on attacking the examples used by
the government. The examples might be weak, but the central case might
still be sound. Instead, it will have to concentrate on attacking that case,
because that is where the debate actually lies.
In the feminist motion above, suppose that the government team used as
an example the pro-feminist attitudes of one newspaper from a small
country town. If the opposition team attacked just that example, it would
show only that the government has chosen a particularly weak example
to illustrate its argument. But the government case might still be sound.
It might be true that the media generally had feminist attitudes, even if
the example it chose to illustrate the point was a poor one.
Therefore, to succeed in this part of the debate, the opposition would
have to show that the media generally did not have pro-feminist
attitudes. Of course: It could ridicule the government: "Is such a trivial
example the best that you can find to illustrate your case?". But this
would merely be part of the process of attacking the general proposition
that the media is pro-feminist rather than an end in itself.
There is another consequence for rebuttal. It may be that the government
has used a number of examples to illustrate the same point. If they can
all be disposed of with the same piece of rebuttal, the opposition does not
have to attack each of the examples individually as well.
For example, suppose that the government in the feminist debate looked
at the attitudes towards feminism in the major religions of the country.
The opposition could respond in two ways to this argument. It could rebut
the supposedly pro-feminist attitudes in each of those religions.
Alternatively it could argue that religion plays such a minor role in society
that the feminist attitudes of religions are largely irrelevant to the debate.
Thus it would be unnecessary for it to deal with each example of a major
religion dealt with by the government, because all of them are irrelevant
according to its arguments.
2.4 The Reply Speech
The thematic approach to argument outlined above becomes critical in the
reply speeches. These have been described as "an adjudication from our
side" and really amount to an overview of the major issues in the debate.
A reply speaker does not have time to deal with small arguments or
individual examples. The speaker must deal with the two or three major
issues in the debate in global terms, showing how they favour the
speaker's team and work against the opposition team. As a general rule,
a reply speaker who descends to the level of dealing with individual
examples probably doesn't understand either the issues of the debate or
the principles of good argument.
(3) Three-a-Side Debating
Three-a-side debating is not just a two-a-side debate with an extra
speaker on each side. There is a clear progression from the opening
speaker who presents entirely new material to the closing speaker who
deals entirely with what has been said by the previous 5 speakers. Each
team has to work closely together, and understand that they are
members of a team rather than individuals.
We can all agree on that part, but there are two particular issues that
have arisen in previous World Championships that need some further
3.1 The Case Division
With three speakers on a team, the positive argument has to be divided
between the first two (and perhaps the third government as well). This
sounds very simple, but there is one major principle that must be looked
at more closely.
The division cannot be along the steps of the team case, but instead has
to be along some other lines. This sounds like an essay in university logic,
so let me illustrate the point with an actual debate from the 1990
The motion for debate was "that Mr Gorbachev's reforms will fail"
(amazing how out of date these motions have become in just a few
The first government set out what Mr Gorbachev's reforms were.
The second government demonstrated the growing backlash to those
The third government tied this together by showing that because of the
scale of the backlash, the reforms would fail.
This case was quite logical. But at the end of the first government
speaker, what did the opposition have to refute? The answer was,
absolutely nothing. There was no disagreement on what the reforms
were, so there was no debate at this stage. At the end of the second
government speaker, there was still nothing to refute. The opposition
agreed entirely that there was a backlash. We were now two-thirds of the
way through the debate, and we were yet to have a debate! It was only
at the third speakers that any debate happened at all, because this was
the first point where there was any disagreement between the
teams.Debate is not confined to the third speakers. It takes place
throughout the debate. While early speakers must concentrate on
presenting positive arguments, they still have some obligations to rebut
the other side. But if all this has to wait until the third speakers, it means
that over 80% of the debate is over before anyone gets to debate
anything, it also means that the government sets just one short reply
speech in which to deal with the opposition's attacks.
The problem with this case division was that it divided the argument
along the steps of the reasoning process. An opposition team does not
have to disagree with all those steps. So long as it disagrees with the final
conclusion, it can still win a debate.
So the government must find some other way of dividing the argument. It
can be on significant themes, or (less attractively) on examples. For
example, in the debate discussed above the first speaker might look at
reforms in economic policy, while the second speaker looks at reforms in
the military and the government.
The problem with this division is that both speakers would be repeating
the same major argument and merely using different examples to
illustrate it. To that extent it might be repetitive and boring. But the
important point is that each speech can stand on its own to prove that the
whole case is true in at least some situations. It is only in this way that a
speech can be rebutted, and thus that a debate can take place.
3.2 The Opposition Case
The opposition is not obliged to present its own positive case in world
championship debates. It can, if it wishes, merely attack the government
case throughout without putting up a case of its own. However, this is
potentially weak, and most opposition teams in fact present their own
positive argument as well.
This proceeds in much the same way as the government's with one
important exception. The third opposition's job is primarily rebuttal of
what has gone before. This speaker can (but does not have to) introduce
a small line of argument which has been clearly outlined in advance by
the opening speakers and which ties in with the opposition case. But she
or he cannot introduce any substantial new argument, especially one that
has not been clearly outlined in advance by earlier speakers. The reason
is obvious: the government gets only one brief reply speech in which to
deal with it. This is unfair, and also makes the bulk of the debate
meaningless because the significant arguments have taken so long to
come out and be discussed.
In a debate in the 1992 Championships, one opposition team left its
major argument until the third speaker. The argument was announced by
the first speaker in only the most elliptical terms. The third speaker
refused all points of information, and instead of rebuttal presented the
major new argument in the bulk of his speech. No matter hour good the
argument was, it could not have won the debate. Because their team's
most important argument had been left so late, the first two opposition
speakers had little to say and were a long way behind their opponents
from the government team. The third speaker had to lose marks for
refusing points of information, and also strategy and content marks for
introducing such a substantial amount of new argument.
3.3 The Roles of the Speakers
The debate begins with a speaker whose arguments are entirely new. As
it goes on, more and more time is spent dealing with what has been said
by previous speakers, and less and less comes in that is new. By the end
of the debate there is no new argument, and the speakers deal only with
what has gone before.
If you were to graph this, there would be a line dropping from 100% new
matter at first government to almost O% at third opposition and replies,
and a corresponding line rising from O% rebuttal at first government to
almost 100% rebuttal at third opposition and replies.
The first government defines the motion, outlines the government case,
announces the case division, and presents her or his part of the case.
The first opposition deals with the definition if it is a problem, explains
the important differences between the two team cases, and either
outlines the opposition case, announces the case division, and presents
her or his part of the case, or-outlines the opposition's rebuttal case (i.e.
the broad themes the opposition will use throughout the debate to rebut
the government case) and expands on it.
The difference between these two approaches depends on whether the
opposition is content just to present a rebuttal case, or takes the stronger
route and presents its own alternative case as well.
The second government defends the government definition (if
required) and case from the opposition attacks, rebuts the opposition
case, and proceeds with her or his part of the government case.
Somewhere around 2 to 3 minutes into the speech the speaker will turn
from attacking the opposition to presenting the new part of the argument.
The second opposition does much the same as the second government,
If the opposition is presenting its own alternative case as well, this
speaker will turn from attacking the government to presenting the new
part of the argument somewhere around 3 to 4 minutes into the speech.
The third government is going to spend a large part of her or his time
attacking the other side. However, she or he can have a small part of the
government case to present - Perhaps 1 or 2 minutes at the most. This is
not obligatory, although many teams do it.
The third opposition is going to spend most of her or his time attacking
the other side, rather than presenting significant new arguments, She or
he can have an even smaller part of the opposition case to present, but
again this is not obligatory. Note that the opposition reply follows straight on from this speech, so it is better for the third opposition to deal with the
detail of the government case and leave the broad overview to the reply
speech.The reply speeches are not going to delve into fine detail, but will
take a broad approach to the issues of the debate. They should also
summaries their own case either as part the analysis of the issues or
towards the end of the speech as a separate section. For obvious reasons
the reply speeches cannot introduce new arguments. Not only is this
unfair but a complete misunderstanding of the role of reply speeches The
reply speech is a summing up of the whole debate, not a chance to
introduce new ideas.
4.1 Weighted motions
In the 1992 Championships most teams debated the motion "that this
house would ban all alcoholic drinks". The consensus among the judges
was that the motion was heavily weighted against the government. Yet
look what happened in three different debates on this motion when the
judges grappled with the weighting of the motion:
in the first, the judges weighted the debate to the government because
the motion was weighted the other way - in other words, they
compensated the government in marks for having such a tough side to
in the second, the judges felt that weighting was impossible to assess,
and did not try to redress the balance;
in the third, the judges decided not to redress the weighting because the
government team had actually chosen to be the government and thus
voluntarily taken the harder side.
The problem here is the inconsistency. If the opposition team which
narrowly lost the first debate had had the judges from the second debate,
it would have won convincingly.
It is very hard for judges to assess just what advantage one team has
because of the motion. It is better not to try to compensate for perceived
advantages, and leave it to those who set the motions to choose
reasonably balanced ones.
4.2 General Motions-From What Perspective?
In national debating it is sometimes legitimate to take a motion that is
expressed very broadly and debate it in the context of some national
issue of the day. For example, in Australia we might approach a motion
"that feminism has won" in the context of Australian attitudes to
feminism, rather than dealing with feminism globally. Of course, you don't
have to, but such a limitation can sometimes be acceptable.
At the international level however, such a limitation is generally not
acceptable. The competition includes a diverse range of countries and it is
certainly not confined to one group of countries such as liberal western
democracies or countries of the third world. This means that general
motions have to be taken in the context of' the whole world, not one part
of the world.
Once again, we have to rely upon those who set motions to be sensible. A
debate on the motion "that God is dead' is meaningful to western nations
where religion has been in decline for some time. But it is fairly
meaningless to many Islamic nations which are undergoing a religious
revival. Such a motion would not be a sensible one to set at a world
competition because the experience of different parts of the world is so
varied that it makes debate almost impossible.
And for those used to North American rules, time-setting and place setting
are not allowed. Time-setting puts the motion In a particular era
in history. Place-setting puts the motion in a particular place. Thus we
could time- and place-set the motion "that God is dead" in Israel shortly
before the birth of Christ and argue the motion as if we were alive in that
place at that time. But in World rules we can't, because this is not
4.3 Objectivity in Judging
It goes without saying that judges have to be as objective as possible.
But in the international context this causes some interesting problems,
because national perspectives on issues can be so different.
One of the most spectacular instances of this occurred in 1992 when
Australia debated Pakistan on the motion "that the West should leave the
Middle East alone". Australia, like most western countries, accepted
without question that Israel had a right to exist, and developed its
argument assuming this basic proposition. But Pakistan questioned this
proposition, asserting that Israel had no right to exist.
It was a fascinating debate in which many apparently unarguable
assumptions were argued strenuously. And if it had been judged by an
Israeli judge, what then? This is not a dig at Middle Eastern attitudes, but
an instance where an international debate raised highly contentious issues
which required judges to step outside their own narrow perspectives and
try to judge a debate from the standpoint of a hypothetical reasonable
citizen of the world.
Objectivity in intentional debating is much harder than in national
debating. Our views on the world are shaped to a large extent by our
Take the example of European and American farm subsidies. In Europe
and America the media emphasis is frequently on the effects on local
farmers if the subsidies were withdrawn. But in Australia and Canada the
media concentrates on the serious adverse effects of those subsidies on
their own farmers. Thus a debate between, say, Australia and the USA
where farm subsidies arose as an issue could be difficult to judge because
national perspectives might tend to color the judges' assessment of the
weight of the various arguments.
Judges also have to recognize that some motions require teams to take
hard options in argument rather than soft ones. If the motion were "that
we should abolish third world debts", the opposition would almost
certainly have to argue the need for international financial responsibility
by governments, no matter how tough and unfeeling this may sound. The
best debates are often ones between two strongly opposed arguments,
rather than between two wishy-washy cases that try to compromise at
(5) Points of Information
Points of information were borrowed from British debating. However, in a
couple of respects they have taken on a life of their own in the World
Championships, and have to be treated as a phenomenon new to British
and non-British judges alike.
A point of information is offered in the course of a speech by a member of
the opposing team. The speaker may either accept the point or decline it.
If accepted, the opponent may make a short point or ask a short question
that deals with some issue in the debate (preferably one just made by the
speaker). It is, if you like, a formal interjection.
5.1 Debating is More than a Speech
Points of information bring about a major change in the role of speakers
in a debate. In this style each speaker must take part in the debate from
beginning to end, not just during their own speech. A first speaker for the
government continues to play an active role in the debate even when the
third speaker for the opposition is speaking. Equally, the third speaker for
the opposition must play an active role in the debate when the first
speaker for the government is speaking.
The speakers play this role by offering points of information. Even if the
points are not accepted, they must still demonstrate that they are
involved in the debate by at least offering. A speaker who takes no part in
the debate other than by making a speech should lose marks for content
and strategy - content for failing to take advantage of opportunities,
strategy for failing to understand the role of a speaker under this style.
Equally, speakers must ensure that they accept at least some points of
information during their speech. In an 8 minute speech, taking at least 2
would be expected (depending, of course, on how many are offered). A
speaker who fails to accept any points of information must lose marks for
content (failing to allow the other side to make points, thus reducing the
amount of direct clash between the two teams) and particularly strategy
(for not understanding the role of the speakers in this style - or, to put it
another way, for cowardice!). Of course, a speaker who takes too many
will almost certainly lose control of the speech and thus lose marks for
style and probably also for strategy (poor speech structure) and content
5.2 The Etiquette of Points of Information
A point of information is offered by standing and saying "Point of
information;' or something similar. The speaker on the floor is not obliged
to accept every point. She or he may - ask the interrupter to sit down
finish the sentence and then accept the point, or accept the point then
More than one member of the opposing team may rise simultaneously.
The speaker on the floor may decline all or some, and may choose which
one to take. The others then sit down. Opposing speakers must
sometimes tread a fine line between the legitimate offering of points of
information on the one hand, and barracking on the other. The fact that
points must be offered makes the style more aggressive and more prone
to interruptions. However, continuous offering by a team really amounts
to excessive interruption and is barracking. This should incur penalties in
style for the team members involved.
It is impossible to put a figure on how many points of information a team
may offer before its behavior constitutes barracking. Judges should
determine when the offering of points of information, far from adding to
the debate, begins to infringe on the right and/or ability of the speaker to
address the audience. This determination requires sensitivity to the
context of the particular debate: two well-matched and highly-skilled
teams may offer each other many points of information without disrupting
the debate or unsettling the speaker on the floor, but points offered at
this same high rate to a speaker who is less confident may constitute
barracking. In general, speakers should not offer points of information
only a few seconds after a previous offer has been declined or while the
speaker on the floor is clearly in the early stages of answering a point of
information she just accepted: frequent violations of these principles
might reasonably be penalized.
The point of information may be in the form of a question to the person
making a speech, or it may be a remark addressed through the person
chairing the debate. Some teams tend to use the latter format, while
most teams tend to ask a question. Let it be clear that either format is
The point of information must be brief. 10 to 15 seconds is the norm, and
over that the interrupter should be told to sit down by the speaker. As
well, when the person making the speech understands the point, she or
he can tell the interrupter to sit down - the speaker does not have to let
the point get right through to the end in all cases. Always remember that
the speaker who is making the speech has complete control of points of
information - when to accept them, whether to accept them and how long
they should go on for.
Which, of course, puts a premium on clear simple points. In one debate
the interrupter began by saying "I may be particularly dense... " and
paused, whereupon the speaker said "yes you are" and continued with his
speech. This was a waste of a good opportunity, all because the
interrupter chose to indulge in pompous oratory rather than a crisp clear
5.3 Marking Points of Information
It is relatively easy to mark the responses to points of' information,
because each response is incorporated into the speech and that is where
it gets marked.
The problems come in marking the offering of points of information,
because speakers will offer points other than during their own speech, at
a time when the judge is making notes about another speaker altogether.
To begin with there is a practical problem. Judges must have some
system of recording points of information from the beginning of the
debate even for speakers who will not speak until the end of the debate.
In other words, during the first speaker for the government, a judge must
be able to record something about the offering of points of information by
the third speaker of the opposition.
A simple solution has been devised in Australia by Annette Whiley. Each
judge has a separate sheet of paper, divided into six boxes (one line
down the middle, three across the page). Each box represents the
offering of points by a speaker. During the first speaker for the
government, the three boxes on the right hand side will be used to record
the offering of points by the three opposition speakers. A simple tally mark
shows one was offered. If one was accepted, a brief note about it can be
included in the box. At the end of the debate this allows the judge to see
what sort of contribution was being made by each speaker in offering
points of information.
At the 1994 National Schools Championships in Australia we
experimented with a separate category worth 5 marks for the offering of
points of information. On the whole I don't think this worked very well. So
we seem to be back with marking the offering of points within each
speaker's speech marks.
A speaker's speech mark should only be adjusted if her contribution to the
debate through offering points of information differed significantly from
her contribution in her speech. (Contribution to the debate through
offering points of information involves both the quantity of points of
information offered and the quality of those accepted: speakers should
not be penalized if they offer plenty of points but none is accepted.) A
speaker's speech mark may be adjusted by up to two marks in either
direction to take account of points of information offered: if such an
adjustment is being made, the judge should write, e.g., +1 or -2 in the
appropriate column on the ballot. So, a speaker whose speech deserved a
70 but who offered remarkably good points of information might receive
an overall mark of 71, or perhaps 72 if the points were truly outstanding.
A speaker whose speech deserved a 76 but who offered almost no points
of information might receive an overall mark of 74 or 75. But a speaker
whose speech deserved a 64 should not lose marks for failing to offer
many points of information, because his contribution through offering
points was no worse than his speech. Likewise, a speaker whose speech
deserved a 78 does not get extra marks for making a couple of very good
points of information, because those points were no better than her
A summary of how to mark points of information is as follows:
The primary component of the speaker's marks is the speaker's speech.
That mark can increase by up to a couple of marks if the speaker offered
superb points of information during the rest of the debate.
That mark can decrease by up to a couple of marks if the speaker:
(i) offered no points of information (or almost none) during the rest of the
(ii) offered bad points of information during the rest of the debate;
(iii) failed to accept points of information during her or his own speech.
Note that just because the response to a point of information was good, it
doesn't mean that the point was not a good one. Don't judge the worth of
the point on the response. After all if a motion is strongly arguable on
both sides, then the major points on each side should have good counterarguments.
(6) Marking Standard
Consistency is a virtue. It ought to be possible for a debater to pick up a
mark sheet from any judge and work out how good the debate was just
from the marks that were offered.
But if one judge thinks a good speech was worth 95% and another judge
thought it was just as good and therefore worth 75%, we have a problem.
Marking standards are imposed in every competition. They are necessarily
arbitrary. There is no reason why any particular standard is better than
any other. But there must be a standard, and here it is.
The expected range of marks is from 60% for an appalling speech to 80%
for a brilliant one.
A good average speech at this competition is worth 70%.
Judges shall never give a speaker mark greater than 80 or less than 60.
It is true that this marking standard means that we are really marking
each speaker out of 20. But that doesn't matter. A standard is a standard,
and this is what should be used.
6.1 A Relative Absolute, or Merely Relative?
Adopting this standard means that you do not mark the first government
speaker at 70 and mark everybody else up or down from that point.
Instead, you must have a mental picture of a good average speech for
this competition and mark every speaker including the first government)
according to that hypothetical. Thus the first government is as likely as
the third opposition to score 80 or 60.
This allows some basis of comparison between marks in different debates
(although the system isn't foolproof). The alternative, of marking
everybody relative to the first government at 70, means that the marks
for a brilliant debate and for an abysmal one will be about the same.
This standard begs the question of what is a good average speech for this
competition. Unfortunately the question is impossible to answer. We could
not say, for example, that a good average speech was likely to come from
the team from a particular country, because the standard of most teams
varies considerably from year to year.
There is often a huge gap between teams at the top and bottom of the
marking range. The competition attracts both highly skilled and
experienced debaters at one end of the range, and novice debaters from
non English speaking countries with no exposure to debate at the other.
It is theoretically possible that the overall standard one year is very high
while in another year it is very low. This ought to be reflected in the
marks for the whole competition. But it is not necessary for an individual
judge's marks to average around 70 throughout the competition, although
this is likely if the judge is judging teams from across the whole spectrum
of abilities at the competition. If your marks are consistently coming in
above or below 70, you might swap thoughts with your fellow judges to
see if it is just you or whether you really have been judging a distinctly
non-average group of teams.
The last word on this point is that nobody can enforce this particular part
of the standard precisely. To achieve consistency in adjudication it is more
important that the relative marks of judges on a panel should be about
the same, even if the absolute marks vary to a small extent. Thus if I give
three speakers 75, 78 and 73, and one of my fellow judges gives the
same speakers 74, 79 and 71, we have clearly seen the debate the same
way, even though our actual marks vary a little. Try to mark according to
the hypothetical standard, but don't be too worried if you are a little bit
different from your colleagues on this point.
6.2 Internal Marks and Reply Speeches
If we adopt an overall standard, we must have the same standard applied
to each internal category of marks. Thus a good average speaker for this
competition would be expected to score 28 for style, 28 for content and
14 for strategy (i.e., 70% of each category). A brilliant speaker would
score 32 for style, 32 for content and 16 for strategy (i.e. 80% of each
category). An appalling speaker would score 24 for style, 24 for content,
and 12 for strategy (i.e. 60% of each category).
If we do not adopt these standards internally, the internal divisions
become meaningless. If I decide that I will mark style on a range from 20
to 40, I am giving the same range of marks to this category as I would for
the entire speech. In effect I am marking style out of 100 rather than out
This problem becomes particularly significant for strategy marks because
strategy is worth only 20. There is a great temptation to expand the
range for this category to differentiate between speakers of otherwise
similar standards. It must be resisted: this category is worth only 20, and
if 2 speakers are similar in standard they get the same mark, even if one
is slightly better than the other.
The same problem arises in the reply speeches because all the categories
are halved. The best way to deal with this problem is to mark the reply
speech out of 100 and then halve all the marks. This allows half-marks,
which ought to solve all your problems.
6.3 Who Wins the Debate?
If you find yourself saying "I thought the proposition won the debate but
when I added up my marks I found that the opposition had won instead,"
something is wrong. It might be your belief about who won the debate or
it might be your marks: somehow the two things must be reconciled
before you cast your vote. Look back over your marks to make sure that
you were evaluating all speakers by the same standards and therefore
that the marks accurately express your view of the relative performances
of the speakers. Was the third opposition speaker really eight marks
better than the first proposition speaker? Was there really no difference in
the quality of style or content in the first four speeches? Also, make sure
that your belief about who won the debate is not being unduly influenced
by the last few speeches: all speeches count equally (except for the reply
speeches, which count at half value) and the speaker marks help to
ensure that this fact is reflected in your decision. Likewise, make sure
that your belief is not being unduly influenced by one category in the
marks: perhaps you think that the proposition won only because you are
not giving full (i.e. 40%) weight in your mind to the fact that the
opposition were significantly ahead on style or content. If your marks for
each category and each speaker accurately reflect your view of the
debate, then your total marks should reliably indicate which team won the
debate, given the particular weightings of different categories we use at
It is also worth noting the phenomenon called "the accelerating rebuttal
mark". Some judges are swayed by rebuttal or clash. The more there is,
the more they believe the speaker is doing a good job. This is logical until
you realize that the government has one less opportunity to rebut the
other side than the opposition does. The accelerating rebuttal mark
means that opposition teams get a big advantage. Always be sure that
you are giving full credit to the way a team has proposed an argument as
well as to the way their opponents have attempted to knock it down.
6.4 Judicial Discussions
The practice in the World competition is for the judges to go outside after
the debate to discuss the issues so that one can present a short
commentary on behalf of the judges. It ought to go without saying that a
judge cannot go outside to discuss the debate without having reached a
decision. The easiest way to ensure this is to insist that each judge hand
in their completed mark sheet to the person chairing the debate before
they go outside to discuss the result. Once handed in, it cannot be
changed as a result of the discussions outside. If we did not insist on this
rule, the debate outside the room would be more important than the one
6.5 The Adjudication Speech
Before the adjudication speech, but after ballots have been completed
and handed to the chairperson, the judges have a brief opportunity to
confer. This is not the time to try to persuade your fellow judges that they
made a mistake on a particular issue or in their overall result. Their
ballots are locked in like yours, and the only point of conferring is to help
one of the judges give the adjudication speech. So, keep the discussion
short and to the point. If you dissented and your views are quite different
from the rest of the panel, briefly express your reasons and then stay out
of the discussion.
The adjudication speech should explain the result of the debate to the
audience. Teams can and should speak to the judges individually after the
debate, but this is the only opportunity for the audience to hear the
reason for the decision. The adjudication speech should not refer to
mistakes made by individual speakers: you can discuss these privately
after the debate instead of belittling a speaker in public.
Explaining the result to an audience that has just seen its first World
Schools debate may require outlining the three categories in which we
award marks and, where appropriate, identifying the category in which
the decisive difference between the teams was to be found. The
adjudication speech should not summarize the content of the debate
except insofar as is truly necessary to explain the result. The speech
should be as short as possible â€“ typically between 2 and 4 minutes â€“
while communicating to the audience a clear, explanation of the result of
the debate (and expressing thanks to the hosts and sponsors).
When giving the adjudication speech you should remember that you are
speaking for the panel, not just for yourself. Where there are importantly
differing views, especially if the decision is not unanimous, you need to
try as far as possible to explain how those differences came about. If at
all possible, you should explain the grounds on which one or more judge
dissented in a way that emphasizes the reasonableness of the
disagreement, rather than leaving the audience to think that one judge
got it wrong. In the unlikely and unfortunate event that you cannot
present the dissenting view in a way that makes it sound reasonable, it is
better to say nothing about it: just explain that the panel reached a
majority verdict and then present the views of the majority.
Annex â€“ Range of Marks
1. Substantive Speeches (Out of 100)
Exceptional 80 32 32 16
Excellent 76-79 31 31 15-16
Extremely Good 74-75 30 30 15
Very Good 71-73 29 29 14-15
Good 70 28 28 14
Satisfactory 67-69 27 27 13-14
Competent 65-66 26 26 13
Pass 61-64 25 25 12-13
Improvement Needed 60 24 24 12
Page 25 of 25
2. Reply Speeches (Out of 50)
Exceptional 40 16 16 8
Very Good to Excellent 36-39 15 15 7.5
Good 35 14 14 7
Pass to Satisfactory 31-34 13 13 6.5
Improvement Needed 30 12 12 6
In marking reply speeches it might be easier to mark them out of 100 and then halve each mark. That will leave you with half-mark steps, but that is not a problem. Thus a reply speech could be given, say, 13.5 for content, 14.5 for style and 7.5 for strategy, for a total of 35.5.