5 Things You Should Know about Judging Debates

Written by Lauren Bialystok, Ontario Student Debating Union (OSDU)


1. There is no single "correct" assessment of a debate.

Some parts of judging are simply subjective. Even very experienced judges who are experts in debate can have intelligent disagreement about which team won a debate and by how much, or whether a particular speaker was stellar or merely good.  Experienced judges tend to make better judges, for the simple reason that they are more familiar with the criteria and the range of achievement that it is possible to find among highschool students.  However they do not have a monopoly on evaluation.  Any adult who is unbiased, thoughtful, and prepared to apply the judging criteria to what they hear can make a fair judge.

 

This becomes especially important in consensus and conferral judging, styles in which judges of the same debate discuss their impressions before finalizing their ballots.  While it is easier when you have scores that roughly mirror one another, it is perfectly normal to have some variation.  If the criteria are applied rigorously, and there are no errors in a judge's understanding of what happened during the debate (e.g. violation of rules, factual errors), then his or her assessment is equally valid.  Less experienced judges should not automatically defer to more experienced judges when their opinions diverge.

 

2. There are relatively objective criteria to evaluate most aspects of debate.

Fortunately, judging is not entirely subjective, which is why some debaters come to be recognized as top debaters by very different judges over their careers.  Debaters must display competence in a variety of prescribed areas:  content, argumentation, refutation and rebuttal, and others.  Moreover, there are empirical ways of recognizing whether a debater has accomplished these things.  Did the debater provide concrete and relevant evidence from a reputable source?  Did the debater address every major point brought up by the other team?  Did the debater manage her time well, covering all her points comfortably?  These types of guidelines can be found in judges' guides, including the CNDF Remarks to Judges and Scoring Range.

 

If a score seems "rogue," or significantly out of line with the scores given by other judges to the same debater, it could be on account of letting subjective criteria eclipse the objective ones - for instance, maybe you were so taken away with the debater's voice that you didn't notice how shallow his content was.  When a score appears to be rogue, a tournament organizer might approach the judge to ask for a justification of his/her assessment.

 

3. Judging - particularly the perception that it is fair - matters tremendously to debaters.

There is nothing more frustrating for a debater than putting in hours of preparation and working hard all day to impress the judges, only to find out that judges were unfairly harsh or appeared to not be informed enough to provide a fair assessment.  Overly generous judging irks debaters, too, because it can propel generally mediocre debaters to the top of the heap and give the impression that judges are not discerning enough.  Debaters are most concerned with feeling that the judging is fair, regardless of whether they win or lose.

 

Because of this, it is important to take judging seriously, even though it is more of an art than a science.  Tournament organizers should strive to have 3 judges in every room of debate, to recruit judges who are well-equipped for the task (preferably coaches, university debaters, or others with experience), and to provide a comprehensive briefing with printed materials for all judges before the debate begins.  It is often advisable to also have a Chief Adjudicator who can resolve any judging abnormalities and oversee the tabulation of results.  And of course, no one with a vested interest in the outcome of a debate should be allowed to judge.  If debaters complain about judging despite these precautions, they may need to be reminded that judges are volunteers and debating is not an Olympic sport.  There is only so much we can do to make it fair.  But we should do all that we can, because competitive debaters take it very seriously.

 

4. Providing comments and putting thought into your judging matters at least as much as, arguably more than, the scores you give.

Many judges are so concerned with choosing scores that they forget the other kinds of feedback they can give debaters.  Comments - whether written, oral, or both (depending on the tournament) - not only substantiate your scores and show that you have reasons for your assessment (hence improving the appearance of fairness), but also give the debaters valuable advice about what they're doing well and how they can improve.  Debaters rely on this advice to advance their skills and make a better showing for future judges.  Again, you need not be a debating expert to provide insightful feedback.  Maybe you had trouble hearing the debater, or found she spoke too fast.  Maybe you loved his introduction, but got a bit confused in the middle of his constructive.  Maybe you found one of her claims completely implausible.  Expressing these reactions in appropriate language is an important way of making the experience valuable for debaters, and they will thank you for it.

 

5. The scoring range used doesn't matter as long as all judges are using the same range.

In some styles of debate, scoring ranges are vastly wider than in other styles.  Sometimes scores are out of 50; sometimes they're out of 100.  Sometimes the total score is broken down into prescribed categories, each of which needs to be scored individually, and sometimes the score is holistic.  Regardless of these differences, the important thing in any given tournament is that all the judges are on the same page.  A score of 92% may be acceptable in some leagues but off the charts in another.  As a judge, make sure you are very clear about what the numbers represent, in terms of objective achievement, at the tournament where you are judging.  If you are organizing a tournament or briefing judges, be as specific as possible about what the numbers mean, where the limits of the scoring range lie (e.g. nothing below 65% or over 90%), and what you expect the average to be.  The debater with the highest average will win whether the average is 78% or 93%, so be clear about what these numbers mean.

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    Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters and Walter Murray Collegiate Institute Debate Club

    At Walter Murray Collegiate Institute, Saskatoon

    March 17, 2018

     

    Resolutions:

    Rounds 1 & 2 Prepared Topic

    This House would make poverty a significant mitigating factor in criminal prosecutions.

     

    Round 3 Impromptu Topic

    This House believes that juries should be abolished in criminal trials.

     

    Round 4 Impromptu Topic

    Elementary: This House believes we should celebrate International Women's Day.

    High School: This House believes that affirmative action policies are counterproductive.

    Results

    Elementary Beginner

    Top Teams: Byron Merkosky Team Award

    1. Salma E./Maham Z., Regina Huda School
    2. Sahasro B./Lucas T., Silverspring School
    3. Isabelle M./ Bryn H., Caswell School

     

    Top Speakers: Speaker Award

    1. Anne K., Greystone Heights School
    2. Rita A., Sylvia Fedoruk School
    3. Aiman I., Regina Huda School

    Elementary Intermediate

    Top Teams: Melville District Credit Union Award

    1. Will S./Elliot C., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters
    2. Abiha M./Yusra N., Regina Huda School
    3. Maria C./Elsa L., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters

    Top Speakers: Assinibioa S.D. #69 Speaker's Cup

    1. Will S., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters
    2. Sam F., Caswell School
    3. Maria C., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters

     

    Special Award

    Michael Misanchuk Award of Excellence (Top Saskatoon Elementary Intermediate Team):

    Will S./Elliot C., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters

    High School Novice

    Top Teams: Right Honourable John G. Diefenbaker Centre Award

    1. Jemmie P./Megan D., Swift Current Comprehensive High School
    2. Swarna E./Brianna A., Evan Hardy Collegiate
    3. 3. Umama R./Alejandra V., Winston Knoll Collegiate

    Top Speakers: Leader Post Award

    1. Darshana L., Walter Murray Collegiate
    2. Megan D., Swift Current Comprehensive High School
    3. 3. Ishita M., North Battleford Comprehensive High School

    High School Open - Results of Open Final

    Top Teams: Schumiatcher Award

    1. Anwyn D./Afsoneh A., Walter Murray Collegiate
    2. Mohammed A./Ben J., Walter Murray Collegiate
    3. 3. Wardah M./Graeme S., Campbell Collegiate

    Top Speakers: E.C. Leslie Award

    1. Anwyn D., Walter Murray Collegiate
    2. Wardah M., Campbell Collegiate
    3. Graeme S., Campbell Collegiate

     

    Open Grade 9

    Top Team: Husky Oil Award

    Kaia B./Bhavandeep B., Walter Murray Collegiate

     

    Top Speaker: Melville Comprehensive Award

    Kaia B., Walter Murray Collegiate

    Special Awards

    Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters Spirit of Debate Award:

    Each club was asked to select their recipients. A committee of the SEDA Board of Directors then selected the top recipient based on the submitted write-ups of each recipient.

     

    Top Elementary Recipient

    Liam B., Saltcoats School

    Elementary Recipients

    Ben S., Elsie MIronuck Community School

    Marcus F., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters

    Nada E. Saskatoon Misbah School (Sylvia Fedoruk School)

    Rohan N. Sylvia Fedoruk School

    Katherine C., Greystone Heights School

    Liam B., Saltcoats School

     

    Top High School Recipient

    Swarna E., Evan Hardy Collegiate

     

    High School Recipients

    Trinity A., Carlton Comprehensive High School

    Muhammed A., Walter Murray Collegiate

    Swarna E., Evan Hardy Collegiate

    Hamza E., Regina Huda School

    Sarah C., Saskatoon Home Educated Debaters

    Megan D., Swift Current Comprehensive High School

    Chan Min R., Luther College High School

     

    SEDA Youth Volunteer Award

    Wardah M., Campbell Collegiate

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    2018 E.C. Leslie Provincial Debate Championships RESULTS

    Beginner

    Rank

    Name

    W/L

    Ind. Ave

    Team Ave.

    1

    Salma E.

    4

    80.67

    80.42

    1

    Maham Z.

    4

    80.17

    80.42

    2

    Sahasro B.

    3

    81.74

    81.09

    2

    Lucas T.

    3

    80.43

    81.09

    3

    Isabelle M.

    3

    81.96

    79.98

    3

    Bryn H.

    3

    78.00

    79.98

    4

    Frida S.

    3

    79.67

    79.53

    4sabelle Mementary

    Miette M.

    3

    79.39

    79.53

    5

    Sophia H.

    3

    78.50

    79.00

    5

    Kaitlyn C.

    3

    79.50

    79.00

    6

    Magnus I.

    3

    80.28

    78.59

    6

    Bilal A.

    3

    76.89

    78.59

    7

    Lauren C.

    2

    79.63

    81.02

    7

    Anne K.

    2

    82.42

    81.02

    8

    Ayesha A.

    2

    79.69

    80.97

    8

    Rita A.

    2

    82.26

    80.97

    9

    Laraib M.

    2

    78.71

    80.46

    9

    Aiman I.

    2

    82.21

    80.46

    10

    Louis-Pascal D.

    2

    80.00

    77.92

    10

    Isen Y.

    2

    75.83

    77.92

    11

    Habiba A.

    1

    81.13

    79.69

    11

    Rachel P.

    1

    78.25

    79.69

    12

    Vivek N.

    1

    79.71

    79.21

    12

    Max C.

    1

    78.71

    79.21

    13

    Aurora K.

    1

    79.33

    78.54

    13

    Lucas C.

    1

    77.75

    78.54

    14

    Alaa I.

    1

    77.58

    78.42

    14

    Eesha Q.

    1

    78.25

    78.42

    15

    Ayaan K.

    1

    77.17

    77.83

    15

    Ryan A.

    1

    78.50

    77.83

    2018 E.C. Leslie Provincial Debate Championships RESULTS

    Intermediate

    Rank

    Name

    W/L

    Ind. Ave

    Team Ave.

    1

    Will S.

    4

    82.67

    82.00

    1

    Elliot C.

    4

    81.33

    82.00

    2

    Abiha M.

    3

    80.25

    79.96

    2

    Yusra N.

    3

    79.67

    79.96

    3

    Maria C.

    3

    81.42

    79.90

    3

    Elsa L.

    3

    78.38

    79.90

    4

    Blake K.

    3

    76.67

    79.31

    4sabelle Mementary

    Sam F.

    3

    81.96

    79.31

    5

    Alex J.

    3

    76.71

    78.23

    5

    Dishita E.

    3

    79.75

    78.23

    6

    Zaid I.

    3

    78.25

    77.44

    6

    Tahir Z.

    3

    76.63

    77.44

    7

    Laraib W.

    3

    77.13

    77.19

    7

    Aamina T.

    3

    77.25

    77.19

    8

    Huda A.

    2

    80.00

    80.69

    8

    Fatima A.

    2

    81.38

    80.69

    9

    Nada E.

    2

    80.29

    80.50

    9

    Rohan N.

    2

    80.71

    80.50

    10

    Katherina C.

    2

    79.67

    79.71

    10

    Arnica K.

    2

    79.75

    79.71

    11

    Fatima E.

    2

    78.13

    79.50

    11

    Muhammad M.

    2

    80.88

    79.50

    12

    Grayson L.

    2

    80.33

    78.50

    12

    Ty D.

    2

    76.67

    78.50

    13

    Abdur-raafay H.

    2

    75.50

    77.31

    13

    Ali E.

    2

    79.13

    77.31

    14

    Isabelle E.

    2

    76.78

    75.89

    14

    Charlotte L.

    2

    75.00

    75.89

    15

    Keegan I.

    1

    80.04

    78.73

    15

    Zaiden O.

    1

    77.42

    78.73

    16

    Jerry Y.

    1

    76.21

    77.19

    16

    Krishna N.

    1

    78,17

    77.19

    17

    Liam B.

    1

    79.75

    77.10

    17

    Ayden B.

    1

    74.46

    77.10

    18

    Abby S.

    1

    78.33

    77.06

    18

    Ryder G.

    1

    77.78

    77.06

    19

    Mikayla U.

    1

    79.92

    77.02

    19

    Zainab S.

    1

    74.13

    77.02

    20

    Kevin L.

    1

    74.63

    76.31

    20

    Rafay A.

    1

    78.00

    76.31

    21

    Mikhail S.

    1

    74.78

    74.98

    21

    Tim Y.

    1

    75.17

    74.98

    22

    Nick R.

    0

    73.04

    74.42

    22

    Zhi R.

    0

    75.79

    74.42

    2018 E.C. Leslie Provincial Debate Championships RESULTS

    Novice

    Rank

    Name

    W/L

    Ind. Ave

    Team Ave.

    1

    Jemmie P.

    4

    76.71

    79.47

    1

    Megan D.

    4

    82.23

    79.47

    2

    Swarna E.

    3

    81.00

    80.67

    2

    Brianna A.

    3

    80.33

    80.67

    3

    Umama R.

    3

    78.67

    79.67

    3

    Alejandra V.

    3

    80.67

    79.67

    4

    Bridget S.

    2

    82.35

    81.01

    4sabelle Mementary

    Darshana L.

    2

    79.67

    81.01

    5

    Abby D.

    2

    73.25

    77.06

    5

    Jarrod Q.

    2

    80.88

    77.06

    6

    Ishita M

    1

    82.17

    77.86

    6

    Vikas M.

    1

    73.56

    77.86

    7

    Janna E.

    1

    74.89

    76.11

    7

    Hamza E.

    1

    77.33

    76.11

    E.C. Leslie Provincial Debate Championships RESULTS

    Open

    Rank

    Name

    W/L

    Ind. Ave

    Team Ave.

    1

    Anwyn D.

    4

    85.63

    84.34

    1

    Afsoneh A.

    4

    83.06

    84.34

    2

    Mohammed A.

    4

    81.19

    80.15

    2

    Ben J.

    4

    79.10

    80.15

    3

    Wardah M.

    3

    84.06

    83.59

    3

    Graeme S.

    3

    83.13

    83.59

    4

    Nathan G.

    3

    82.56

    82.22

    4sabelle Mementary

    Mueez R.

    3

    81.89

    82.22

    5

    Hussain A.

    3

    79.71

    80.88

    5

    Yangming H.

    3

    82.04

    80.88

    6

    Miriam C.

    3

    80.52

    79.01

    6

    Cheran F.

    3

    77.50

    79.01

    7

    Kaia B.

    2

    82.75

    80.33

    7

    Bhavandeep B.

    2

    77.92

    80.33

    8

    Sarah K.

    2

    80.00

    79.88

    8

    Elizabeth D.

    2

    79.75

    79.88

    9

    Nohl P.

    2

    82.58

    79.73

    9

    Ria B

    2

    76.88

    79.73

    10

    Victor W.

    2

    80.96

    78.92

    10

    Aditya K.

    2

    76.88

    78.92

    11

    Gabriela C.

    2

    76.63

    78.60

    11

    Luke S.

    2

    80.58

    78.60

    12

    January D.

    2

    79.11

    78.31

    12

    Magda M.

    2

    77.50

    78.31

    13

    Harshini A.

    2

    78.92

    78.02

    13

    Eljay D.

    2

    77.13

    78.02

    14

    Seth N.

    1

    77.33

    79.54

    14

    Carrick P.

    1

    81.75

    79.54

    15

    Sarah C.

    1

    76.65

    77.59

    15

    Jarica G.

    1

    78.54

    77.59

    16

    Kevin Z.

    1

    76.56

    77.22

    16

    William L.

    1

    77.88

    77.22

    17

    Rowan F.

    1

    77.38

    76.58

    17

    Jules O.

    1

    75.79

    76.58

    18

    Mantaqua C.

    1

    76.35

    76.48

    18

    Aroba K.

    1

    76.60

    76.48

    19

    Taegan I.

    1

    76.71

    75.88

    19

    Dante B.

    1

    75.04

    75.88

    20

    Zona I.

    0

    78.33

    78.17

    20

    Ammara S.

    0

    78.00

    78.17