1. THE SPEECHES
Each team consists of two speakers: For Gov, the Prime Minister (PM) and Member of Government; for Opp, the Leader of Opposition (LO) and Member of Opposition (MO). They speak in the following order:
SPEECH / LENGTH / TASK
PMC / 7 min / Present the case and the arguments for it.
LOC / 8 min / Present independent points arguing against the case, rebut arguments presented by PM.
MGC / 8 min / Rebut LO, reconstruct case.
MOC / 8 min / Last speech in which new arguments or POIs are allowed. Frame the round, respond to the important points on the flow.
LOR / 4 min / Crystallize: the round comes down to x,y,z; why opp wins
PMR / 5 min / Respond to new arguments made by MO, crystallize.
The first four speeches are called constructives. During these speeches, new points can (and should) be made, and the other team can stand up on POIs. The last two speeches are the rebuttals. These are not intended to present new information, although they can contain new illustrative examples and the PMR can contain new responces to new arguments made in the MOC. The rebuttals are meant to sum up the round, distilling it down to three main issues or questions, and to show definitively that the current speaker’s team has won.
2. THE FLOW
Debaters practice a special form of note-taking called flowing. They record the major arguments made in each of the speeches on a piece of paper called a flow. “Signposting” is the practice of letting the judge know exactly where you are on the flow. So when you make your first argument, you should say something along these lines: “the first thing we want to talk about is the law, and our first point under the idea of the law is…” This makes your speech easy to follow, and that definitely makes you sound both more polished and more compelling.
Most of us use legal pads to flow rounds. There is more than one way to make a flow, and you should experiment with a couple to find the one that is most intuitive for you. The idea of flowing is that you want to be able to trace an agrument through the entire round. You want to be able to quickly see how it evolved and what the responses to it were, and you definitely need to know if the other side didn’t address it. Learning to flow is one of the most difficult skills you will need to acquire, but it is also the most important. A good flow will help you hit every point and orient yourself in the debate.
The top of the flow (the half on which you record the government’s constructive arguments) is also called gov’s case, case-side, or just case, and the bottom of the flow (where you record the opp’s constructive arguments) is called off-case or opp’s case. When you give your speech, you go from the bottom of the flow to the top (but not backwards through the points. We’ll go over all of this in person). Thus, the LO gives his points on the bottom, then goes up to case. The MG can put a new point on the flow, which would go below the LO’s points, then responds to the LOs points, then goes caseside. The MO throws their own points onto the very bottom of the flow, then deals with the MG’s new points (if there were any), then reconstructs the LO’s case, then goes case-side. This may seem confusing, but just remember to go bottoms-up, just like you will at the party, with the cheap beer.
During your speech, the members of the other teams can stand on a number of points.
Point of Clarification (POC) - asked immediately after the PM gives the case statement. This should NOT be an argument. This should only be used if you are confused by the case or need to know something about the case which the PM has not mentioned. During POCs, time stops.
Example: The PM gives case statement as, “You have the option to become immortal. Don’t take it.”A good clarification to ask is, “will you also be invulnerable?” Another good clarification to ask is, “will you age?” A bad clarification to ask is, “will you also get superpowers?”
Point of Information (POI) - asked in between the first and last minutes of the constructive speeches. It should be an incisive, destructive, clever, or interesting argument, made in the form of a question that usually directly relates to what the speaker has just been saying.
Example: PM: Clearly, you will benefit enormously from being able to interact with and befriend a far greater number of people from all over the world because, as an immortal, you have more time.
Good POI: And how will you feel as you watch everyone you know die, over and over again?
Bad POI: Won’t you also meet more annoying people?
The debater who is speaking can choose whether or not to take a POI. When you want to ask a POI, you stand up with one hand on your head and the other stretched out in front of you, palm up. This is to make sure that your powdered wig stays on, and to demonstrate that you aren’t holding a weapon: a touch of the British Parliament. The speaker will then let you know whether or not he wants to take the POI. It’s good form to take two or three, but don’t feel like you have to take them every time they get up. To let the person standing know that you don’t want to take them, you can wave them down, tell them “not at this time,” or “I just took one” if they’re standing up every five seconds like a jack-in-the-box. If they stand during the first or last minute of your speech, just say “you’re out of order.”
It’s important that you ask POIs. Use them to set up arguments you’ll make later, throw people off balance, or just look like you’re on the ball. Judges pay attention.
Point of Personal Privilege - If the speaker starts ranting extensively about how your mother is a filthy whore who’s been around the block more times than the village bicycle, then, and only then, stand and say to the judge: “point of personal privelege, my mother is not at issue here, and I am offended by these remarks.” It is the judge’s job to rule on the point. Really, really, really don’t use this point unless something egregiously bad is happening. You should never have to use this point.
Point of Order - Stand up on a point of order when a rule of debate is being violated, and only then. For example, if the speaker is two minutes over his time, stand up, turn to the judge, and say, “point of order, this speech is two minutes over time.” Don’t worry about interrupting the person speaking – talk over them. It’s good sportsmanship to let it slide if you went over time and they didn’t stand on you, however.
No new arguments are allowed in rebuttal speeches. Listen to them carefully, and if you’re certain that a brand-new argument is being made, stand up and say, “point of order, the idea that you can get robotic limbs is new.” Then sit down; the judge will rule on the point. Never argue with the judge. His ruling is final.
You can run almost any case you want on APDA; there is enormous latitude. There are, however, some rules governing how you run your case. If the gov team breaks one of these rules, it is the LO’s job to point it out at the beginning of their speech. If you don’t do this in LOC, you can’t do it in MOC or LOR, so pay attention.
A case is tight if it is literally impossible to beat. For example, the case “we propose that teenagers shouldn’t be legally able to brutally mutilate their parents with broomsticks” is tight. There is absolutely no way in which you can convince the judge that this would be a good idea. If you hit a tight case, and you’re sure, then this is what you do:
LOC: Call the case tight. Explain why the case is tight. Go through every argument you could possibly make, and explain why that isn’t enough to beat the case. For example, you should say, “I could argue that the government shouldn’t interfere in the private life of the family. But that argument isn’t strong enough to win me the case, because a society in which brutal mutilation is legal doesn’t appeal even to the most extreme libertarian, and it is an unreasonable burden for opp to defend. All gov has to say is, ‘would you want to live in such a society? No,’ and we would lose the round.” Talk about the arguments that the PM made and why there is no adequate response. “Yes, violence is bad. What do they expect us to say here?”
MGC: None of you will ever run a tight case, of course, but if one of your cases is called tight, then the ONLY voting issue in the round is whether or not the case is actually tight. That is the ONLY thing that the judge is going to be basing his decision on. It is the MG's job to prove definitively that the case is not tight. If you’re the MG, give every argument against your case and demonstrate that they are strong enough to beat the case if they are made well.
MOC: Show why the arguments the MG made against the case are not actually enough to beat it, and why the case is NOT debatable.
LOR: More of the same, but in the form of crystallization. Remember, even if they come up with a potential argument you could have made, show that on balance their side is necessarily far stronger than yours. Remind the judge that tightness is the only voting issue.
PMR: Your last chance to convince the judge that the case really is debatable and opp just didn’t do its job.
Warning: some schools have tight call policies that differ from this. They will be published in the tournament packets. If you have any questions about the specific policy at any tournament, ask a varsity team member to clarify it for you, so that you know what to do.
A status quo case argues for something that is already in place. The above example of a tight case is also status quo, because brutally mutilating someone is already illegal. If you hit a status quo case, call it status quo at the top of LOC, but don’t dwell on it, because you still have to opp it as usual. Just point it out in the form of an observation, make a face at the judge like – gov messed up – and jump into your independent points.
A spec (specific) case is based on knowledge that the average college student who reads the NYT can’t be expected to have. For example, the case “NASA should switch to UR454 fuel instead of UG76” is spec, because you aren’t a rocket scientist. Just as you do with status quo cases, call the case spec at the top of LOC, then go on to make the best arguments you can – be creative. You’ve let the judge know that you have a lower burden to meet, but you still have to meet it. For example, you could say that switching fuel will probably be expensive because different kinds of engines process fuel differently – you know this because buses run on diesel, and some cars require certain grades of fuel that others don’t. Also, if the fuel is new, it is probably untested in space, and you don’t want to risk a multi-billion dollar disaster.
If their case has little or no effect, observe that it is low impact at the top of LOC, then proceed as usual. For example, the case “more paperclips should be triangular” is low impact. It’s boring, it doesn’t change anything significant, and it doesn’t merit an hour of your time. If a case is this boring, be funny. Make the judge wish that your team was speaking every time the other team starts talking about conserving aluminum.
Other than the rules described above, there is no real limit to what you can debate about on APDA. Topics range from legal theory to international relations to history, and so on. The only limit is your imagination. That said, cases do fall into several distinct categories.
Example: The US should interfere in Sudan. Congress should pass a law. Women should stay in the kitchen. Most cases on APDA are a simple proposal that some action be taken.
Example: Hitler should not have invaded Russia. The US should not have dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Many cases propose that a decision made in the past should have been made differently.
Example: You’re Hitler, don’t invade Russia. You’re the US in WWII, don’t drop the bomb on Nagasaki. In a time-space case, the judge is put in the position of the “you,” and you have to base your arguments solely on information that would have been available to the “you” in the past. Thus, you can argue against a two-front war on general principles, but you can’t argue that the invasion of Russia didn’t succeed, because you don’t know that yet. Opp can, however, argue that as Hitler, you believe that the Russian people are weak communists of inferior racial stock who will never be able to stand before the mighty arm of the Reich, whose destiny it is to rule all the world. That is because arguments specific to the psychology of the “you” are acceptable.
Example: You’re a ruler. Would you rather be feared or loved? This is an example of an opp-choice case, which means that you present opp with two options, and they choose one. If your case is really crazy, it’s good manners to make it opp-choice. For example, if your case takes place on Zabiton three and involves a talking tree frog with a magic ring and three daughters, consider opp-choicing it.
Example: Legalize marijuana. Stock cases have been around for a long time. It’s not the end of the world if you run one, but you risk boring the judge if they’ve seen it before.
6. WRITING A CASE
Choose a topic that interests you. We’ll talk more about writing cases during one of the novice training sessions: it’s best done through interactive examples. Meanwhile, here is an example of a structure for your case.
We propose X
1. PHILOSOPHICAL POINT
a. your best argument
2. OTHER POINT
3. PRAGMATIC POINT
c. devastating, tricky, or unanswerable argument
For case ideas, read newspapers and watch videos of debate rounds on line. What do you always find yourself arguing about? What famous story or myth could end happily if someone just made a different choice? Talk to members of the team and brainstorm a list of possible cases to work on with them.
7. THE BALLOT
The judge fills out a ballot on which he records comments, speaker points, ranks, a reason for decision (RFD), and the winner of the round.
"Speaks" - Speaker points are awarded on a scale of 20-30. At most tournaments, half-points are allowed.
20 – You walked up to the judge, punched him in the face, then sat down. Not given out.
21 – You were vulgar, racist, and rude for the entire 45 seconds that you spoke.
22 – You made many serious mistakes, didn’t fill time, and mumbled.
23 – This was one of the worst speeches at the tournament.
24 – You were below average, but not actually miserable.
25 – You were average. Not great, not awful.
26 – This was a great speech. You made good arguments well.
27 – This is one of the best speeches at the tournament. These are very rare.
28 – You changed the judge on a fundamental level. He cried. He wants to have your babies and your babies’ babies.
29 – You are Martin Luther King’s baby. The one he had with Jesus and Ghandi. Not given out.
30 – Perfection is unattainable.
Don’t worry about getting low speaks. It’s going to take you time to find a style that works for you, and there are a lot of technical things about debate that are going to become second nature to you soon but that may trip you up at first. A reasonable goal to shoot for is to be getting mostly 25's after you’ve been to a good number of tournaments.
"Ranks" - Each of the four debaters in the round is ranked from 1-4, with 1 being the best.
8. HOW TOURNAMENTS WORK
Everyone shows up around 4pm on Friday to register and pay the tournament fees. Then they go to General Assembly (GA), usually some large lecture hall, to drop their stuff and hang out with the other debaters. When everything is ready, pairings are read. They are usually read in this order: team on gov, team on opp, name of judge, room where round is happening. Listen for your team name, write down whether or not you’re on opp or gov, the name of the team you’re hitting, the room, and the name of the judge. If your teammates know who you’re hitting and who’s judging you, they can give you useful advice. Get to the room quickly. Once both teams and the judge arrive and write their names on the board, the gov team can take ten minutes to prep out their case. When they come back, the judge calls the house to order and invites the PM to speak. At the end of the round, shake hands with the other team, thank the judge, and get out. It is very poor form to discuss the round after it’s over in front of the judge, so don’t do it. Go back to GA and hang out with your teammates and all your new friends from other teams. When all of the ballots are in to the Tab room and they pair the next round, the hosts will read pairings for the second round. After second round, they provide dinner, usually pizza. After third round, they will make sure you get to housing, and give you directions to the party. Go to the party! On Saturday morning, around 10, head back to GA for bagels and coffee and the last two rounds. There’s a banquet after fifth round. After the banquet, the host team reads the break, the list of teams going on to elimination rounds. If you’re in the novice break, ROCK ON! Anyone who isn’t in the break should go support the Brandeis teams that are. If no one from Brandeis is breaking, support new friends or go watch an interesting round. After the final round and the awards ceremony, we head home, often stopping for a team dinner at a diner along the way.