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This guide is meant for the experienced and inexperienced CAs among us. You might not end up agreeing with everything in this guide, but everything included in here comes from people with experience and a genuine interest in seeing tournaments run well. If you would like to contribute an article to the CA Guide, please contact the VP West.

Speaker Score Range

By Spencer Keys

The following descriptions are to be used as a base and are holistic in their intent.  Judges are free to weight elements of debate differently as long as they stick to the two areas of matter (what they say) and manner (how they say it).

0-34  These scores fall below the floor and are to never be given out.

35  This was an awful speech. Not only did the speaker stand up and mumble through just a few seconds of speaking, but what they did say was little more than offensive.  As I often put it, they stood up for thirty seconds and spouted racial slurs. This is a score that (hopefully) should be given out no more than once per year in all the tournaments in a region. People were crying. Judges questioned coming back. Hate crime legislation was quoted. It was a bad, bad speech. This score should only be given out in consultation with the chief adjudicator.

36  This speech was just bad. The speaker did not even fill the majority of his/her time, and when they did speak they provided little in the way of points, or style. This score should only be given out in consultation with the chief adjudicator.

37  This is a speech that is given to a speaker that fills the majority of their time and has one or two points. The contentions are not particularly interesting but are decent.

38  This speaker filled their time and provided a few obvious points though they may not be particularly important.  They may have failed to explain those points in sufficient detail or rebut the opposing arguments.

39  This should be an average speech. They have done everything they need to do, it just isn't compelling. The debater fills their time and has a few arguments (though it may not be organized in a coherent fashion). The arguments are not necessarily creative or interesting but obvious and reasonably important to the round.

40  This is a good speech. When watching this speaker, you saw something unique; whether it be a style that sets them apart from the crowd or an argument that was intellectually stimulating. If this speaker keeps doing a speech like this, you would expect them to be in the top ten speakers of the tournament.

41  This is a strong speech; it has strong delivery and strong substance. You are interested in what the speaker has to say and you are intellectually stimulated by the arguments that s/he brings forward. The style is very natural and engaging. You believe that if this is the standard speech being given by this debater, they are in the hunt for the top speaker in the tournament.

42  Great substance and great delivery make this speech truly remarkable.  You know that if this is the average of what they're capable of, they will be the top speaker in the tournament. Not only did you get lost in their words but you also found yourself seriously reconsidering prior opinions that you "knew" to be true.

43  This speech is phenomenal and the best one at the tournament. It has excellent delivery and excellent substance. This debate is probably the best in the tournament and this speaker was the one that clearly set him or herself apart from the other three. You feel privileged for having seen it. This score should only be given out in consultation with the chief adjudicator.

44  This debater, with one of the most beautiful voices you have ever heard, stood up and provided example after example after example after example, outlining the entire history of the world and showing, quite successfully, that the true purpose of human existence is for that person to give the very speech that you are watching. This score is given to whom we would call "God's Lawyer" and you actually believe this person is capable of leading a cult or a country. This is a score that should be given out no more than once per year in all tournaments in a region... if that. This score should only be given out in consultation with the chief adjudicator.

Reasons For Decision

By Chris Jones

Reasons For Decision: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

As a debate judge, you have three tasks: first, to decide who won; second, to decide on speaker points for each debater; and third, to help the debaters improve. You'll be asked to provide written reasons for decision (or RFD) for each round, both to help you clarify your reasoning and come to the best possible decision, and for the debaters to understand the strengths and weaknesses in their argumentation. You will probably also be asked to provide oral adjudication to the debaters after the round.

The organizing team for the tournament will tell you what you should be looking for, as a judge, in order to decide who won the debate round. Some possible choices on their part include "who convinced you", "whoever moved the ball the furthest", and "whoever did the best job of convincing you given their position's burden of proof". Ask the chief adjudicator during the judges' briefing if you have any questions at all about the tournament's judging philosophy.

RFDs shouldn't simply say what your decision is --- you've got another part of the ballot form for that --- rather, they should give your reason for deciding as you did. For example, "The opposition convinced me that they were right." or "The government was better." are bad RFDs, because these don't provide a lot of information (the first is likely to be true if the opposition wins, while the second is by definition true if the government wins).

An ideal RFD will indicate the degree of difficulty attached to each side's case (for example, arguing that "killing children is bad" is not very difficult, while arguing the converse is rather difficult, if not outright impossible), and then explain how each team met its burden of proof (for example, "Gov't argued that children are a net benefit to society in the long run."). In addition, you should say whether a side was able to effectively rebut the other side's contentions (for example, "Gov't argued that the SU should seek corporate funding for a universal student bus pass, but Opp demolished this by asking why a company would pay millions each year for bus passes when it could get good publicity by donating a few thousand to charity."). Any major structural flaws in the case or its rebuttal, such as it being a tautology, should probably also be noted in the RFD.

With that said, there's no need to write an essay --- a succinct, well-written paragraph or at most two will be enough to convey the reasons you arrived at the decision you did. And that's what RFDs are intended to do.

After the round finishes, but before you decide on the winner, you should review your notes of the round and mentally formulate your RFD before deciding who won. If you're on a judging panel, do so before discussing with your fellow judges, but be prepared to revise your RFD on reflecting upon their comments. Then indicate your win/loss decision and RFD on the ballot sheet, and give oral adjudication to the debaters.

In this way, your RFD helps guide you to your win/loss decision, rather than working backwards from your decision to the rationale. Not only does this ensure higher-quality judging because you'll be focussed on the argumentation rather than the presentation (that comes later, in determining speaker points), but you'll also be doing your part to ensure the legitimacy of the tournament results, and that's something everyone can look forward to.

Roles and POIs

By Deborah Book


In a good debate it will be a given that all debaters will fill their roles, as a judge it is important to understand what that means.


The job of side government is to present a well defined case that provokes good debate. If the government case is too tight or frames the debate in unreasonable terms this is not fulfilling their role as initiators of good debate. A resolution such as "THBT murder is bad" is likely to stand, but does not make for good debate and government should be heavily penalized if not outright dropped for presenting such a case.Similarly, cases that assume absurd burdens of proof should be examined in view of their contribution to debate. This house would kill babies is a high government burden case, and one might be inclined to reward a government team that moves the ball far with such a case. However, the majority of the time such a case makes for bad debate as it enters the realm of the ludicrous, and in such cases government teams should not be rewarded for the case, if anything they should be punished.

Each member of the government team has a specific role to fill in advancing the government case.

The Prime Minister (PM) speaks first and last in the debate. It is their job to define the terms, clearly outline the government case and introduce a few constructive points on government side. In the last speech of the debate the Prime Minister will summarize the proceedings and should make clear how side government has met its burden of proof and why the resolution must stand.

The Minister of the Crown (MC) is responsible for the initial refutation of claims made on opposition benches and for further development of side government’s constructive case.It is the job of this debater to respond to attacks from side opposition and to present relevant points supporting government’s case that will carry through the debate.

Generally the burden of proof falls to the government who must show that the resolution stands. If judges are not convinced of the resolution by then end of the debate (or, in the case of a high government burden case, their opinion has not been significantly swayed towards the resolution) the government team has not done their job. Occasionally, if the opposition fails to fulfill their role, a government team that does not meet their burden may carry the round, however this is rare, and not likely to happen at many tournaments.


It is the role of the opposition to question the propositions of side government. In addition to this, opposition teams are expected to present constructive points arguing against the resolution. Such point should be developed and supported to aid the opposition argument.

Each member of the opposition team speaks for eight minutes.

The Member of the Opposition (MO) is the first person to speak on that side of the house. It is their job to refute what is said on side government in the first speech and develop the first few points of side opposition’s constructive. A good MO speech makes the government case seem entirely unconvincing and presents relevant arguments against the resolution. If the MO has done their job well, at the end of the speech the judge has been convinced that the proposal of side government is seriously flawed.

The Leader of the Opposition (LO) has the last speech on opposition benches. The first five minutes of this speech are constructive. The LO may introduce new contentions and arguments. The last three minutes of the speech constitute the official rebuttal, and in this part of the speech no new contentions may be raised. The rebuttal should summarize the key failings of side government and the strength of the opposition case and leave the judge convinced of opposition’s arguments. A good LO speech flows from start to finish with well presented themes and effectively proves side opposition’s case while countering that of the government.

Whereas the government, who propose the bill must prove the worth of the resolution, the opposition too has a duty to show the flaws in side government’s proposal. Although a strict refutation case may rarely win if it is very strong, it is almost always necessary for side opposition to present some proof of the weaknesses of the resolution or of alternatives in order to successfully counter the proposals of side government.


The key element of parliamentary style that is likely to play a role in CUSID West debates are points of information (POIs). POIs can be a very powerful tool for debaters to interject with short questions or statements that undermine their opponents cases. The general rule is to give and take two POIs per speech. POIs should not exceed 15 seconds each. It is not reccommended that debaters insert a hint as to what their POI is about. For instance, debaters should refrain from standing up and saying "On ______ ". Instead, they should merely stand. A simple "sir" or "madame" may be acceptable in order to attract the speaker's attention.

There are occasions where POIs are abused.If these are being used to badger/bully opponents, or debaters are making speeches rather than short points, they may lose speaker points for such flaws in style. Poor use of POIs should only affect the decision in a round in extreme cases, however a poor use of this stylistic element can easily result in low speaker points.

For the most part POIs are used appropriately and enrich the debate. Debaters who make good use of POIs should be rewarded.

How to Give an Effective Judges Briefing

By Kevin Massie

While there is no single way to give a judges briefing, over the years I have noticed that a few key areas are always problematic, and I have tried to address them here. Usually the bulk of the useful information comes from the Q&A session after the briefing anyway, so don’t worry too much about covering everything, you’ll always have breakfast time and between rounds to make announcements about things you may have missed. I would recommend as a universal rule to keep the judges and debaters together for the briefing. The CA should brief everyone at the tournament and the TD should brief no one. Even assuming that the CA gets everything in the briefing wrong, the only thing that really matters is that the debaters and the judges are given exactly the same set of instructions.

First and foremost when giving a briefing you must gauge the level of your audience. At a tournament geared toward novices, it may be a good idea to go over things like speech times and time signals. This is also a good idea if you have a considerable number of lay-judges (non-debaters with little experience). This section should be formulaic and to the point, but beware of being too specific. Instructions that are too calculated tend to give license to bad judges to drop teams for mere technicalities. If you say “the PM should have 5 constructive points” you are begging for a judge to hand in an RFD saying “the PM had only 4 points, so Opp wins”. If you don’t believe me… ask me sometime, I’ll show you the ballots. With anything in a judges briefing, guidelines are better than rules and judges should be asked to use their discretion within a certain set of limits. It’s much better for a CA to say “The PM will set out a number of constructive arguments in the first speech, usually between 3 and 5, but it doesn’t really matter how many there are”. While I understand that most of us would find this silly, this section of the briefing is really aimed at people who know little about debating and may be taking your instructions without the cultural context that we would normally assume at a CUSID event.

Once you get through the basic mechanics of how a debate works, I think it is important to cover a few main areas in the briefing.

Motions/Canned Cases (including definitional challenges, truisms, tautologies, status quo, TPS etc.)

Indicate if the motions are open, tight link, or straight and then be very clear what you mean and what the acceptable limits are for deviating from your instructions. If the instructions are clear, debaters are taking their own risks if they play with the limits. As a small piece of advice… use examples. State the motion, then give an acceptable interpretation and an unacceptable interpretation. None of this really applies to open motions.

In the case of open motions, indicate whether or not you want to see canned cases or links made to the motion. Every year I see a judge say that they were disappointed with the lack of a link to the motion and then the debater e-mails me and reminds me that we haven’t bothered with links for at least 10 years.So if you want to see them or if you don’t want to see them, tell the judges what is and is not acceptable. Give examples of truisms, tautologies and tight cases. Remind them that these do not confer automatic losses, but should just factor into the holistic approach to viewing the round. Remind debaters to complain about this sort of thing for a few seconds and then if possible play ball. Indicate whether Time Place Sets are allowed, and if they are not, indicate if cases about past events but from today’s perspective are allowed; give an example to illustrate the difference. Talk briefly about Status Quo cases, and generally conclude that if there is a genuine issue of contention, the case is fair.

Scoring Range

No matter how well you discuss the scoring range, a judge… perhaps even one that you like, WILL give a 42 to a debater in the 0-5 room. Understand that this is not necessarily the judge’s fault. When a judge consistently sees terrible rounds, a mediocre speech will look brilliant. All scoring ranges are based around an assessment of the tournament average which is something that judges in individual rooms are completely unable to sense. Try to give as many concrete flags as possible to indicate what is high and what is low. Trust that in the up rounds your judges know the range fairly well as they are all experienced and trust that in the bin rooms a debater getting a 42 will not vault them into contention for top speaker if they have been averaging 36’s all weekend.

RFD’s (including how to fill out a ballot)

Remind judges to fill in their name, the room number, the round number and the team names. I know that this sounds crazy, but judges love to not do this stuff, so you have to really beg them. I think this is largely caused by the fact that many judges have never witnessed the chaos of a large tournament tab room. If they knew how terrible it was to get a blank ballot back they would likely pay more attention, but if it seems like just a tiny detail they are more likely to overlook it. You must impress on them the importance of that information to the tab person. Whoever is doing tabs for you will thank you.

You should dedicate a decent amount of time to how to write RFD’s. This is tricky, but since it forms the bulk of what you will use to determine the judges rankings, it seems only fair that you let them know what you’re looking for. Ideally here you want the judge to identify the key themes of the round and assess where each team stood on those themes. You then want a concise statement on which team was more convincing on those themes, or if it was a debate of competing themes, which theme was more convincing. You want to impress on judges to avoid such comments as “good eye contact” and “Opp was better”. A good RFD should give a person who was not in the round at least a faint idea of what happened in that room.

POIs, Privilege and Order

Deal with these as you see fit. I would suggest that you disallow Points of Order and Privilege. They are silly. It’s impossible to go into enough detail about POIs but you should simply point out that they can be a question or a statement put to the debater who has the floor, that they should not last more than 10-15 seconds at MOST, and that they should be to the point and should have some use in the round beyond taking time away from the speaker on the floor. You may wish to say a word about interrogative POIs (where a debater stands and without being recognized says “on ______”). I think these are silly and almost never make a decent point. When they do make a decent point it’s largely because the speaker on the floor was saying something so crazy it didn’t need to be heckled to be defeated. I treat interrogatives the same way I treat heckles. If it happens to be HILARIOUS, then I reward it, otherwise I mark it down to bad form.


Perhaps more important than what you say in your judges briefing is how you deliver it. There are three basic styles that I have seen CAs use. The first is the self deprecating style. This is usually employed by first time CAs faced with an audience of many judges who may, for lack of a better term, outrank the CA. As a result, the judge will seem like they are asking for a favour rather than giving out a set of rules. Many judges will dismiss this sort of a briefing and the result will be that you will get a number of different rule books being used and it can cause significant problems. The second style is the joking style. This is the kind of briefing where the CA takes the approach that we’ve all heard it before and we don’t really need to hear it again. The problem with this approach is that while there are a number of people who don’t need to hear the briefing, there are a number of people who really do. If you approach the briefing with a casual approach like this, the message it sends to novice adjudicators is that the rules don’t really matter. I prefer the third approach, dictatorial. You don’t need to be mean (though I find it fun) but you need to impress on judges that the rules are serious and that the tournament is only fair if the style guide is consistently applied across the board. More than anything else, the tone you set at the briefing will set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

How to Rank and Evaluate Judges

By Kevin Massie

As a preamble, know that no matter how well or how fairly you do this job, you will likely end the tournament with fewer friends than you had going into it. Ranking and evaluating judges is inherently an art, and no one likes hearing that they aren’t a good judge. If a tournament’s judging pool got to rank themselves, you would have a room full of judges in the 5-0 room, and a bunch of coins for the other debaters to flip to determine the outcome of the other rounds.

Although it isn’t foolproof, a debater's past record as a judge or as a debater is generally a good indicator of what their rank should be. There are tons of excellent debaters out there who also happen to be atrociously bad judges. We must recognize that we are dealing with imperfect information and limited resources. If you don’t know how good a judge the person is, ideally you take a trusted adjudicator and sit them with the unknown and get a report on them after the round. There often aren’t enough judges to do this. As a result, ranking judges by their previous record as judges is generally a good idea, while ranking judges by their debate record is generally unreliable, but happens more often than not as a result of not having enough information.

Generally at a tournament I will have 5 judges that I know and trust as top level adjudicators. They will generally be able to give me enough information about judges from other schools that I will be able to piece together who is good and who is not. This will give you the top of the pool and the bottom of the pool, which leaves a large area in the middle that are basically unknown quantities. These are the judges that you have to really concern yourself with. Some of these judges are extra-ordinary talents and need to be nurtured; some of them move their lips when they read.

As a CA it is your job to find the truly talented judges and promote and teach them as far as you are able to, while at the same time you are required to find the truly sketchy judges and put them into the ranks of the tournament where they can do the least amount of damage.

For the purposes of this article, I will assume that we are working with a 40 team tournament. There isn’t that much that differs in approach when the tournament gets bigger or smaller, you just subdivide or combine your ranks as the size of the brackets dictate.

I generally use a 5 step rank process for a 40 team tournament. The necessary assumption of being a Chief Adjudicator is that you are at least equal to the best adjudicator at the tournament. You will thus rank yourself as a 1 on the 5 point scale. If you are lucky, you will have 3 other judges that also rank a 1 on the scale. To rank as a 1, a judge should have a solid reputation as an excellent judge and no one should bat an eye to see them chairing a semi-final.

Your next rank down will be 2s. These are judges who can chair solid rounds, or judge top rounds on their own. The difference between a 1 and a 2 is subtle. Generally a 2 is someone who has a good reputation but isn’t firmly established enough to be one of the top 4 adjudicators at a tournament. Maybe they are less well known, have less experience, or simply have a tendency to have “off-rounds”. The distinction between 1s and 2s is often synthetic and arbitrary, but it doesn’t really matter since both ranks will break to quarters, and once in quarters, everything changes.

You’ll notice that the 2 rank is larger than the 1 rank, and that is to be expected. If everything goes well, you’ll have a Bell Curve shaped judging pool that mirrors the shape of the brackets that correspond to the judge’s rank. You have more 3-2 rounds than you do 5-0 rounds, so it makes sense that you have more 3 rank judges than you do 1 rank judges. You will also notice that there is some separation of ability within ranks. Your top #2 will almost be a #1, whereas there will certainly be a judge that snuck into the #2 rank but could have easily been a #3. Keep these things in the back of your mind for now. It will be of use later, but for now assume that all #2s are equally competent.

Your next rank are your #3’s. These are people who in general you trust to make the right decision in a round even if it is for the wrong reasons. You expect that these people can consistently call rounds that aren’t close, and can offer good insightful advice for higher ranked chairs. This is the average bracket for judges and should be sizable. This is also the bracket that gives you the most headaches, both because it has the most movement in and out of it, and because it is where most of the debaters who perceive a snubbing end up.

#4’s are BAD judges. These are people who seem to make random decisions based on irrelevant criteria. You will know these judges, they will get complained about.

#5’s are the worst judges around. They are a liability to a tournament and they are the kinds of people who interrupt the debaters during rounds, and award the win to teams based on “good eye contact”. These judges should be removed from the judging pool where numbers allow and turned into runners or shadow judges. There is no need to make people feel bad that they are bad judges. Quite often a #5 can go to a #2 in a single year. The trick is to get them out of the bad rounds where they only reinforce their mistakes and sit them with #1 judges in top rounds where they can learn by discussing the round with the high ranked judge. It’s important that these judges are not paneled with #1s but shadowed with them. That way their mistakes cannot actually impact the round. Above all it’s important to foster an environment where judges are not made to feel ashamed of being bad judges. They should be encouraged to learn and improve. It’s no different than debating. None of us were top tier debaters in our first round, and likewise it is expected that none of us will be good judges when we start out or even years into our judging careers if we’ve never been properly taught.

Now that we know what the ranks are, how do you go about ranking judges? Firstly, you can have a test round. This is either a live or videotaped round that is used to judge sample ballots against. It is rather time consuming, though of extraordinary value. Make sure that you don’t just rank judges based on their decisions, but rather on their reasoning. Take the major 3 issues in the debate and see how many judges accurately identify those reasons. Those judges are at worst a 3. They understand the debate, and spotted the issues. Then take those judges who give the best analysis of those issues and bump them up to #2. To be perfectly fair, at most large tournaments the #1s are determined before registration even begins. They will be the solidly entrenched top judges on the circuit. That being said, they should write the test also, and if they are having an “off-weekend” or if they are “drunk”… Their rank should suffer.

Of the remaining judges, take the ones who identify few or none of the key issues and make them #4s. From those ballots, take the ones that are the most completely off base and you have your #5s.

If you don’t have time to have a show round, you’ll have to base your judgment on less information. Talk to debaters about how their rounds went and how they saw it. Don’t ask them who they think won, but ask them what the round was about and what the key issues were. Assess the ballot to see if the issues match up and gauge the analysis that way. It’s imperfect, but there isn’t much else to go on. Also read the RFD’s and assess how good the judge is at explaining the decision. If the decision looks like it is well reasoned and well explained, likely it is the result of good judging. Again it’s imperfect, but it’s all you have to go on.

I also suggest that you make the first few rounds of the tournament “open adjudication”. Make the judges explain their decisions to the debaters and have the debaters fill out feedback forms. You would be very surprised how honest the feedback forms will be. When both teams say that the decision was wrong and both cite the same reasons, it’s likely credible. You can then adjust the judge’s rank accordingly. You may choose to talk to the judge about the decision, though I generally find that unnecessary. Usually the feedback forms will just convince you that your hunches were right or will give good feedback about people you’ve never met.

Allocation of judges is pretty simple. Take your top judges and put them in your top rooms all the way through the first few rounds. Then take your top judges into the elimination brackets (ie. where a loss mathematically eliminates the team from the tournament). Put your worst judges in rooms where the teams are already eliminated. In the bubble room, put a decent judge in the room where everyone has already broken and take your top judges into the bubble rooms. This is where you take your in-bracket ranks into account. If there is a room that you suspect will be very close, put a judge you really trust in that room. If there is a judge in that bracket you think is a bit weaker, put them on a panel with a top judge and get some feedback.

Once you set the break, set your break panels. Take your #1s and put them as Quarter-Chairs. Then take your top #2s and put them as first panelists. Then your lower rank #2s will be second panelists and your panels are set. You will have ideas about which panel is the strongest and which is the weakest. There are a number of theories about where to put your strongest panel. I suggest putting the strongest panel in the 1 vs. 8 quarter. It is not unusual for 8 to upset 1, and the strongest panel is the most likely to award the round to 8 if they deserve it. A weaker inexperienced panel is the most likely to give the round to the top ranked team solely on reputation. The next round to deal with is the 4 vs. 5 round. I tend to put the weakest panel in this room. The round is important, but there is no presumptive favourite, so the bias is minimized. Remember that your weakest panel at this point is still an amazingly strong panel, so you can trust them completely. Some say to put the strongest panel in the 4-5 room since it’s statistically going to be the tightest round. For a number of reasons, most notably simple math, this is just not true, but a lot of CA’s do it and it’s a perfectly valid strategy.

After that, cut 2 judges and make panels of 5 for semis, then cut either 1 or 3 and make a finals panel. With any luck you will have made all the right guesses and no one will complain about you in a car ride home. If it happens… call me, I want to hear about it.

How to tab a CP tournament

By Sharon Ohayon


The point of tabbing a tournament is to have an objective way of ranking debate teams and individual debaters. However, tabbing a tournament is not just used to determine the final outcome of the in-rounds, it is also used to determine the draw for each round.

At the university level, tournaments will usually have one random round (a round where teams are randomly matched up) and 4 or 5 power-bracketed rounds (rounds where teams debate against teams with the same win-loss record as them).

The purpose of power-bracketing is to ensure that teams are hitting teams with a similar win-loss. Statistically this intra-bracket comparison will result in debaters that are debating at a higher caliber ending up at the top of the tab, resulting in a break that is reflective of who debated best in their preliminary rounds. Furthermore, bracketing ensures that teams are not unnecessarily favoured or penalized in the same way they could be if the draw was completely randomized. As well, because teams are hitting teams with a similar win-loss record, debates tend to be competitive with fewer blow-outs.

Random Round(s)

For the first round of the tournament, teams are matched up randomly. The only restriction is that teams from the same school do not hit each other (unless that institution comprises most of the tournament, in which case they have to hit each other). Furthermore, usually teams from the same school will not all end up on government or opposition, this way no one can complain that one school got favoured/punished in the random round. [As a side note, in the US, teams are actually seeded, so there are further restrictions that are not in place in CUSID.]

As a general rule, only the first round of a tournament is random. However, there are exceptions. If there are teams that are running late and there are going to be make-up rounds after round two, it can be easier to just have two random rounds instead of trying to get them into the draw fairly. Some times two random rounds are necessary to enable a finish time before 1am because of unforeseen delays, computer problems, or other logistical troubles on the first night.

Bracketed Rounds

Usually a team’s rank is written as n.x where ‘n’ is the number of rounds that team has won, and ‘x’ is the combined average speaker scores of the two debaters over the previous rounds. So if after round 2, a team has won a round and lost a round, with debater A having received an average of 38 over the first two rounds and debater B having received an average of 40, their team score would be 1.78. This formula is the way teams will be sorted within the following discussion on bracketing.

The traditional way of bracketing rounds is by sorting all the teams in descending order of their team rank (as calculated above). A bracket is all the teams with a particular win-loss record. The teams within each bracket are folded to create the draw. For example, after round 1 in a 36 team tournament, 18 teams will be in the 1-0 bracket and 18 teams will be in the 0-1 bracket. The round two draw would take the top 18 teams and fold them so that the number 1 ranked team would hit the 18th ranked team, 2 vs. 17, …, 8 vs. 9. The same would be done in the 0-1 bracket for teams 19-36.

As long as there is an even number of teams in each bracket, bracketing is quite straight forward. However, when there are an odd number of teams in a bracket, a team from a lower bracket needs to be pulled up.


Continuing the above example, after round 2 there would be 9 teams in the 2-0 bracket 18 in the 1-1 bracket, and 9 teams in the 0-2 bracket. There are several schools of thought on pull-ups, for this example, I’ll use the most common one (and the one that is easiest to justify), but there will be a discussion on the other methods for determining pull-ups, as well as the pros and cons of each, in a later section called “pull-up theory.”

The common way of pulling up a team is taking the middle team from one bracket down and pulling them up to hit the middle team in the upper bracket (this is called a middle-to-middle pull-up). When the bracket below has an even number of teams, pull up the lower of the two. In this example, team 1 would hit team 9, 2 vs. 8, 3 vs. 7, 4 vs. 6, and team 5 would hit team 19 (the lower of the middle two teams in the 1-1 bracket). Continue folding and pulling up in this manner for the remaining brackets for each rounds. No team should be pulled up more than once. No team should hit a pull up more than once.

Government/Opposition Distribution

Ideally, each team will debate half the rounds as government and half the rounds as opposition. However, following the rules of bracketing is more important than position distribution, so in a tournament with 6 rounds, it is possible that a team will have 2 rounds of one position and 4 rounds of the other. A team should never debate the same position more than 4 times in in-rounds. In a 5 round tournament, the distribution should be 3-2.

Furthermore, it is ideal when a team alternates between both positions rather than debating 3 gov or three opp in a row. In fact, a team should never have more than three rounds of one position in a row. See the section called “when things go wonky for a discussion of options for dealing with either of these unlikely situations.

Re-hitting Teams

While it is better when a team hits different teams each round (both from a statistical standpoint and for the benefit of the teams involved), hitting a team more than once happens. If two teams are going to debate each other for a second time in a row, make sure that they are in different positions each time (each team should gov and opp one of the rounds). Teams should not hit each other three times in a tournament. See the section called “when things go wonky for a discussion of options for dealing with these unlikely situations.

If debaters are told that this is the policy, they will let you know if something is wrong. This is why the draw is always announced before the resolution, it allows for corrections to be made before the rounds start.

Number of Rounds in a Tournament

Ideally, every team that has a perfect win loss record or a one down record (4-1 or 5-1) should break. As such, determining the number of rounds is a matter of calculating the number of rounds it will take to ensure that eight or fewer teams have a perfect or near perfect record. In tournaments with fewer than 36 teams, there does not usually have to be a sixth round to get a clean break (depending on pull-up wins). However, in CUSID West, there tend to be six rounds once a tournament hits about 24 teams; there have even been six rounds for 12 team tournaments. The extra round means extra practice, but is not essential. As well, once you hit over 72 teams, there usually is a need for either a seventh round or a break to half-octos.

Alternately, if the aim of the tournament is more for training or practice, then there can be more in-rounds and a break to semi-finals instead of to quarters. If you are breaking to semis with a tournament of up to 16 teams, there can be 5 rounds and a clean break, if there are more teams than that, there should be 6 rounds to break to semis.

Regardless of the number of rounds, ensure that the number of rounds is well advertised in advance of round 1.

The Break

Debaters have traveled far, worked hard, and gotten little sleep, all in hopes of making it into the break. If you screw up, they will be bitter and mad. They will retell the ways in which they were wronged as a war-story to future generations of debaters. They will also hold a grudge against the person that they felt wronged them. As such, don’t screw up. But if you do, keep a low profile so that the grudge and ever-lasting hate attaches itself to the TD and not you.

The break is made up of the top teams in the tournament according to the team-ranking. As a precaution, verify the win-loss records and speaker scores of the break teams and the next 2-3 teams.

In the event of a tie in team rank to two decimal places, there are a number of ways to decide who moves on.

Option 1: Tie-breaking round between the two teams. This option is ideal if you have the time. It does not work if there is a three-way tie.
Option 2: Standard Deviation. Find the standard deviation between each teams’ speaker scores (each debaters individual round scores or the standard deviation between the average team speaks for each round), a lower standard deviation is better.
Option 3: Relative Government Strength. Calculate which team won the highest percentage of their government cases.

In the event of a tie in speaker scores for the individual debaters, there are several options for breaking the tie. The following are some options listed in the order of credibility (more than one may be needed to break some ties):

Option 1: Standard Deviation. Find the standard deviation between each speaker’s scores, a lower standard deviation is better.
Option 2: High-low Drop. Drop the highest and lowest score from each speaker’s speeches and compare the new average.
Option 3: Team Rank. The speaker whose team was ranked better wins the tie.

For public speaking, find a natural break – a point where there is a relatively large gap in scores between two speakers – to determine the break. There should be between 5-8 speakers in the public speech final, hopefully that is less than a quarter (or a third at small tournaments) of the participants in public speech. If there is a tie, either break all the individuals that are tied, or none of them.

Do NOT flip a coin to break a tie.
Have a policy for tie breaking in place in advance of the tournament starting.

The Distributed Tab

Debaters expect to receive the following pieces of paper in an envelope with labeled with their team name after a tournament:

1. A copy of all their ballots from all the in-rounds (ballots are not required for break rounds).

2. A spreadsheet that has the teams ranked in order. This sheet should include all the team names, the win-loss record broken down by round for each team, the final win-loss record for each team, the team speaker score, the team rank, and either the school name, the debaters’ names or both.

3. A spreadsheet ranking the individual speakers in order. This sheet should include the debater’s name, their individual score for each round, their average speaker score, and their team name.

4. A copy of the public speaking tab. This will look remarkably like the speaker spreadsheet, except it is shorter and likelier to fit on one page.

Judge Allocation and Judging Conflicts

At many tournaments, this job does not fall to the tabbing director. However, in CUSID-West there are several tournaments that do not have chief adjudicators, so this job is added to tabbing.

At some tournaments there is massive judge turn-over between each day. However, when there is a somewhat consistent judging pool, the number of times a judge sees a specific team should be minimized. There are many ways of tracking judging assignments. Some people will keep panels together in the same room and track which teams have been in each room, others will have a card/excel spreadsheet with each judge’s name and the teams that judge has seen.

Ask judges to identify conflicts of interest in advance (these include judging one’s children, best friend, significant other, arch nemesis, etc.). As much as possible, note these conflicts and try and avoid having them come up. Usually if they do, the conflicted judge will switch rooms with another judge.

When Things Go Wonky

This is the trouble shooting section of the tabbing guide. Hopefully things don’t go wonky, but just in case. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives the basis for solutions. Realistically, a TD should be consulted on which solution is chosen, some TDs will care more than others.

In general, no one likes having to deal with any of these issues, and some debaters will be mad with any of the solutions because there will be a perceived advantage or disadvantage for someone. However, the point of outlining the possible solutions is to provide a list of options that give the least advantages or disadvantages to any team involved.

What happens if (when) teams show up late and miss round one?

-This one is at the TD’s discretion.

-Some TDs will give them a loss for the round, in which case they go to the bottom of the 0-1 bracket (do not give the debaters zeros for speaker scores; rather, enter the average of their later round scores).

-Some TDs will let them have a make-up round after round 2, in which case you could make round two a random round or you could slot them just under the middle of the top bracket so that they do not hit each other and correct their bracketing for round 3 (do not put them in the middle of the bottom bracket, they were running late so they should not get the advantage of hitting teams that debated less well so far; also do not put them at the very top or bottom of a bracket).

-Some times only one team shows up late, however, the team they were supposed to hit has to sit out and wait. When this is the case, you can either proceed as above, or you can put the late team in the middle of the 1-0 bracket and the timely team in the middle of the 0-1 bracket. This helps balance your brackets and creates a deterrent for running late (sort of).

-If only one team is late, and the TD decides to give them a loss, then the team they should have hit will either get an automatic win and have speaks for that round be equal to their average speaks for the remaining rounds, or they will debate against a swing team. They really should debate against a swing team, though.

What happens if a team (or teams) shows up late and misses two rounds?

-They get an automatic loss for round 1 (unless they had made other arrangements with the TD). The team they should have hit will either debate against a swing team or get an automatic win and have speaks for that round be equal to their average speaks for other rounds. They really should debate against a swing team, though.

-Follow the above guidelines for round 2.

What happens if a team is about to hit a team for a third time?

-Statistically this does not usually happen.

-If this is happening in the last round and they would be in a bubble, usually you let them hit each other.

-If this is happening because one of the teams is being pulled up, it is easier to remedy. If the pull-up is from a bracket with an even number of teams, pull up the other middle team. If the pull-up is from a bracket with an odd number of teams, pull them up to hit the team above middle instead of the middle team.

-If this is happening in the natural fold of a bracket, and one of the teams is tied in team rank with another team, switch the two teams.

What happens if a team is about to get government or opposition for the third time in a row or for the fifth time in a tournament?

-Statistically, a 3-3 or 4-2 gov/opp distribution without debating either position three times in a row should happen in most cases. However, if going in to the final round (or second last round) folding the bracket would result in a match-up of two teams that have already debated 4 debates in the same position or they are about to debate a position three times in a row, either let it happen or switch one of the teams with a team immediately above or below them in the bracket. In the case of a pull up, see the discussion above.

What happens if a team is about to be pulled up for the second time or is about to hit a pull-up for a second time?

-If this is happening in a bubble round, you let it happen. If this is happening in the second last round, you might let it happen. If this is happening in round 3, then it is better if this does not happen.

-In case of being pulled up twice: if the bracket the pull-up is from has an even number of teams, pull-up the other middle team. If there are an odd number of teams, pull up the team that is immediately below the middle.

-In case of hitting a pull-up twice: make the pull up hit the team that is one above the middle instead of the middle team.

Pull-up Theory

Pull ups exist to even up brackets so that they can be folded. As such, no team should be unnecessarily benefited or punished; rather a pull-up should be putting the teams within the bracket in a similar position to that the one they would have been in, had there been an even number of teams within the bracket. As such, a team with high speaks should expect to hit a team with low speaks, and vice-versa; similarly a team with middle speaks should hit a team with similar speaks.

There are many ways to determine which team will be pulled up, and who they will hit. Below is a non-exhaustive discussion of them in order of preference.

1. Middle-to-middle

This aforementioned method pulls-up the middle team from one bracket down to hit the middle team in the next bracket. It comes as close as possible to not unnecessarily punishing or benefiting any team. Teams with high speaks hit teams with low speaks, and vice-versa; similarly teams with middle speaks hit teams with similar speaks.

2. Middle re-seed

This method is very similar to middle-to-middle. It takes the middle team from one bracket down and re-ranks the pull-up within the next bracket according to speaker points. This method has similar benefits to middle-to-middle, except that it means that the pull-up is usually hitting a much stronger team than it otherwise would have. It is harder to do on excel, however, if you are using V-tabs, this is the pull-up formula to use.

3. Random

There are several variations on this method. Some people will randomly choose the pull-up and randomly choose the team hitting the pull-up. Others will randomly choose a pull-up, who will hit the middle/top/bottom team in the next bracket. Yet others will choose the top/middle/bottom team to pull up to hit a random team in the next bracket. Randomizing is hard to justify at the best of times. Debaters tend not to like things being left to randomizations since there is no reason for the outcome.

4. Bottom pull-up

This method will take the top team one bracket down and pull them up to hit the bottom team one bracket up. Realistically it could work; however, it has not been used in CUSID-West in the last four years, so it is unlikely to be that well received.

5. Top pull-up

This method is one of the ones offered by V-tabs. It is when the bottom team from one bracket down to hit the top team one bracket up. While it ensures that teams with top speaks hit teams with low speaks, etc., it also unfairly advantages the top team in a tournament, because they will least likely have to hit a team with the same win-loss record. It also is unhelpful for the pull-up. The best way to illustrate the problems with this method is as follows: if there needs to be a pull-up after round one, the best team in the tournament will hit the worst team in the tournament (based on round one performances), which is unnecessarily unfair for both teams. Use of this method will often result in several complaints.

6. Top to Top

This method takes the top team from one bracket down and pulls them up to hit the top team of that bracket. This option artificially benefits everyone else in the two affected brackets, since no one has to hit the best team within the bracket, and it unfairly punishes the people that have spoken best in their brackets. Don’t use this method.

Tabbing on Excel

One of the most common ways to tab a tournament is on excel. Some people prefer V-Tabs, others tab by hand, and there are those that use a hybrid of excel and hand tabbing.

To illustrate tabbing on excel, we will use this hypothetical 8 team, three round, break to semis tournament between Springfield elementary and Shelbyville elementary.

The easiest way to set up a spreadsheet on excel is so that it looks as follows:

All the empty (cyan-shaded) cells are for imputing the raw scores for win/loss and speaks for the three rounds.

The formula for total win/loss is the sum of the cells in columns c,d, and e.

The average speaker scores are calculated by averaging the scores in the preliminary rounds (columns h,i, and j or columns m,n, and o).

The team speaks are a sum of the average speaks for debater 1 (column k) and debater 2 (column P).

The team rank is the total win/loss (column F) plus the team speaks divided by 100 (so for Blinky the formula is =F3+Q3/100).

Because the formulas are already entered into the rows, once the scores are imputed all the necessary outputs are done for you. Consider having a sum under the win-loss category (light pink cells) to ensure that you have awarded wins to half of the teams in each round.

It is usually helpful to either have the teams organized by school and then alphabetized by teams or else just alphabetized by team.

To bracket rounds copy and paste the team name and team rank below and sort them, and then bracket as listed above. Naturally you need to have a method for keeping track of gov/opp distribution

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