Judging Forensics Tournaments

Specific Judging Responsibilities During the Round

 When the judges’ meeting comes to a close, you will be directed to proceed to your individual classrooms for the first round of competition. In general, the students involved are nervous, concerned about making a good impression upon you, and anxious to perform at the best of their abilities. It tends to make them even more nervous to hear a judge say, “I’ve never done this before, so just bear with me.” They are not, in general, experienced or mature enough to realize that this does not automatically mean that you are incapable of making sound decisions. It is not our aim to impose any additional “stress factors” upon our students. It is our aim to draw what is best from each student. To help you to be as supportive of their efforts as possible, here is a list of guide of guidelines for you to follow in conducting a round of competition. Certainly many of the points made here are rooted in simple common sense and courtesy, but a friendly reminder is never harmful.

  • Greet the students:

Greet them in a friendly and confident manner. Again it is not your aim to intimidate. Rather, you should encourage the students to function at the very best of their respective abilities

  • Take “roll”:

Just read through the list of codes on the schematic for the group so that you are certain that the right speakers are in the right place. If there is a question about a certain student, please bring it to the attention of the executive committee.

In debate, many rounds are “flighted”, which means that you will be listening to two sets of student debates (A and B), back to back. Debaters in the A flight typically debate first, followed by those in the B flight.  Make sure that the right students are debating each other!  If both B flight competitors are present but the A flight competitors aren’t, it’s fine to start with B.

In speech, students may be entered in multiple events, so not all of them may be present when you are ready to begin the round. That is fine; just proceed with who you have, and the others should show up shortly. If a student is running very late or does not arrive by the end of the round, send a student to the tab room to check on their status.

  • Choose a seat:

Although, this may, initially, seem a facetious remark, it is important to seat yourself in a comfortable and convenient place. It is often preferable to sit approximately ¾’s of the way back in the middle of the room where you will have an unobstructed view of the students and where the students can see you easily. You and the students in your group may wish to do a little shifting of furniture to establish a space for speaking which will make clear sight lines possible for all. Please make sure that all furniture is returned to its previous location at the conclusion of each round!

  • Prepare your ballot / critique

In debate, make sure you have the names of the students written properly, in the right location (affirmative or negative).  In speech, there will be a master ballot at the top of your packet.

Make sure that it is filled out properly. Then, for each speaker, you should fill out one critique sheet. The critique sheet should include the students’ code, selection, title, and author. Make sure your name and the school you are judging for is also included..

  • Begin the round:

Once your ballots are ready, ask the first speaker how he/she would like to be made aware of the passage of time. Try to do so in a relaxed, friendly, and comfortable way. Accurate time keeping is your responsibility. Even if the speaker does not wish to see time signals, you must keep track of the time of the presentation. If you do not keep careful track of the time or fail to provide time signals if the speaker requested them, you may not penalize the speaker.

Debaters may choose to time themselves, which is fine, but you should still use your own timer to back them up, to prevent misunderstanding.

  • Write your critical comments on the ballot:

In speech, write comments while the speaker is performing. Although it is desirable for you to make eye contact with the speaker fairly frequently, it is not necessary for you to be “glued” to the speaker throughout the entire speech. Simply try to maintain a reasonable balance in your focal attention. In debate, you will find it helpful to keep track of each debaters’ main points and responses on a sheet of paper (the “flow”).  That way, you’ll have something to refer to at the end of the debate when you need to make your decision.

  • Thank the group for their efforts:

At the end of the last speaker’s presentation, you may excuse the speakers to move onto their next rooms.

  • Fill out your ballot

In speech, the speaker you feel performed the best should be ranked 1st; the next best should be ranked 2nd; and so on. No ties may be given in rank. In debate, one side must be given the win and the other the loss, and points should be awarded (more on that later). These are hard decisions to make, but they need to be made quickly because speakers will be waiting for the room and the executive committee is waiting for the results of your decision.

  • Overtime penalty:

In speech, if a speaker exceeds the time limit for the category and the allowed 30 second grace period, then that speaker may not be ranked first. You do not need to penalize the speaker any farther. However, if you feel the excessive length of the presentation detracted from the performance, you may take that into account in your ranking. Please keep in mind that there is no required minimum time in any of the events.

  • Check everything: In speech;
    • Did you rank the best person first?
    • Does everyone have a rank?
    • Do the ranks on the master ballot match those on the critique sheet?
    • Do your critique sheets explain the reason for your decision? In debate:
    • Did you give one side the win and the other the loss?
    • Did you award points to each side? (In policy debate, each student gets a rank and points)
    • Does the ballot explain the reason for your decision?
  • Immediately turn in your ballots and go to the next round: This helps to keep the tournament running

General Comments and Suggestions

 Try to find a way to have a speaker that may get flustered or upset to finish the round:

This may mean letting them sit for a while, get a copy of their manuscript, or take a deep breath. This should be reflected in the speaker’s rank, but the student will have at least completed the round.

  • Quietly correct behavior that is inappropriate:

Remind students that it is as important to be good audience members as it is to be good speakers. Mention it on the student’s ballot and bring it to the attention of the executive committee if you believe the behavior warrants it.

  • Do not give oral critiques, and do not disclose your decision:

The ballot is the place for your comments about the speaker’s presentation. That performance is the result of much concentrated work on the part of both the student and the coach. A “helpful hint” (no matter how noble the intent) might actually do a student a disservice. If you feel that you want to clarify or further explain your comments or decisions, speak to the student’s coach or moderator at some point.

  • Read the ballot:

The criteria for each category is given on the ballot. Rules about materials permitted, time limits, and evaluation criteria are detailed on the ballot. Read it thoroughly and become familiar with the requirements for the category that you are judging.

  • Personal biases have no place in your evaluation:

Speakers may take positions that are contrary to beliefs that you feel strongly about and may perform speeches with content that you feel is questionable. Allow the speaker as much freedom as possible and evaluate their performance rather than their beliefs. In debate, leave your personal opinions out of your decision — make your decision on the merits of the students’ arguments rather than who you personally believe is “right”. If material is questionable or in conflict with what you believe the league stands for, then rate the round based on performance and bring the objection to the executive committee.

  • Judge the performance as a whole;

Do not take the easy way out and rank a person or team last simply because they were too loud or too fast. Evaluate their performance against the performances of the other speakers in the round.

  • Please make your comments on the ballot as supportive and helpful as possible:

This does not mean that all of your comments should be glowing, but neither does it mean that all should be negative. Provide both.  Give speakers a specific indication of why you ranked them as you did. “Tough round” or “good job” comments are too general; the more detail you can provide about what they did well or not so well, the better. It is important for you to remember that you are the adult and that your comments should be written as if the speaker were your student, or son/daughter. Criticism should be constructive, never demeaning. Remember, our goal is to make the students better, not drive them away.

  • Try to look interested in each speaker’s presentation

It should not be necessary to ask that you do not read the newspaper, surf the Internet, or wander about looking at work on the walls, etc. while a student is speaking. All cell phones, your own and the students’, should be turned off. When possible doors should be closed. These are basic courtesies, but strange things have been known to occur during rounds of competition.

  • Cell Phone Use is STRICTLY Prohibited in all

Make every effort to ensure that your cell phone is OFF and put away. If you must use your cell phone for timing purposes (strongly discouraged – borrow a timer from the tab room if needed), then make absolutely sure that the phone has been silenced.  There’s nothing worse than to have a phone go off right at the height or someone’s performance or main argument.

Message from the League Director

We are almost at the end of the 2023-2024 tournament season! Good luck to everyone for a strong finish of an amazing year of competition!