Debate Timing & Structure

This is the standard format of a Debating Matters debate, and is used throughout the competition year.

Two teams per debate argue for opposing positions on an issue. There are two students per team per debate. A Chairperson sits with the four competing students at one table. The Chairperson directs all proceedings and keeps the debate to time. A panel of three judges poses questions to debaters, sitting at an adjacent table that is placed at an angle to enable them to make eye contact with the debaters and audience. Unlike traditional schools debating, there are no points of order or points of information, no time keeper other than the Chairperson, and opening and closing speeches are given uninterrupted.


The Chairperson introduces the debate and the judges before inviting eah student debater to introduce themselves in turn (this doesn’t have to be a long introduction just a little bit about yourself and your interests – 30 secs is fine for this).


Each debater is allowed 3 minutes to make their opening presentation. Presentations alternate between the two teams, beginning with the first student arguing for the motion.

JUDGES’ QUESTIONS minutes 20-35

The judges pose questions to each team in turn, with the time split evenly between the two teams. The Chairperson will ask each judge to ask one question to the team arguing for the motion. The team arguing for the motion is then asked to respond to the three questions from the judges. The same then happens for the team arguing against the motion.

The purpose of the judges’ questions is to push debaters to go further in their arguments, to substantiate their statements and to demonstrate a more complex and sophisticated grasp of the debate and the key issues at stake.


The Chairperson invites questions from the audience, who are encouraged to say what they think on the topic, ask questions and participate fully in the debate. Speakers from the floor will be asked to give their names and schools and they have a chance of being awarded prizes at the end of the debate for individual performance. The Chairperson will take two rounds of four or five questions in a row from the audience and may direct questions to each team at their discretion. Each team will then be given brief opportunities to respond to those questions and comments that they think are the most relevant and interesting. Debaters are not expected to respond to every question.

During this period, teams will be allowed to directly challenge each other and pose questions to their opponents. We want to encourage this period to be a free-flowing exchange of ideas, and the Chairperson will ensure that a balance is struck between teams responding to each other, as well as dealing with audience questions.

Please note, we usually allocate more time for this section of the debate for the final of the competition.

FINAL REMARKS minutes 50-55

Each student debater is then allowed up to one minute to sum up their argument or make a brief closing point.


The judges then offer constructive feedback to each team in turn, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments.


The judges confer and reach a consensus decision. An audience vote will be taken by the Chairperson after the judges have left the room to reach their decision – just for fun – but will have no bearing on the judges’ decision. The judges’ will return and present their decision, and the reasons for making that decision, to the teams. The judges’ decision is final.

Note: exceptions to these timings may be made, and more time allocated, at the discretion of the Chair, to audience questions in recognition of larger audiences or other circumstances.