Judges’ FAQs

Here’s a summary of the most frequently asked questions from judges, in a neat, potted format!

Q: What is the role of a judge in a nutshell?

A: Debating Matters brings a new approach to school’s debating.  Unlike most other competitions of its kind, the three judges who make up the judging panel are an integral part of the competition. Playing an active role in the debates, judges are asked to approach the judging process in the spirit of the competition by asking questions to engage students in debate and discussion, pushing them to go further, consider other points of view and defend their argument before finally providing them with constructive feedback and the final result!

Q: Is there a points system with which to assess the debaters?

A: No, we have consciously decided not to ask judges to score the debates with a prescriptive points-system.  This is because Debating Matters places a premium on the substance and content of an argument, rather than stylistic aptitude of the students. The format of our debates dispense with procedural formalities, which place undue emphasis on style.  Because of this judges are expected to read any relevant topic guides and familiarise themselves with the terms of each debate – this will help when assessing the students’ research and the sophistication of their arguments.

Q: So are delivery and style irrelevant?

A: Not entirely.  As we tell the students, whilst the emphasis isn’t on style, if no one can understand them because they are mumbling into their notes incoherently then no matter how brilliant their arguments, they simply won’t be heard! 

Q: How do we decide a winner?

A: In their deliberations, judges are asked to take particular note of strong research, a well-cohered argument, a serious engagement with the issues being discussed and a strong sense of the social, political and cultural context in which the real world debate is taking place.  Judges should also look for intellectual bravery in the tackling of the debate – the best students are the ones who are prepared to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

Q: One side of the motion looks easier than the other, should we take this in to account?

A: A number of judges have suggested that they think one side of the argument to be easier to represent than another and have, on occasion, felt inclined to mention this during the debate. Whilst this might appear to be the case, Debating Matters topics are chosen precisely because they are highly contested, real-world issues that raise tough questions for society, and for which there are strong arguments on either side of the debate. Experience of organising and attending debates across the country has also tended to show that opinions on which side of the debate is easier vary from place to place! For all of these reasons, any suspicions about the relative difficulty of either side should not be taken into consideration when choosing a winner.

Q: Should we be totally honest in our feedback?

A: Yes!  One of the central tenets of the competition is that young people are intelligent and robust enough to have their ideas held up to critical scrutiny; indeed, it is only through this kind of interaction that students are able to improve upon and develop their ideas. Debating Matters judges are encouraged to be bold and challenging with students, offering praise and criticism where it is due.  This feedback should be concise and clear, and of course shouldn’t give away your decision!

Q: Do we need to reach a consensus verdict on the winner?

A: Yes, we would strongly encourage you to reach a consensus verdict, unless this is completely impossible.  When you announce your decision, it is very important to give clear reasons for your decision.  It is much easier for a team to accept a loss if they are given honest reasons for why they didn’t win rather than a pat on the back and a “well done to all” approach.

Q: Do I ask a question to each student, or to each team?

A: You should ask one question to each team.  The chair will make clear which team to direct your question to.  It makes sense for your initial question to be short, concise and clear.  We have found that this leads to a much more interesting and engaging discussion between judges and students.  If initial questions have been short, judges will get a chance to come back and push the students further on their answers, allowing for a more fluid conversation and a much clearer indication of the debater’ ability to respond under pressure and to substantiate their arguments.


All your questions answered? If not please email Debating Matters or call directly on 020 7269 9230