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Not only are judges necessary for the practical functioning of any speech or debate event, but they also make invaluable contributions as educators. In interacting with judges, students become motivated to participate in speech and debate activities and to improve their speech and debate skills.

A judge, therefore, should remain aware that his or her role is not simply to decide a winner or rank participants, but also to ensure that the experience is educational for all students. Accordingly, judges should be familiar with the protocol for judging particular events, and always remain cognizant of proper judging behavior. For detailed procedures regarding the judging of specific events, please refer to the sections related to those events in the IDEA Rules of Events.

Minimum Accreditation Standards

The minimum standards for the local accreditation of judges are that they:

  • Are listed in DebateTracker.
  • Have 10 rounds of judging experience, recorded in DebateTracker.
  • Have participated in an IDEA sanctioned training of judges.
  • Have successfully completing a training seminar which included the judging of an actual round and the offering of proper feedback to the students.

Basic Judging Behavior

During a speech or debate event, judges act as impartial observers, and as such it is essential that they practice professional conduct and maintain a dignified bearing. By the same token, judges should encourage a positive atmosphere before, during, and after a round, and should project support for all students.

Overall, judges should adhere to the following basic guidelines:

  • A judge must be punctual in arriving for a round.
A judge must arrive on time for the round over which he or she is to preside. He or she should be diligent in determining whether he or she appears on the schematic and should remain aware of a tournament’s schedule and rules and when rounds are to occur.
A judge should know the layout of the tournament’s location so as not to arrive late to a round. A judge should determine if a tournament will provide ballots at the round, or if he or she must procure ballots before the round.
In all cases, judges should be accessible between rounds, in case they are needed to judge additional events.
  • A judge must not preside over rounds in which there is a conflict of interest.
Judges should not judge debaters when a possible conflict of interest could create the appearance of impropriety. Accordingly, a judge should not judge a team or student from the school (in the case of a local tournament) or country (in the case of an international tournament) that they represent.
She or he should not judge a team or a student whom they have previously coached. Moreover, when interacting with students, a judge should be sensitive to appearances. While he or she should be engaging and friendly, favoring any one student in a way that may give the student the wrong impression (or discourage the student’s peers) should be avoided.
Finally, in most circumstances (and particularly before elimination rounds), a judge shall not judge the same student or team twice, and should consult with tournament administrators if they are scheduled to do so.
  • A judge must facilitate a respectful atmosphere during the event they judge.
All participating students have the right to a respectful, supportive environment in which they can be heard. To this end, judges should inform all audience members to remain quiet and refrain from inappropriate behavior, such as answering mobile phones, talking, or signaling teammates who are competing.
If necessary, judges should reprimand anyone who is disruptive (either prior to the round or once the round has begun).
  • A judge must maintain a respectful demeanor.
It is imperative that a judge maintains a respectful, attentive, and mature bearing throughout a round. Judges must demonstrate that they are fully engaged with what the students are saying, both by adopting a listening, observant posture, and by taking notes.
Likewise, during a round, judges must assume an encouraging, supportive, and non-threatening manner. A judge should not compromise his or her integrity through the sending of "signals" – whether positive or negative – that unnecessarily insert the judge into the round.
  • A judge must take notes actively during the event they judge.
Taking notes, or "flowing," during a round is not only an excellent way for a judge to show speakers that he or she is engaged, but is also a necessary part of making a fair decision, and can aid immensely in composing the ballot. If a judge does not take notes during a debate event, it will be difficult for him or her to keep track of arguments as they are made.
Likewise, when rankings are composed at the end of a long round, noting the salient characteristics of each speaker’s performance can help a judge differentiate between speakers.
  • A judge should ensure the proper timing of a round.
In order to guarantee a fair event for all participants, a judge must ensure the proper timing of the round. This is not to say that a judge must personally keep track of time; this duty may be delegated to a spectator (ideally someone not affiliated with any of the participants).
Typically, the judge or timekeeper indicates the time remaining in a section by holding up the appropriate number of fingers (three fingers indicating three minutes remaining, and so forth). When 30 seconds remain in a round, the timekeeper will indicate this by closing his or her hand halfway. When time is exhausted, the timekeeper forms a fist. It is not necessary for the signal to be held aloft constantly; however, the signal should be held up until the speaker sees it.
A speaker is not required to stop in mid-sentence if the stop signal is given. However, the speaker is not free to simply disregard the signal. If he or she continues excessively (in a debate event, this means beginning a new point; in a speech event, this means proceeding without closure), a judge should ignore what was said after the stop signal, and note the error on the speaker’s ballot.
This error may be weighed as a factor in making a decision.
Finally, if the event being judged involves the allocation of preparation time, a judge must ensure that this time is also carefully tracked and announced, either by the delegated timekeeper or by the judge.
  • If appropriate to the tournament and event, a judge should provide a brief judging philosophy and judge consistently with it.

Making Decisions, Writing Ballots, and Offering Commentary

The process by which a judge arrives at a decision must be unbiased, reasonable, and fair. Moreover, the judge is obligated to explain his or her decision clearly and in a fashion that benefits all participants.

Judges must adhere closely to the criteria associated with the category they are judging. In all competitions, other than those using World University Debate Championship rules, judges must reach their decisions independently, without any discussion with other panel judges or the debaters themselves.

  • A judge must strive to make a fair and unbiased decision. A judge’s decision-making process is twofold:
    • A judge must evaluate a round based upon the rules specific to that event (see IDEA Rules for Events). Some events and particularly speech events - mandate penalties for certain rule violations, and these should be taken into account (ballots may include reference lists of these penalties).
    • A judge must exercise critical judgment in evaluating a round on its own terms. In making a decision, a judge must endeavor not to privilege his or her own personal tastes or special knowledge, or his or her impressions of participants from other rounds.
  • A judge must compose a ballot that justifies his or her decision and offers each participant clear and constructive criticism.
Through the writing of ballots, judges have the opportunity both to explain the reasoning in their decisions, and to offer informative, thoughtful critiques that provide students with a foundation for improvement.
Consequently, judges must be diligent and thorough in completing their ballots. It is not enough to merely indicate the "winner." Following a debate, for example, a judge should elaborate upon what he or she viewed as the central issues, pointing out how and why the winning case was more persuasive, and identifying the shortcomings of the losing side.
Likewise, in judging a speech event, judges should explain to each participant why they were ranked as they were, highlighting points of missed emphasis, or ways in which the student failed to produce an intended effect in a given instance. Judges should attempt to accompany criticism with positive, constructive feedback – even when writing a losing ballot, and should always avoid patronizing tones or language.
In the end, a judge should appreciate and consider the courage displayed by all debaters, each of whom must express him or herself in front of an audience while engaging in complicated and contentious ideas.
A judge's ballot is a valuable resource for student participants, coaches, and entire teams; when students do not know why they have won or lost, they have little opportunity to learn from the experience, and their faith in the activity suffers. The insights gleaned from a judge's ballot can thus give participants a chance to address numerous matters of style and performance (e.g., speaker was inaudible, overly aggressive, or made poor use of hand gestures) that may need improvement.
Ballots should be accessible and clearly written, as some participants may read them hours or even days after a round has occurred. To this end, judges should reference specific occurrences in the round to provide substance to the critique. Judges should ensure that their handwriting is legible, since ballots are often photocopied multiple times, and may deteriorate. Finally, judges should return ballots to the tab room promptly.
  • If appropriate to the tournament and event, a judge should offer a verbal critique that incorporates meaningful criticism.
After their decision has been rendered, judges should take the opportunity to talk with the participants (if the tournament staff has determined that this type of commentary is permitted at the event). Such discussions can be very helpful to students, insofar as they allow judges to explain complicated issues at some length.
Alternatively, a judge may use this occasion to deal with certain pressing issues before debaters precede any further in the tournament. It is important to note that verbal comments should be used to amplify written ballots – not to replace them. Indeed, because comments are useful not only to the debaters themselves, but to the coaches who have prepared the debaters (and who are often not present during rounds), a written record on the ballot is essential.
In all circumstances, judges should determine through the tournament staff whether the disclosure of decisions is permitted. If this type of critique is not permitted, judges should merely raise issues in their discussions with participants, without explicitly stating the outcome of their deliberations.

Judges can become inactive but once they are accredited, they will always be accredited. Judges can become inactive because of inactivity. Inactivity will be determined based on data entered into DebateTracker, the IDEA online database.

An accredited judge can remain active by judging 10 rounds a year.

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