Learn By Judging

One of the best ways to get better at debate is to get better at stepping inside the mind of the judge. Many people get frustrated by judge RFD’s -they think they clearly won the debate or an important issue in the debate and don’t understand how someone else can see things differently. This usually stems from a few main factors


1. Their explanation was not as clear as they thought it was. Often what makes sense in your head doesn’t make sense when uttered aloud- your internal monologue may rely on you having prior knowledge or specific experiences that the judge does not share. Sometimes the translation breaks down and what you meant to say isn’t what comes out. Sometimes dueto time constraints you aren’t able to say everything you wanted to say.


2. Sometimes the issues you think are important are not what the judge views as important. This is because the judge is trying to make a good decision, generally a good decision is one that fairly resolves the arguments made in the debate. For judges, sometimes issues aren’t helpful no matter how clearly you win them- either they are subsumed by a meta level by something else the other teamsaid, you aren’t winning a crucial internal link that logically is prior to the point you are emphasizing, or sometimes you just haven’t explained the implication to the arguments you are winning.


3.Sometimes what you think is important just fundamentally fails to grapple with what the other team is saying. Maybe you didn’t understand their argument, maybe you didn’t flow an important part of it, maybe you are just thick.


Being able to move past these problems is a skill you can work on. One good way to do this is to watch debates and do your own RFD before the decision is announced. When I first started debating I didn’t clear at the first like 500 tournaments I went to. So when elims were going on I would always be sitting in the room flowing with my 40 different colored pens and then writing out little RFDs of how I thought the round went. When I started out my RFD’s were terrible- my flow was terrible, I voted based on rep or perceptual dominance, I didn’t understand 99% of the things that were being said. Slowly over time however, I got better. The reason I got better is that after I wrote my RFD I would listen to the RFD’s given by the judges and figure out where we differed. This gave me a window into how these other people were thinking about the issues in the debate. This made me smarter. It made me seem a lot smarter when these people judged me later on and I was able to use the insight I gleaned to package my arguments in a way I knew they would find appealing.


Long story short, if you want to get better at debate you should not just watch rounds you should watch and thinkabout RFDs. On that note, the Georgia Tech debate stream has started not only posting rounds but also posting the post round discussions which are invaluable as a learning tool.


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