How to be a good and useful wing judge
A best practice guide on panelling in British Parliamentary debates
This guide, which I co-authored with Enting Lee, originally appeared as a Google Doc on 31 July 2020.
👋 Hello there!
Many resources exist online on how to judge debates. One thing that’s a bit less common is specific advice on how to contribute to panel discussions, and how to do so in the most effective way possible.
With that in mind, we wanted to share a few tips and hints to make your winging experience smooth, enjoyable, and satisfying – which, by extension, will make your chair’s life as easy as possible. In turn, this is likely to help you personally in the form of better feedback. It’ll be a win-win! 😁
TL:DR: be concise, precise and polite! Though, frankly, TL:DR isn’t going to cut it when you’re evaluating a debate - so we really do recommend reading through this document!
We have grouped our advice under four areas:
- Style: Saying things well / how to contribute to the discussion
- Substance: Saying the right things / what to contribute with
- Smart judging: Working smart during the debate to be ready for 1 & 2
- Next steps: A few things to try out to find your best style
What this note is NOT about:
- Introduction to the British Parliamentary (BP) format
- Comprehensive discussion of how to judge BP
- Chairing panel discussions
We have included some of our favourite resources for learning about BP judging below:
- Korea WUDC judge training course ( Website, YouTube channel)
- Sharmila Parmanand: How to judge debates
- Omer Nevo: Judging debates: How to become a better chair?
- Olivia Sundberg: Judging at EUDC: Reaching the right call)
- Yair Har-Oz: Judging at EUDC: Oral Adjudications
- Amrit Agastia: NTU ODO BP Adjudication Workshop 2020 (Beginners)
- Enting Lee: NTU ODO BP Adjudication Workshop 2020 (Dissecting a debate)
Table of Contents (& outline of this guide)
Table of Contents
😎 Style: How to contribute
1A. BE POLITE! Tournaments can be stressful - but please treat your fellow judges with respect. 😡
That’s it - there’s no more detail needed for this one! 🤗
1B. Say words!
It may seem obvious, but the most basic thing you have to do is contribute to the discussion. If you end up not saying anything, you won’t add much value, and your chair won’t be able to give you a good score because, well, they barely got a glimpse of your abilities. Having said that…
1C. Keep responses to the chair direct and specific
You only have 15 minutes to arrive at a final call and allocate speaker points. Often, your chair will have to reconcile many different calls. Your chair should be structuring the discussion in a way that lets you go through everything important. As a wing, help them out by providing them with the specific information that they are looking for!
If your chair asks you to summarise OG’s case, provide them with the summary. Resist the temptation to talk about how OG compares to OO while you do so - that’s not what your chair wants to do right now.
Focus on the clash that is being discussed. If you are discussing the ‘legitimacy’ clash that happened in the back half, don’t bring in the ‘economic growth’ clash - your chair has left that out of the discussion for a reason.
Plus, think about this from a very selfish perspective: If the chair wants to discuss X, and you instead go on about Y, even if you are correct in prioritising that aspect of the debate, your chair probably disagrees… And that disagreement will be reflected in your feedback.
If you absolutely think something important isn’t being discussed, finish the discussion at hand first before raising the concern (in a concise, precise and polite manner) to your chair.
- “I agree that OO beats OG on the principle, but I was a bit confused about the significance of this argument - is there any chance we could talk about that?"
1D. Stay relevant to the discussion at hand
Really, this is an extension of 1B, but it’s worth stressing again: efficient and productive discussions focus on individual comparatives: OG vs OO, CG vs OG, CO vs OG, etc. It is extremely unlikely that there will be a good reason for a panel to be discussing more than 2 teams at any given moment.
No matter how tempted you are to bring in CO in a discussion about OG vs OO, resist! If you want to make sure you bring that point up, make a note and be ready to discuss it when it’s time to talk about CO vs [team].
If your chair hasn’t specified which comparative they want to discuss (naughty chair!), start by being explicit about which comparison you are making.
- Chair: “Why do you have OG first?” [tsk!!! no comparative!]
- Response: “I think OG are successful at explaining both why there is a problem under the status quo and how their policy is uniquely good at solving it. The team that comes closest to beat them in my view is CO, so I’ll explain why OG is ahead by comparing them to each other - but if you’d rather I focus on a different comparative, please let me know”
1E. Be concise!
Now, just because you should contribute doesn’t mean you should take up everyone’s time to show off. Just because a speaker needed 7 minutes to talk through their content doesn’t mean you need 7 minutes (or even 1) to discuss them.
As a judge, you should not be repeating speeches - you should be summarizing and evaluating the content provided. Judges often repeat a speech instead of distilling the essence of an argument, which leads to long-winded contributions that take up more time, and are often harder to keep track of - which often leads to other panellists or the chair having to then re-summarise to make sure everyone is on the same page.
|Here’s an example:|
|❌ DON’T SAY:||"Opening Government’s first argument was that the policy would reduce discrimination. First they said this would happen because, one sec, let me read my notes, because of “contact theory". So they say that the majority will now interact more with these minorities. Then they say the media will be more likely to pick up their stories and give the example of Travellers in Ireland and also a documentary I didn’t catch the name of… Okay and then going to DPM… DPM said that politicians will care more about these minorities because now they will vote, so have more political capital, and that the scapegoating that happens under the status quo would now be reduced because politicians would not want to lose those votes.”|
|✅ INSTEAD TRY:||“On the discrimination clash, OG compare to status quo and give 3 mechanisms: Contact theory Media exposure, though this is mostly asserted More political capital and reduced political incentive to scapegoat Would you like me to elaborate on any of these?”|
1F. Be specific 🎯
Do not be vague! Remember, judging is about evaluating analysis. Your summary of the team’s case should include
- Claimed impact
- Mechanisms and causal links
- Evaluation of how well the argument was proven
If you think about what your chair is after, it will often be about making sure that all key aspects of a case are considered when weighing two teams against each other. Did OG actually prove that discrimination would go down, or did they just assert it? How did CO’s characterisation clash against the OO framing? “OO really proved X point” isn’t too useful if the aim of the discussion is to unpack the argument, see what the analysis backing it up is, evaluate its impacts/importance, and how it’s weighed in the debate.
Try to cite the specific lines backing a point, and use teams’ language as much as you can. Again, this does not mean repeating the entire speech - but referring directly to the claims made by the teams will help you ensure that you are not filling in arguments for teams or crediting them for arguments that were not made.
Try your best to identify the real issue you have with the team’s arguments. For instance, instead of saying “this team made their best argument at the sixth minute of DPM” (to which a very reasonable response is - so what??), you might consider why you actually find this to be a problem. Perhaps what you really meant is “they didn’t analyse this to the extent they needed for it to be convincing, which isn’t a surprise given it started at 06:30”.
|Here’s an example:|
|❌ DON’T SAY:||"I thought that second opposition really brought the case home for us, so they won the debate.'' ''First proposition talked about rights, but I really didn't find it persuasive.'' ''First opposition had some interesting things to say, but the analysis didn't get better until second opposition.''|
|✅ INSTEAD TRY SOMETHING LIKE:||“While OG asserted that this would destabilise the situation by saying it will be like Iraq, CG actually provided two distinct mechanisms for why it will happen, namely foreign interference and Russian incentives, and secondly backlash and radicalisation as a result from OO’s military intervention counterprop"|
1G. Stand your ground, but not too much ☯️
Alternatively: “Defend your call, but also be open about what might change your mind, or to say that you’ve been convinced to flip”
“While achieving a consensus is ideal, it is not an ideal that is to be placed above justice” (Berlin WUDC Briefing)
If you are convinced of a particular comparative, give specific explanations for why you think one team is coming out ahead of the other team. Here is an example of how you might phrase your concern within deliberation:
- “CG’s case does sound better than OG’s, but when I look at the specific mechanisms they bring, they are the same as OG, namely 1. Contact theory, 2. Media exposure, and 3. Political capital (though OG call it ‘politician incentives’). Is there something I am missing?”
We have outlined a few questions that might help you frame why you think one team is coming out ahead of the other team:
|Driver||Description / what this could be|
|Pre-emption||Does this argument offered by the Opp team not work because of how OG set the debate up? Did the Opp team respond to OG’s characterization and explain why it was unlikely, or did they just run their argument without considering this characterization? Did OO already implicitly pre-empt CG’s extension, even if they didn’t get to offer any POIs? If so, is CG addressing this pre-emption, or are they just ignoring it?|
|Plausibility of case||A team has claimed a certain outcome. Have they explained what mechanisms will lead to that outcome, or has this explanation been done by their closing/opening team? Have the mechanisms been successfully disputed by the teams on the opposing bench?|
|Contribution to the round||Is the extension a prerequisite for top half arguments? Is it more significant in terms of impact? Who has done the heavy lifting in terms of analysis? Did back half’s stakeholder / developing world extension substantively add to the debate, or did they just give more examples for the case already made by top half teams?|
|Impact of case||Teams sometimes try to weigh different impacts against each other. You might have found one team’s weighing of impacts more persuasive, based on the analysis given by the teams (not based on your own intuitions!). Here are some common issues that teams usually try to weigh: Long term vs. short term Larger group of people vs. smaller group of people affected More important group of people affected|
|Tensions in case||Do parts of the argument cut against each other, or does each argument still make sense if you also buy the other?|
Is it better to stick to my call, or agree with the chair?
It depends on whether you are convinced or not! It’s also important to think about how you want to express your agreement (or disagreement), remembering to be concise, precise and polite in explaining your reasoning.
If you have been convinced by the chair (or another panelist)
A chair will respect you for explaining your stance and why you disagree much more than if you just flip the moment you hear the chair’s justification (always assuming, of course, that you have been concise, precise and polite!). However, if you’ve genuinely been convinced, that’s also completely legitimate.
- “You know, I hadn’t given CG enough credit for their vertical extension. Now that you’ve pointed to the specific mechanisms, I can see why it is in fact distinct from OG’s - even though it had similar language. Happy to place them above CO, but yet I agree they’re still relatively marginal compared to OG, who still get most of the credit for proving stability”
If you still do not agree
If at the end of the discussion on a particular clash you still disagree, that’s also fine. Just acknowledge that you have a different read and that you’d like to split (while still, of course, being concise, precise and polite).
- “I hear what you’re saying, and I can see why to you OO’s harms against the majority seem more significant than CO’s minority extension. Given neither team explicitly weighs or impacts their case, it just comes down to a value judgement - so I’m happy to split so we can move on to discuss the government bench."
🔬 Substance: What to contribute
2A. Know the rules of BP
❗️This is really important.❗At the end of the day, if you’re mis-applying the rules of British Parliamentary, you won’t be judging correctly, and your feedback will likely reflect this.
For example, you can read the Astana EUDC judge briefing here.
You can also learn more from the Korea WUDC training platform.
2B. Share your call, even if you’re not 100% sure
Typically, once the debate is over, chairs will invite everyone to take 2 minutes to read over their notes. Once that’s done, they will ask for calls (often not sharing theirs to avoid biasing the discussion).
If you have a full call ready, awesome! Share it and don’t make any other comments - those are for later. Please do not start explaining your call until the chair calls for explanations!
If you don’t have a full call, that’s also fine! Please do not hem and haw - remember that as a panel, you only have 15 minutes to come to a call. Tell your judge what you are sure of, and flag what you are unsure about. Don’t worry - it’s really common to be undecided about a clash.
|Here’s an example:|
|❌ DON’T SAY:||"So I saw this as a long diagonal and in the end gave OG the first because their argument about victims wasn’t really disputed. Then I thought CG was below both teams because they didn’t respond to CO and also their extension was derivative. OO I put last because they didn’t really debate the motion" “Umm… I’m not really sure…” \*crickets chirp for next 2 min\*|
|✅ INSTEAD SAY SOMETHING LIKE:||“OG 1st, CO 2nd, CG 3rd, OO 4th” “OG, CO, CG, OO, though I’m not sure about the short diagonal” “I have OG 1st and OO 4th, but undecided about CO vs CG. Leaning CO above CG right now” “I think it’s an Opp bench, leaning slightly towards CO over OO. I don’t have a call about the Gov bench yet.” “I have OG first but the rest of the debate was really messy, so I don’t have a full call”|
2C. Judge the debate that happened
Never insert your own biases or preferences into the debate. Judge the debate that happened, even if you disagreed with the choices made by teams, or would personally have debated the motion differently. (We’re sure you already know this because you’ve read up on the rules of BP debating, as per point 2A, but there’s no harm in reiterating!)
For example, you might personally believe that ‘the right to privacy’ is much less important than safety from terrorism, but a team may provide solid reasons why in this case, the right to privacy is more important. If their opponents do not effectively show why that’s not true, and just assert that it is when proving their counter-terrorism-related benefits, that will likely mean they place below the privacy defending team.
|Here’s an example:|
|❌ DON’T SAY:|
|✅ INSTEAD SAY SOMETHING LIKE:|
🧠 Smart judging: How to be ready to contribute
3A. Take good notes
At the end of the day, different note-taking styles will suit different people, but it’s worth thinking about how you write notes and experimenting with different approaches to find what’s best for you.
We have written a few suggestions for things to try out in the next section, but here’s a few things that work for us:
Developing a shorthand: e.g. ‘R’ instead of ‘rebuttal’, ‘Δ’ instead of ‘change’ (or ‘delta’), arrows to show that X leads to Y etc.
- Some shorthand will persist across the debates, while other could be debate-specific e.g. ‘FM’ = ‘Feminist Movement’ in a related debate
Using different colours: For example, marking your own comments about a speech in red (‘no analysis’ ‘tension with PM’, or ‘OG’ to signify that OG already took that point)
- If using a laptop and switching colours takes too long, you can use keyboard shortcuts to instead make stuff bold (ctrl+B) or underlined (ctrl+U)
Following a speaker’s structure to structure your notes (see screenshot below)
3B. Don’t be passive during the debate
If you wait until the debate is over to come up with a call, you will likely panic and not have enough time to go through an hour’s worth of notes in 1-2 minutes, let alone think about it afterwards! We’re not saying you should have a rock-solid call halfway through the debate - you should of course be open to updating your inclinations as the debate goes on! But you should probably have some tentative inclinations during the debate, and reasons for said inclinations.
During each speech, you should be evaluating as you go - how effective is this rebuttal that is being made? Does it do nothing at all, mitigate the argument, or significantly impact it? Make a note of that next to the rebuttal! Does that extension speech sound suspiciously like the language used by the top half? Make a note of that next to the specific subpoints in the speech that are repeating analysis!
After every speech, consider making a note about who’s winning a particular clash or the debate as a whole. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself (or not, it’s up to you!):
- At the end of the top half, which team is coming out ahead, OG or OO?
- What does each back half team add in addition to the top half? Jot down a quick summary (before evaluating).
- Does the CO characterisation frame out OG, or did OG already explain why their case also applies to the scenarios CO wants to talk about?
|Here’s an example:|
✅ Next steps: A few things to try out
We wanted to also include a few things you could try out in case they work for you! Some of these may turn out to be perfect for your style, and others may backfire (just try something else!).
If you can, do try a few different things out (either from our list or others’ advice) - improvement requires experimentation, after all.
4A. Write more
Do you often find yourself unable to point to specific lines speakers gave because you’re only writing the gist of each argument? Maybe it’s time to try writing more or faster! Remember, the more you write, the more you are able to refer to afterwards. If you are only writing down headlines, you are likely to end up filling in arguments for teams during the deliberation, as you may not remember exactly what they have said.
A few ways to pack more content in your notes
- Use shorthand
- Practice writing faster
- Use a laptop
- If already using a laptop, use an external keyboard
4B. Annotate more
Good judging is not only about transcribing - you’ve got to evaluate arguments too! While taking notes on speeches, are you making enough time for (a) thinking about the arguments presented and (b) adding annotations with your own thoughts?
ry using a different pen to make annotations
- Here’s a Debating Seriousposting thread where people shared their experiences with colour-coding (as speakers and as judges)
If you don’t have time to switch pens, either get yourself a multi-colour pen, or develop a different system (e.g. underlined = own thoughts)
If you’re using a laptop, use bold or a different doc - again, different things work for different people
4C. Write a summary
One of the most common note-taking approaches is to have two types of notes when judging:
- Speech-by-speech notes, which you write for each speech
- A summary sheet, which acts as a bullet-point list of key contributions or questions each team brought
Summary sheets are useful in helping you remain concise and specific in deliberations, without getting overwhelmed by the (extremely detailed and specific) notes you’ve written for each speech.
Example summary notes from EUDC 2018 R5:
4D. Use more paper
Sometimes judges try to fit an entire speech in just a quarter of a page - that works for some, but for others it means that the last few minutes of a speech end up a lot more condensed (or missing) because of limited space.
Try folding an A4 in half so that you can fit 2 speeches in one sheet instead of 1, or even using a full sheet per speech (remember to recycle the paper, but only after giving feedback!).
4E. Try judging with a laptop 💻
There are a few advantages to using a computer to judge:
- You can type faster
- You can re-organise notes or copy/paste
- Your notes are safe from being accidentally thrown in the bin, or get beer spilled over them
- You can look back to e.g. a good room you judged 2 years ago on a motion you are currently casefiling
Two threads on the Debating Seriousposting Facebook group (which we recommend joining regardless) about laptop judging worth checking out:
4F. If you normally judge with a laptop, try writing ✏️
There are also some disadvantages to typing!
- There is research suggesting that writing notes allows for high levels of comprehension than typing notes
- You might get tempted to type / transcribe everything the speaker is saying, which detracts from critical thinking and evaluation of arguments
- It’s more inconvenient to e.g. draw arrows across different arguments, highlight clashes etc.
- If your laptop dies halfway through a debate you’re kinda screwed
🤠 Concluding remarks
We hope this mini-guide was useful! It is by no means a comprehensive guide on how to judge (check out the Korea WUDC judge training course and the other resources linked in the introduction for that), but we hope it will help.
All the best for your future judging career! 😊
Enting Lee & Nick Zervoudis