Custom Filters





Guide to being a Chief Adjudicator

Author(s): Alex Harris, Daan Welling, Dee Courtney, Gigi Gil, Ilija Ivanisevic, Olivia Sundberg Diez, Yair Har-Oz
Tags: CA, Judging, Tournaments
Nov. 10, 2017, 1:58 p.m.

This document includes (i) a tournament checklist of things you should not forget to do (mostly for relatively inexperienced Chief Adjudicators, though it can still serve as a guide and a reminder); and (ii) a guide to motion testing (hopefully useful to most Chief Adjudicators).

Tournament checklist

Your primary responsibility as Chief Adjudicator is over the motions and the judges. However, you will also need to support and oversee the smooth running of the tournament. You likely have experience from a lot of tournaments as a CA, so you have a unique ability (and responsibility) to be on top of things, and the checklist below might help.

Before the tournament

Tournaments need to run on a tight schedule, and you will be kept incredibly busy throughout the day as issues come up. Therefore, you need to make sure to do as much in advance as is possible, such as settling on motions, judge rankings, inputting your own clashes, etc. Do not rely on having time at the tournament.


  • Check the team cap, number of rounds, tab, equity team, and functionality of the schedule. At the very least, you will need 2
  • hours per round of 7 minute speeches (1h45 for 5 minute speeches), 30 minutes between registration closing and the draw for Round 1, and 30 minutes between the last round and the break announcement.
  • Will you need speaker scales? Ask the org comm to print them in advance.
  • Send judge rankings in advance to the tab team; ask what software they are using so that you know what numerical rankings for the judges will mean in that programme.
  • Check what the equity policy requires of you, such as whether they want you to discuss motions with them in advance.


  • Check judges available from hosting institution and ask the org comm for a list or spreadsheet of institutional judges.
  • Check the judge funding budget (and make sure to understand if the number is inclusive or exclusive of reg waivers) and make an application form if necessary.
  • Make a spreadsheet to keep track of judges that have been invited and confirmed. It may help to come up with a list of judges you’d like to approach together with the rest of your CA team, and split up the judges based on who is most likely to convince them to come. This ensures that (1) judges aren’t inundated with four people asking them to come and (2) that the rest of the CA team agrees you should approach certain judges before you do so..You need at least a chair for each room
  • Rank the judges based on their CV and personal experience of the CA team. These are initial rankings to aid in drawing Round 1, that are likely to change throughout the tournament as feedback comes in.
  • You need a judge feedback system
    • Talk to the tab team in advance since this is often operated by them.
    • If online, is there good enough internet, or is there a spare computer you can allocate for participants to use? If on paper, you need a box.
    • You likely will want to have a threshold for when judge feedback can affect someone’s ranking - bad feedback from a team who took a fourth is less valuable than consistent feedback across rounds.
    • Judges may ask for their feedback after the tournament, so make sure you keep track of this in some format so you can give an anonymised version.


  • Start discussing motions on a shared Google Spreadsheet roughly one month before the tournament. It can be a good idea to make motion suggestions anonymous, to remove unhelpful over-attachment or considerations about motion quotas for each CA.
  • Meet on Skype or in person 1-2 weeks before the tournament to finalise the rounds.
  • Prepare and agree on a few safe back-up motions in case you think of new problems with a motion, or it is set at a tournament the weekend before.
  • Allocate motions to rounds
    • The first round of every day can be slightly easier to let people warm up.
    • The final in-round should not be too risky, and strive to be as balanced as possible (at the expense of novelty, if that is the tradeoff) to make sure no-one feels cheated out of the break (especially since it’s usually a closed round, where the rationale isn’t explained, and blaming the motion is very easy)
    • If rounds will be debated late in the day, motions that are not too complex are preferable.
    • Round 1 and Quarter-finals (if applicable) will likely include teams from very diverse levels, so those motions should be clear and not give too much discretion to OG to interpret, as their interpretation can harm their back half team.
  • Aim to never go into a tournament with motion work left to be done. It will add stress, reduce accountability, and make overlap or imbalance issues much more likely.
  • Think carefully about the content of information slides. They can dramatically change what the debate is about or nudge people to talk about some things disproportionately. Long and unnecessary information can also cause as much confusion as an absence of a definition, especially if english is not everyone’s first language. Equally, be mindful of information slides hinting at arguments; this can unfairly tip a debate to one side.

Policies to think about

  • Iron-manning: will you count their speaker and team points? Will you allow them to iron-man the out-rounds if their partner cannot speak?
  • Novice criteria if there is a novice break.
  • Will you want to have shadow judging panels, motion debriefs after each round, or similar policies aimed at increasing the learning opportunities for participants?
  • You will need a speaker and judging briefing.

During the tournament

  • After every round, head back to the tab room ASAP to make sure things run to time.
  • Check and track feedback *every round*, put yourself to judge with promising judges, and ensure all teams get a high standard of judging throughout the tournament. At larger tournaments, you will rely on judges you trust to watch other judges and give you feedback
  • Check that novice status and/or iron-manning teams’ scores are correct.
  • When the break is done, check it for errors or ties (the breaking order matters for the out-round draw, so make sure to resolve ties preferably by the EUDC and WUDC process).
  • Double check judges are not clashed when building out-round panels. This also means that if there are judges with clashes, it’s useful for them to judge earlier outrounds while they still can, instead of risking the option that they won’t be able to judge an out-round at all.

After the tournament

  • Check motion statistics, ask for feedback from participants, be honest about errors, and learn from your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and sets motions that were broken. The goal is to keep developing and avoid repeating those mistakes in the future.
  • If you worked with a great CA, tabber, convenor or equity officer, pass it on! There is not enough feedback going around, and it is great to know who should be promoted again.

Motion Testing

Often people set motions because they are excited about a policy idea or because they want to hear a certain argument be made. These motions tend to be imbalanced, or to end up never hitting that argument, because teams will decide to prioritise different material that makes more sense to proving their burdens in the debate. A CA is not good because they set exciting, novel, or topical ideas. A CA is good because they understand the logic of the debate, and the arguments that teams *will be able to make* and *have an incentive to make*. Good CAs set motions based on the debate that is most likely to play out, not on the argument they envision in their heads. Remember this when analysing motions, since your favourite motion idea will not always correlate with the debate teams will enjoy, thrive in and remember the most!

Things to look out for when developing motions:


  • Has this motion been set recently? Is it likely there are any teams here that also attended that tournament, or were likely to hear of this motion being set there? Was it set at the same tournament last year?
  • You need not, however, go for exclusively novel motions when there are safe alternatives that have not been set in a long time. You may be sick of relatively standard debates, but younger debaters may have never heard it before, and will find it novel and interesting.
  • Is your set of motions diverse, or do they overlap too much with each other? Are there two rounds that require similar arguments or have similar clashes? Also take into account that the order in which you set motions can influence each other. Even if motions are diverse in a vacuum, debaters might become primed by one motion to come up with similar arguments for the next.
  • Are you missing entire themes or topic areas? Make sure you cover a range of topics (for example: international relations, feminism and LGBT rights, democracy, science, criminal justice, economics), so as not to disproportionately (dis)advantage teams with certain strengths and weaknesses.
  • A good test, especially for big tournaments, is to make a list of the 10 biggest problems or issues in the world right now. Are you covering at least some of them?

Balance and Depth

  • Make a list of proposition and opposition arguments. Do not include points that are non-comparative (i.e. both sides can claim those benefits) or irrelevant (i.e. are too small or marginal to determine the result of the debate). Are there enough and a similar number of compelling things to say on both sides?
  • Double-check balance. So there *are* responses available to all arguments, but are they accessible to equally good teams? It’s not helpful for there to be a very sophisticated proposition argument to a very strong and obvious opposition line; teams at a constant level will hit the opp case but not the prop case, so the motion is still opposition heavy.
  • Is the motion deep enough? Could OG or OO express most of those arguments in their speeches? Are there one or two arguments that are obviously more important than the others, and therefore the team that says them first is likely to win? Balance between opening half and closing half is as important as balance between sides.
  • Does the motion put too high a burden on Opening Government to work out what the problem is you are trying to solve? Is it clear what mechanism and examples you expect?
  • Imagine you are Opening Opposition. Try to break the motion or go hard on an alternative policy. What do you counter-prop? Can you achieve the same benefits as proposition wants in a smarter way? If there is an obvious counter-prop, the motion is breakable, and there is a “problem-solution mismatch” in the motion, meaning that you will not get the clash you want.
  • Is there a double burden? Hint: If there is an “and” or the motion includes several examples, there is likely a double burden. This means proposition has to prove both parts of the motion to win, whereas opposition only needs to disprove one. For example: “TH, as Western Liberal Democracies, would cease all direct military action in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen” allows opposition teams to win by conceding Iraq, Yemen and Libya but arguing that military action in Syria is still necessary; whereas proposition must win on all four examples.
  • Is the world going to change quite drastically? This might make it difficult for opening half to both analyse the new world and make arguments. This might be alright as out-round where teams have that skillset (depending on the level of the tournament), but would probably be weighted to back half as an in-round.
  • Note: Balance and depth matters in every round, from Round 1 to the Finals. If you have a prop-heavy motion, don’t “toss it in for Round 1 where it doesn’t matter”. It does.


  • Take a look at the list of teams that will be attending the tournament and make sure the motions are roughly tailored to their level. It is as important that teams in the bottom rooms have as much fun as teams in the top rooms – but motions can also be a good pedagogical opportunity, so don’t be afraid to set difficult things where all teams can have a shot.
  • Do any of your motions require a lot of spec knowledge? How would you approach this motion if you had not read the article or studied the course that made you think of this motion? If people’s misconceptions will make this a bad debate – you should not set it, even if you love it, or you should set it with the right information slide.
  • Envision the debate playing out in different rooms across the tournaments. Is it shallow, prop- or opp- heavy in top, middle or bottom rooms? Is it messy in bottom rooms? Would you know how to approach this motion if you were an average 70- or 80-point speaker? Can all of those different teams come up with the necessary arguments in 15 minutes?
  • Is the wording of the motion clear to non-native speakers? It is usually worth erring on the side of caution and adding definitions for technical terms. Often CAs prioritise stylish wordings over clear ones; try to avoid this trap and choose the clunkier wording if it makes it clearer to debaters what you mean. Using simple verbs (such as “make”, “do”) is one useful tip to simplify a motion. Another tip is to go for synonyms with as few syllables as possible.
  • A common practice is to deal with concerns about accessibility by setting a motion for an out-round, but this is often not a solution: it is possible for a motion to be inaccessible in many of the ways above for out-round speakers too! (Particularly out-round speakers for one bench and not the other)


  • Research your motion. If there is an actor involved (e.g. NATO, the IMF, the UN) is it the right actor? Is this policy the status quo? Would it be too impractical or impossible for it to happen? Lastly: Are you 100% correct that your facts and the premise of the motion are correct? If a quick Google turns up facts that totally change the debate, those facts need to be in an information slide (or that debate needs to not be set).
  • Is this a real life issue? What examples are there where this policy would take place / have an impact? Is there anyone who would want this to happen or has argued for this before?


  • Is it an actually insane policy? Is it a war crime? Is it from Hitler’s social policy book? Avoid!
  • Does your motion require anybody to argue something offensive? If teams will have to defend clearly immoral, racist or sexist behaviour or opinions, do not set. It will not be fun, and it will not be a balanced debate. That isn’t to say that policies for which racist/sexist reasonings *exist* shouldn’t be debated, just so long as there are non-bigoted ways to defend it.
  • Does your motion require teams to discuss very sensitive and personal issues, such as abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence or suicide? Consider whether the motion is worth setting given the likely upset that will be caused, or whether it can be approached more sensitively. You may want to give the Equity Officer the opportunity to warn people beforehand.

Lastly: On the motion-testing and motion-setting mindset

  • Just because a motion has been set before, it does not mean it is safe, good, or adequately tested. If you can, ask people who set it or debated it before how it went, but also make sure to test it yourself.
  • “Yes, that final motion might have problems, but do you have anything better?”. Very often, motions that all CAs agree are imbalanced, shallow or broken end up being set, because no other alternative is available. You need to have an alternative, or the bad motion will happen anyway even if you spend a day discussing all its problems.
  • “Let’s just reword it / Let’s put this down as a backup for now”. Over-attachment to one’s own motions can be an issue. Sometimes rewording can help, but sometimes you need to draw a line under it and accept it is a non-starter. Make sure to think carefully about *whether*, not how, they can be reworded.
  • Equally, some of the best contributions a CA can make is to redraft and improve a motion suggested by someone else. Most motions are not viable in their initial wording, and having a second person look over them makes a tremendous difference. Abandon the idea that this is “your motion” or “their motion”, and try to see the best and the potential in each other’s.
  • Be careful with over-reliance on spreadsheets - or even worse, over-reliance on sorting it out on the day. Meeting in person or over Skype several days before the tournament is an irreplaceable step.
  • Be careful with groupthink. Often one CA will suggest a motion, and a second CA will point out an issue (e.g. a viable unintended counter-prop). The group will work to reword the motion and be satisfied that they’ve addressed this issue without realising they’ve created another one. A good solution can be to have at least one person trusted by the group to look at the motions at a late stage before they are set, without having been part of the discussions that led to the motion’s creation.
  • Lastly: Be critical and suspicious of last minute motion ideas arising throughout the tournament. It takes time and sometimes research to assess if a motion is balanced, deep, feasible, etc., and a motion’s issues may be masked by its novelty and your excitement. It happens far too often for a motion to be dismissed after a thorough examination, only to be replaced by a new idea that has not faced comparable scrutiny. Hence the importance of testing every motion in detail - even motions that you all agree are good - and of working in advance of the tournament as much as possible.

We hope the above will make sense and be a helpful guide. Please question, criticise, improve and use your judgement - this is merely our best advice which will continue to develop, and not objective rules. If you have clarifications, concerns, feedback, or a request for anecdotes of where we really messed up a motion, please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

This guide has been edited by Olivia Sundberg, with gratitude to Alex Harris, Dee Courtney, Gigi Gil, Yair Har-Oz, Daan Welling and Ilija Ivanisevic for their thoughtful comments and additions.