Information for Coolidge Cup Judges

Thank you for your interest in volunteering as a debate judge! We want you to know that as a judge, you are an extremely important part of our program. Getting help from judges like you is what makes the Coolidge Cup possible. Below is some information that you might find helpful.

What is a Debate?

A debate is a competitive, structured discussion that allows for opposing arguments to be put forward. A debate focuses on a specific proposition called the resolution. Resolutions begin with the term “Resolved” and follow with a policy change, statement, or idea that is to be debated by the two parties participating in the debate. Some examples of resolutions are, “Resolved: The United States Federal Government should adopt a balanced budget amendment” and “Resolved: The United States should adopt a carbon tax.

The “affirmative” debater (or team) is arguing in favor of the resolution. The “negative” debater (or team) is the team arguing against the resolution. Each team is trying to win the debate.

Debates have a particular order in which the debaters take turns speaking. This is referred to as the debate format. Each speaking turn is allotted a set amount of time, for instance 5 minutes for an opening statement and 3 minutes for a closing statement. Details about the speaking times that can be found in the Coolidge Cup Debate Guide.

How the Day Proceeds

In general for the Coolidge Cup, there will be a judge training session in the morning followed by multiple rounds of debate. Sometime around mid-day we will break for lunch. Then we will resume with more rounds of debate. After each round of debate, the ballots must be returned to the tab room (or they might be collected by a volunteer) so that we can figure out what the next round of match-ups will be.

A typical day at the Coolidge Cup will start early and run until the late afternoon. We will have a continental breakfast, lunch, and refreshments available throughout the day. Judges are also invited to stay for the dinner speaker each evening.

How the Tournament Works

The Coolidge Cup tournament has six preliminary rounds of debate. After six preliminary rounds, the top 32 debaters based on win-loss record (first criterion) and speaker points (second criterion) advance to the elimination bracket. From this point forward, the tournament proceeds elimination-style by way of Double Octofinals, Octofinals, Quarterfinals, Semifinals, and finally the Championship round.

Each debater knows that over the first six rounds of debate (which span the first day and a half of the tournament), he or she will have to be affirmative three times and negative three times. We tell the debaters about 15 minutes before each round which side they will be arguing for the upcoming round.

The debate format is in the 1v1 Coolidge Debate Format. To learn more about the Coolidge Debate format, read our debate guide. That should answer most general questions. A few weeks before the tournament, we will hold a conference call that is open to all debaters and their coaches. The date, time, and call-in information for that conference call will be communicated to debaters as soon as it is set.

Your Role as a Judge

As a debate judge, your main role and responsibility is to listen to each side make its case and then do three things: 1) render a decision about which team won the debate, 2) award individual speaker points, and 3) return your ballot promptly (or allow it to be collected by a staffer or volunteer).

Determining the Winner

When determining the winner, consider the following factors when making a decision:

  • Which speaker did the best job of putting forth good arguments for his or her position?
  • Which speaker did the best job of answering his or her opponent’s arguments?
  • Did either speaker fail to address an important argument by his or her opponent?
  • Which speaker provided better evidence and research to support his or her contentions?
  • Did the speakers speak at a reasonable  and understandable pace?
  • Which speaker was more logical?
  • Did the speaker stay on topic?

At the Coolidge Foundation, we believe in the power of citizen judges to be able to follow a debate and render a reasonable decision. Taking notes while listening is appropriate and encouraged. You shouldn’t try to write everything down, but you should be able to make a few notes on each side’s key arguments and identify whether the other side did an adequate job to address them.

The most important things when judging a debate are to adopt a neutral stance about the resolution, and to do your best to be fair, encouraging, and supportive to your debaters. They are here to learn from you, no matter what your experience level is!

Assigning Speaker Points

In addition to choosing the winner of each debate, judges must also award “speaker points” to each debater. Speaker points assess the quality of the presentation offered by each debater. This is entirely separate from the determination of who won the debate. Usually the side that wins the debate also receives higher speaker points. On rare occasions, you might award more speaker points to the loser of the debate if you believe that he or she generally spoke better but failed to address an important argument or committed some fatal flaw of logic.  Please consider the following factors when awarding speaker points:

  • Does the speaker present in a fluent and compelling manner?
  • Does the speaker use all available speech time and cross examination time?
  • Does the speaker properly reference opposing arguments and cite allusions to evidence?
  • Does the speaker address the opponent in an appropriate style (i.e., not demeaning)?
  • Does the speaker stay on topic?

Speaker points are awarded on a 100 point scale that approximates traditional school grading systems:

  • 90-100 is an A and represents a high quality of speaking
  • 80-89 is about a B and represents good speaking that could be improved upon
  • 70-79 is about a C and represents average speaking that could be significantly improved upon
  • 60-69 is about a D and represents a substantially deficient presentation

Remember, as a citizen judge, you get the final word in determining who won.

We Need You

Thank you again for your interest. As mentioned, without volunteers like you, we could not have a Coolidge Cup tournament. We hope that you will come and judge some debates. If you are available and interested, please Register to Judge the Coolidge Cup. If you still have any questions about judging in the Coolidge Cup, please contact Coolidge Foundation Debate Director Jared Rhoads (


Coolidge Cup Judges, Day 1 of the 2018 Coolidge Cup