Frequently Asked Questions

If you're new to parliamentary debate and/or to the Maryland team, you probably have some questions about how it all works. Hopefully, we've answered most of them below. If you have other questions, contact the VP of Campus Affairs or anyone else on the executive board.


Why should I join the debate team?

Debating is great in that it really helps you be quick on your feet. If you've ever argued informally with friends, you probably know that winning an argument isn't simply about citing more papers, but much more about making rhetorically compelling, sound, and logical arguments in a short amount of time. You also have to be able to look critically at your opponent's arguments and address them as best you can to weaken theirs in comparison to yours. These are the qualities of a good round in parliamentary debate, and developing these skills will also help you throughout your college career and the rest of your life—in presentations or job interviews, or just in conversation.

Debate exposes you to a wide range of topics. Most people think of debate as being public-policy oriented, but APDA as a whole is known to be very unique in the ways topics are constructed. In any given tournament, people debate subject matter ranging from constitutional law to philosophy to economics, and sometimes even their favorite movie.

There are many other schools on the APDA circuit, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, as well as local schools like George Washington and American University. Each school hosts their own tournament, allowing you to meet many other debaters from many different backgrounds. This is a great opportunity not only to make new friends, but to travel and see other colleges throughout the year.

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What is American Parliamentary style?

American parliamentary debate is a 2-on-2 format, where one side is called the "Government" and the other side is the "Opposition." The Government team gets to pick the topic for the round, and one speaker lays out the main points for their side in a 7-minute speech. One speaker from the Opposition then gives an 8-minute speech giving their independent points as well as refuting the points from the previous speech. Two more 8-minute speeches follow, one from each side, each rebuilding their own arguments and refuting those from the other team. To conclude, one Opposition speaker gives a 4-minute rebuttal speech summarizing and crystallizing the debate, and then one Government speaker delivers a 5-minute rebuttal giving the summary from their team's perspective.

Ten minutes of prep time are allowed for the Government team before the round. Neither team is given time for preparation during the round itself. There is no set-aside period for questions, though debaters are encouraged to offer questions during their opponents' speeches. If you're interested in more details, come to our next meeting and learn in person, or read a more complete description of the format and rules.

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I've never debated before. Can I still join the team?

Now is a great time to start! As long as you are enrolled at the University, you are eligible to join the team. Also, previous experience is definitely not required. Some of the best debaters in the league started just like you, having never done debate before.

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I debated in a different style in high school. What's it like to switch to parli?

With extremely rare exceptions, no one has done parli before college. It basically doesn't exist at the high school level. You will be at no disadvantage whatsoever because you didn't do it before. Many people do parli with no debate experience whatsoever from high school. (See the previous question.)

The parli format is meaningfully different than what you're probably used to (for example: no tubs, no cards, no value criterion), but as long as you don't insist on doing everything exactly as you did it before, you'll find that lots of skills from high school can be adapted quite readily to help you out in parli. If our experience means anything, you'll probably end up liking parli a lot more than what you did in high school. It's structured purposely to prevent technical battles based on complicated rules or contests of who did more preparatory work before the round. Instead, it's a contest of quick-thinking, logic, and interesting ideas. We think that makes it a lot more fun.

We have a page explaining the differences compared to particular common high school formats, if you want to see more specifics about adapting from the format you're used to.

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I'm nervous about public speaking. Can I debate?

Yes! Definitely! You are certainly not alone. Many members of the team have had issues with public speaking, even with relatively simple things like giving presentations in class. However, participating in debate can really help you overcome this challenge. The team provides a friendly, understanding environment in which you can get more comfortable speaking to an audience, and have fun at the same time.

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Do I need to be a Government major to do well?

Definitely not. We welcome students from all majors! Currently on the Maryland team, we have members in a wide range of programs, from philosophy and political science, to economics and business, to math, science, and engineering. There is no one major that prepares you for debating, since we discuss such a wide variety of topics, and not just academic ones. The league's most successful debaters come from a wide range of fields as well.

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Where are the tournaments?

Tournaments are held at colleges and universities around the country, but mostly on the east coast from Maine to Virginia. See the schedule for a list of the places you could visit with us. We usually attend tournaments in the southern half of the league, which extends as far north as New York City. There are several APDA schools in the DC area, so travel is sometimes as easy as a ride on the Metro. We do sometimes travel farther, depending on interest—such as for North American Championships which alternates location between the US and Canada, or for World Championships, which has recently been held in places such as Ireland, Thailand, South Africa, and Malaysia, and which will be in Berlin in the 2012-'13 school year.

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This sounds expensive. How much do I have to pay?

Not much. We ask each team member to contribute $50 per year to help cover our expenses (though exceptions can be made if this fee is prohibitive). You'll get much more than $50 worth of free food while attending tournaments, plus the team also pays for your registration fees and transportation.

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What kind of time commitment is required?

As with any competitive activity, some meaningful time commitment is required. We expect team members to attend at least five tournaments per semester and to attend at least half of the practice meetings we hold throughout the year. We have meetings twice a week in the evenings, and tournaments are held almost every weekend from September through April, so you can choose which meetings and tournaments fit into your schedule. Of course, the more practice and experience you get, the more successful you'll be.

Tournaments begin on Fridays in the early evening and continue through Saturday. Usually, the team leaves campus on Friday afternoons and gets back on Saturday evening. Many current team members are involved in other extracurricular activities and have full course loads. It's definitely possible to fit debate into the busy schedule of a college student!

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What happens if I'm going to be missing class?

Attending a tournament is an excused absence. In fact, this is done at a departmental level, and individual professors cannot actually refuse to let you make up work or take an exam because you have to go compete.

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I'm interested in joining. What now?

You can come to a meeting and see for yourself what it is all about. Meetings are held every Monday and Thursday at 7 PM in the Jimenez building, next to McKeldin Library. We meet in room 1124. If you would like, please email us ahead of time so that we are on the lookout for you and can prepare some other introductory materials!

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