Rules, Procedures and Forms

Teams and Speakers

  • There are two teams in a debate: an Affirmative Team and a Negative Team: The Affirmative Team agrees with the topic and the Negative Team disagrees with the topic.
  • Each team may choose three individual speakers to speak during the debate. Other members of the team who attend the debate must not participate in the arguments or rebuttal during the debate.
  • The speaking order of speakers is as follows: First Affirmative, First Negative, Second Affirmative, Second Negative, Third Affirmative, Third Negative.

Etiquette of Speakers

  • All students are responsible for conducting themselves in a dignified manner by being courteous and respectful to each other at all times. Attack the argument, not the person.
  • Communication with members of the audience (either verbally or non-verbally) or the Chairman/Timekeeper is strictly prohibited during the debate. This specifically includes the passing of notes.

Speaking Time

  • Each speaker speaks for a set time determined by division level and debate type (see Topics) with a warning bell one minute before the set speaking time has elapsed. A continuous bell will be rung 30 seconds after the speaking time in which case the speaker must immediately end his/her speech and sit down.

Feedback and Result

  • The winner of each debate is decided by an adjudicator and the decision is final.
  • Adjudicators will deliver a brief summary and constructive criticism at the end of a debate.

A debate is set up as shown in the diagram below.

  • The debating season is conducted during Terms 2 and 3.
  • Debates are scheduled as specified on the Calendar of Events.
  • All divisions except Senior have 5 preliminary rounds. The Senior division has 4 preliminary rounds.
  • Each team attends the same designated venue for the preliminary rounds.
  • First debates begin at 6:30pm. Debaters should arrive 10 minutes before the scheduled time of their debate.
  • Short Preparation debaters are required to arrive 90 minutes before their scheduled debate to receive the topic.

  • The programme is comprised of six divisions as follows:
    • Year 5
    • Year 6/7
    • Year 8
    • Year 9
    • Year 10
    • Senior: Students in Years 11 and 12
  • Debaters may only debate as an official team member in a division equal or above that of their own.


  • The Affirmative Team will provide the Chairman for a debate.
  • The Negative Team will provide the Timekeeper for a debate.
  • In the event that there are not two people available to assume the roles of Chairman and Timekeeper, one person may perform both roles.

Role of the Chairman

  • The Chairman will introduce the debate and speakers according to the Chairman’s sheet. They are also responsible for reading the Chairman’s Notices at the end of the Third Negative speaker’s speech.
  • The Chairman is responsible for obtaining forms for a debate from the Information Desk and filling them out ready for the adjudicator. They must also collect a speaker award and the Chairman’s Notices.

Role of the Timekeeper

  • The Timekeeper is responsible for ensuring that a bell and stopwatch is collected from the Information Desk if one is not already available in a debating room.
  • The Timekeeper will keep a record of the speaking times and record these times on the timekeeper’s sheet which should be handed to the adjudicator at the conclusion of the last speaker’s speech.
  • The Timekeeper will ring a warning bell once, one minute before the end of a speaker’s speaking time and twice at the allocated finishing time. If a speaker speaks for more than 30 seconds after the second bell, the Timekeeper should ring a continuous bell indicating that the speaker must immediately finish and sit down.


Both the Chairman and Timekeeper will act in a professional and impartial manner throughout the debate. This means that they are not participants in the debate as team members and must not in any way contribute to arguments and rebuttal once a debate has begun.


  • No verbal communication with members of the audience or either team, except for requesting the names of speakers to read the chairman’s script.
  • No gestures or body language with the audience or teams that would be a way of communicating thoughts on the debate.
  • No passing of notes between speakers or the audience and the chairman/timekeeper.

  • Topics will not be changed once set.
  • If a team does not wish to debate a topic, they must submit a forfeit and a forfeit charge will apply as for any other circumstance.

Accuracy of Arguments

All material contained within a debater’s speech must be accurate. Where examples and quotes are used, they must be attributed to the original source and not taken out of context. Hearsay evidence should not be used.

Each year, Debating SA undertakes an audit of multiple debates to ensure that material presented by debaters is accurate. This includes cited evidence, examples, quotes, and other factual information presented.

Where such an investigation yields a finding that information has been presented that has been misconstrued, misrepresented, or fabricated, the speaker will be removed from the debate retrospectively. The team will be Unofficial and the team scores will be adjusted to reflect this.

  • Each speaker receives a score out of 100. The score will range from 70 to 100.
  • Marks are alloted to speakers on the basis of:

Argument: 50

Presentation: 30

Structure: 20

  • team score is the average of the three speakers’ scores. The team with the highest team score at the conclusion of the debate is declared the winner.
  • Primary School students are not permitted to view the score sheet with individual scores at the end of the debate, but may ask the adjudicator for their team score.

  • An Official Team is one which consists of 3 members who:
    • are students of the school for which they are competing and;
    • are in the designated Year level or lower.
  • During finals, an Official Team must also consist of members who have debated for that team at least once during the preliminary rounds. Debating SA reserves the right to waive this in special circumstances.
  • An Unofficial Team is one which does not satisfy the definition of an Official Team given above.
  • An Official Debate is one in which both teams are Official Teams.
  • An Unofficial Debate is one in which one or both teams are Unofficial Teams. In such a debate the Official Team, if one exists, is declared the winner by default.
  • If a team debates one or two persons short, a member of that team may speak more than once. If that member is an official team member, then s/he will be counted as an Official team member for the highest scoring speech only.
  • In an unofficial team, team members receive a minimum of 70 speaker points each. The official members of that team may receive up to a maximum of 85 speaker points.

  • The adjudicator is responsible for handing the results sheet to the Committee Desk at the conclusion of the evening.
  • Results will usually be posted at the conclusion of a debating evening via our score entry system but will otherwise be posted on the Debating SA website by the Monday following a debate.
  • Teams will be ranked first according to win/loss points, then by aggregate team scores.
  • Teams will receive win/loss points according to the following:
Official Team win 4 points
Official Team loss
against Official Team 3 points
against Unofficial Team 4 points
Unofficial Team win 2 points
Unofficial Team loss 1 point
Forfeit 0 points

If a team arrives at a debate where there is no opposition due to a forfeit or otherwise, that team shall have the option of:

  1. Not debating at all. The team will be awarded a win by default and each speaker will receive 85 points each; or
  2. Debating against another team without an opposition. Both teams will be awarded a win by default. Speakers of both teams will receive no less than 85 points each; or
  3. Debating against the adjudicator. The adjudicator will give the team feedback and present possible opposing arguments. The team will be awarded a win by default. Speakers will receive no less than 85 points each.

  • Prepared or Standard Debate is one for which the topic is known to teams before the scheduled debate.
  • All divisions have Prepared Debates.

  • Short Preparation Debate is a debate in which teams are given the topic 90 minutes before the scheduled debate. The topic will be released in a central area and then teams will move to allocated preparation rooms. Debating rooms and preparation rooms are usually different and this information will be provided on the evening.
  • The Year 10 and Senior divisions all have Short Preparation Debates.
  • A maximum of 3 team members can participate in the preparation.
  • An adult can help with short preparation for Year 10 but Senior division teams must prepare Short Preparation debates without adult help or supervision.
  • Students are permitted to have access to electronic devices such as laptops, tablets and other internet-enabled devices during the preparation time unless advised otherwise by Debating SA. Teams are responsible for organising their own internet access as Wi-Fi access at the venue is not available.
  • Printing facilities are not available to students and speeches should be written on cue cards.
  • To preserve the integrity of the preparation process, students are not permitted to communicate with non-team members during the preparation time.
  • In the event that one or more team(s) do not arrive by the topic release time, Debating SA reserves the right to rearrange the draw for teams without opposition to ensure a debate with an opposition. This may involve a team debating the opposite side.

  • One Card Debates are held for Year 9, Year 10 and Senior divisions.
  • One Card Debate is a prepared debate in which each debater may only use one card. The aim of this format is to encourage debaters to speak more from “dot point” notes rather than to write out their entire speech.
  • The card must be no larger than a standard index card (3 inches x 5 inches).
  • Small or cramped writing is not to be used. A minimum of 10 point type or handwritten equivalent to be used.
  • Only one side of the card may be used for the prepared speech. The other blank side may be used for rebuttal. No additional rebuttal cards are permitted. The only exception is First Affirmative who may fill in both sides of the card before the debate.
  • Speakers are permitted to use additional notes/paper at their tables but only the single card can be used when speaking.
  • The Adjudicator will ask for the card to be shown before the debate begins.
  • Speaking times for One Card debates are as for Prepared Debates.

Quodlibetical Debates are debates where the topic is in the form of a scenario, which often presents debaters with a moral dilemma. Debaters should debate the issues presented by the scenario but may refer to external sources unless otherwise advised by Debating SA.

  • The draw for Rounds 1 to 5 will be available on the Debating SA website before the end of Term 1.
  • There may be minor changes to the draw as a result of forfeits or postponements. Teams are strongly encouraged to check the website regularly for the latest information.

  • If a team prepares the wrong side of the topic, that team will have 20 minutes after the scheduled debate time to prepare the correct side.
  • If the team is not willing to debate after 20 minutes that team will have forfeited the debate.

  • Teams should aim to arrive to a debate at least 10 minutes before the scheduled debate time.
  • If a team or team members are running late, Debating SA should be contacted via phone.
  • If all the members of a team have not arrived 10 minutes after the scheduled debate time, that team:
    • may debate as an unofficial team, if one or more team members have arrived, or;
    • will forfeit the debate incurring a forfeit without notice charge.

  • A team forfeits when it does not debate at all in a given round. Forfeits should be avoided at all costs. Postponements and Unofficial Debates are alternatives to forfeits.
  • In the event that a team wishes to forfeit:
  • The person in charge of that team should register the forfeit on the website at or email the details to Debating SA.
  • The Debating Coordinator of the opposing school should be notified. Please note that the opposing team may still choose to attend the debate as scheduled as a versus adjudicator debate.
  • A $80 forfeit charge will be charged to the forfeiting school if it forfeits by 5pm on the day BEFORE the debate. This charge is increased to $120 otherwise (e.g. late forfeit or no notice).

  • Debates may only be postponed if all of the following are satisfied:
    • The debate to be postponed is in Rounds 1 to 4. Round 5 postponements are not possible.
    • The opposing school agrees to the postponement.
    • Debating SA is logistically able to support the postponement with a room at the proposed venue and an adjudicator.
  • WHEN: Postponements may only occur on another scheduled debating evening during the current or subsequent round, subject to room/adjudicator availability.
  • COST: All postponements incur a charge of $60 for the services of the adjudicator. Debating SA has the discretion to waive this fee in special circumstances.
  • OPPOSITION RIGHT TO REFUSE: If the opposing school refuses the postponement, the postponing team will have forfeited automatically. The opposing school may participate in a debate without opposition if it chooses to.
  • HOW: The postponing school is responsible for contacting the opposing school to organise a suitable postponement date and time. The date and venue of the postponement should be conveyed to Debating SA by

Debating SA will notify both schools if an adjudicator is available.

  • NO CHANGES: Once the date of the postponement is set, the date is final. Subsequent withdrawals will be a forfeit by the withdrawing school (even if that school accepted the postponement)

  • There will be a Finals Series for the Year 6/7, Year 8, Year 9, Year 10 and Senior divisions, consisting of Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and a Grand Final.
  • There are no finals for the Year 5 division.
  • The top eight teams in each division according to the Results at the end of the preliminary rounds are eligible to participate in the Quarter Finals.
  • In the event that an eligible team is not able to participate in any part of the finals series that team will be withdrawn from the finals. If withdrawn at the Quarter Finals stage the position may be offered to the next eligible team on the ladder or such other team as Debating SA deems appropriate.
  • Finals dates are fixed and postponements of finals debates are not possible.
  • Finals elimination is conducted on a win-loss basis.
  • Debating SA will release finals topics at the conclusion of the preliminary rounds.
  • Sides and oppositions for finals are determined by team rankings, as follows:

Filming of Finals Debates

Due to the significance of finals debates and value to future training for the debating community, it is a condition of entry into the finals series that students agree to be filmed. Where a team member does not wish to be filmed, the team is able to substitute a team member who is willing to be filmed. The team must notify Debating SA that this is the case.

Quarter Finals

Debate number Affirmative Negative
QF1 First ranked Eighth ranked
QF2 Second ranked Seventh ranked
QF3 Third ranked Sixth ranked
QF4 Fourth ranked Fifth ranked

Semi Finals

Debate number Affirmative Negative
SF1 Winner QF1 Winner QF4
SF2 Winner QF2 Winner QF3

Grand Final

Debate number Affirmative Negative
GF Winner SF1 Winner SF2
  • Debating SA may alter the above team pairings if there are less than 8 teams eligible to participate in the finals.
  • Quarter Final and Semi Final debates will be judged by a panel of 3 adjudicators and Grand Final debates by a panel of 5 adjudicators.
  • In the event that there is a panel of adjudicators, the winner will be determined by a majority vote of the panel. The decision of each individual adjudicator is secret and the overall decision final.
  • Individual speaker feedback is not given by adjudicators where there is a panel of adjudicators.

Debater of the Year Awards will be held for all divisions to recognise excellence in debating.

The Debater of the Year for each division will be decided based on the following criteria:

  • Debaters must have participated in at least three debates to be eligible for consideration.
  • In each debate each speaker is ranked relative to the other participants in the debate (usually 1 through 6 in the case of 6 different scores) according to the speaker scores. This ranking is called a Debater of the Year Debate Ranking.
  • Speakers who have participated in the required number of debates will be ranked according to the following (in order):
    • The average of their best 3 Debater of the Year Debate Rankings.
    • The average of their best 3 speaker scores.
    • The standard deviation of their scores.
    • If two or more speakers are ranked the same under these criteria then the speakers’ positions as at the previous round will be used.
    • If no distinction between speakers can be drawn according to the above criteria then additional criteria may be applied by Debating SA.

For further information regarding debating please refer to the Official Debating Manual which has a detailed explanation of all the formalities of debating.

  • Please direct all queries via the contact us page.
  • Please direct all complaints and feedback via the Feedback Form. Complaints or feedback not received in writing via this form will not be considered.

Chairman, Timekeeper and Official Score Sheets

Chairman, Timekeeper and Official Score Sheets