Guide to APDA

What is APDA?

APDA—the American Parliamentary Debate Association—is the organization behind a style of competitive parliamentary debate. (“APDA” is also interchangeably used to refer to the style of debate.) Speakers compete in a 2-v-2 format, with two speakers on the Government team and two on the Opposition team. The Government team consists of the Prime Minister (PM) and Member of Government (MG), and the Opposition, of the Leader of the Opposition (LO) and Member of the Opposition (MO). Speech times are as follows: 7 min (PMC) – 8 min (LOC) – 8 min (MG) – 8 min (MO) – 4 min (LOR) – 5 min (PMR), with 30 seconds grace for each speech. The first two letters of each speech indicate the speaker who delivers the speech, while “C” stands for “Constructive” and “R” for “Rebuttal.”

There are two kinds of APDA tournaments: (1) Cases tournaments, where the government teams bring their own topics, and opposition teams learn the topic as the round begins; and (2) Motions debate, where the tournament sets pre-written topics, and each team has 15 minutes to prepare. Many people love APDA because of the creative topics that people bring to the table and the ability to discuss issues that people find personally relevant.

People come to APDA from all sorts of debate backgrounds, and we’re really excited to see you on the circuit!

1. Competition

How is APDA similar or different to BP, NPDA, and other formats of debate?

The main difference between APDA and other styles of debate across the board is that when on side government, teams can run prewritten cases on whatever topics they choose. Another big difference is that the opposition team does not get preparation time and must prepare their case during the round.


BP: APDA is different from BP in a few ways:

  • BP is motions style while APDA generally is not,
  • style and persuasive speech techniques are not as valued in APDA,
  • while it is important to keep speeches unique in APDA and to introduce new points since there is not another team on your bench you are competing against, each speaker of a team should work on building a cohesive message,
  • APDA speeches are longer per person and often involve more points (framework and 3 independent points rather than 2 arguments), (specific lengths can be found above).
  • It is much more acceptable to not answer questions and dropped opinions tend to be weighted heavier.


NPDA: Speech lengths and order are the same! Honestly the main difference is NPDA is motions while APDA is write your own case. Here are a few structural differences: points of personal privilege are not used, instead people can “equity call” within the round of report transgressions to equity officers at tournaments, the Reason for Decision is usually given to debaters after the round once the judge delivers the ballot to tab, the names are slightly different: first proposition speaker is the Prime Minister in apda, second proposition speaker is the Member of Government, first opposition speaker is the Leader of Opposition, second opposition speaker is the Member of Opposition.


Cross Examination/Policy: APDA is not evidence based, rather more logic based in arguments, since the opposition team does not know about the proposition’s case before. Spreading generally is not acceptable however people can speak relatively quickly. The speeches are different in length and there is no cross examination period, although questions to the other team are allowed before the round starts after case statement is read (for clarification) and in the round after the first minute and before the last minute of constructive speeches. APDA encourages an exploration of many different topics and thus doesn’t have one resolution to debate for a whole season.


Long Table: There are multiple topics one could come across and as opposition, no time to prepare for these topics except while asking questions to the team and during the government team’s speeches. Evidence based arguments are not valued if the argument can not be warranted without this specific fact or if the fact is too specific that it unreasonable to expect someone to know it. There are only two teams of two people and except at semifinal or final rounds generally only one judge.


High School Debate: APDA is probably closest in style to Public Forum or Lincoln Douglas but doesn’t use the same lingo and has less of a focus on evidence or cards and more on general accessible arguments.


How do I write a case?

  1. Come up with an idea you want to debate then phase it as “This House…” For example, this house believes the United States should legalize marijuana.
  2. Come up 3 independent reasons to support this case statement. In the example case the first point can be philosophical “people have a fundamental right to freedom” or “from a utilitarian point of view we ought prioritize greater net happiness, and insofar as legalization would produce greater happiness for individuals and would be better for the nation it ought to be done.” The second point could be economic “the US government could tax marijuana and this money could be spent in a number of ways to improve American lives.” And the third point could be constitutional “the legalizing marijuana is justified under constitutional analysis.”
  3. Make sure your case is under 7:30 minutes when spoken out loud
  4. Come up with blocks to general arguments as well as reasons why this case is not “tight” (arguments that the opposition could make which mean this case is not too heavily weighed in your favor – for example, we should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of their race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, or religion would be tight.


What kind of cases can you run?

Anything you want! Cases can be time-space (set in a specific time or space under those conditions) and/or involve actor analysis (analyzing what a specific person or entity should do) and popular topics are international relations, economics, philosophy, social justice, media, government, constitutional law, politics, art, science and literature – but really any case can involve many of these areas or can be entirely unique as long as they are debatable!

2. Signing up for a Tournament

My school’s team is very small. How can I attend a tournament?

The expansion committee is always willing to reach out to tournaments in order to help negotiate a “reg break”, i.e. a reduced registration fee, in order to help ensure your program’s participation. While hosts have varying financial constraints on the extent to which they can provide a discount, asking for one usually results in significant relief: Programs are enthusiastic whenever a new school joins APDA, and they generally seek to maximize attendance at their tournaments up to the point of logistical limitations.


What kind of tournaments are there?

There are two categories of tournaments, case tournaments and motions tournaments. Approximately 90% of competitions are case tournaments. During case tournaments, rounds which you are assigned to the government side a case statement on a topic of your team’s choosing and pre-written Prime Minister’s Constructive speech will be presented. Conversely, rounds you are assigned to the opposition side you are not given advance notice as to what topic area you’re debating or the case statement you’ll be prompted to negate until case construct is read by the Prime Minister. Motions tournaments occur less often, but currently happen to be among the most attended when they do. Both the government and opposition sides in a room are made aware what statement they’ll be affirming or negating 15 minutes prior to the round. All participants in a tournament will be engaging in a debate on that topic during the same round.


Where are tournaments? What do I do if there aren’t tournaments near me?

The current season’s tournament schedule is found at: This year, tournaments sanctioned by APDA are occurring in 15 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia) and the District of Columbia. If there aren’t many tournaments within a manageable travel distance of your institution, please contact the expansion committee to discuss strategies for increasing the number of competitions held in your region.


Do I have to join APDA to compete at a tournament?

For all regular tournaments, being a member of APDA is not a requirement to participate. However, being an APDA member ensures your school can compete at Nationals as well as vote in APDA meetings and elections.

3. Practice

Where can I get examples of apda rounds?

You can get examples of practice rounds online! APDA has a wonderfully deep video archive, which you can access here: We’re also working on putting together specific lists of suggested videos!


How should I practice apda?

The best way to practice APDA is via practice rounds. If you have 4 people around and 45 free minutes, it’s easy to set up a round even without someone watching. Going through the motions of practicing speeches and rebuttals is one of the best ways to get better.


Better still, do a round in front of someone else who is able to give feedback. If there is no one in your area available to help give feedback, it is often possible to arrange rounds via Google Hangouts or Skype, and many APDA coaches are willing to give feedback virtually.


Another way of practicing is to watch the PM speech of an online video, prepare and deliver an LO speech, and then watch the LO as it happened in the recorded round. You can do this for any speech (except the PM, of course), and you can use what really happened in the round as a benchmark for giving yourself feedback and for recognizing argument areas that you may have missed.


One final bit of advice is to use the Internet to your advantage—stay well-read and up-to-date on current events (since many cases will be relevant!) and stay connected on social media and the Forum, where there are opportunities to ask questions, ask for help, and potentially find people to give you feedback.

4. Logistics of Joining APDA

How can I join APDA?

Participating in APDA is really easy – membership dues are $100 annually, however the APDA Board grants fee waivers for new teams and teams with financial difficulties. Additionally, competing at tournaments does not require membership; any team of college students is permitted to compete any every tournament, with few exceptions.


How do I start a team?

A team can be anything from one or two individuals from the same school who go to tournaments to a massive institution. As a general rule of thumb, a prospective team should comply and be aware of the requirements and funding process for student organizations in their school. A team should consider establishing a constitution and mechanism for leadership and decision-making early on in the process.


How much does it cost to fund an apda team?

Costs depend largely on geography – for many schools, public transportation to tournaments is feasible, but others may need to regularly charter buses or purchase flights. Schools usually charge a fee of approximately $125 per team of two individuals to compete, however new programs should feel encouraged to ask for reduced registration fees, which are typically granted.


How do I recruit novices?

Different schools have different recruitment programs, with some having success holding campuswide public debates on salient issues to serve as a recruitment drive. Often times, admissions offices will be happy to plug the team to incoming students, and often organizations will share recruitment information on social media, especially in class groups for incoming students. Ultimately though, you should use what you know of your campus climate to tailor a recruitment strategy that is responsive to the needs of the student body.


How do I encourage people on my debate team to try out apda?

If you are part of an institution that does British Parliamentary Debate or that does NPDA, trying out a local APDA motions tournament would be a good transition. Motions tournaments use APDA rules and time, but have BP-style motions and preptime, making it a very natural transition.

5. Institutional Structure

What is the APDA Board?

Much as individual teams usually have a leadership structure, the American Parliamentary Debate Association also has a clearly defined leadership board. It is entirely student run, with annual elections. The members of the board are the President, the Vice President of Operations, the Vice President of Finance, and 3 Members-at-Large. Together, this body is responsible for interpreting and enforcing the APDA Constitution and Bylaws, as well as making administrative decisions about concerns that arise throughout the year.


What is TOTY/SOTY/COTY/NOTYpoints?

Each tournament on the schedule with at least 4 participating schools will have a certain number of points based on the number of competitors. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the tournament, the more points will be included, with the number of points for winning the tournament ranging from 8-per-team to 20-per-team. Teams that reach outrounds receive TOTY points (also called qual points). Individuals must receive a certain number of qualification points


Someone from my team is qualified for Nationals without meeting the qual point bar. Why did this happen?

There are two way to qualify for nationals without meeting the qual bar.

  • 1) Every team is guaranteed one free seed – in other words, every school can always send at least one team to nationals.
  • 2) There are several auto-quals for certain BP Tournaments and APDA expansion tournaments, such that by reaching a certain point a debater has earned the right to qualify to attend nationals regardless of the number of points.


What are the committees?

The APDA Board delegates roles to several appointed committees. These are the Diversity Initiative, the Expansion Committee, the Equal Opportunity Facilitators, the Gender Empowerment Initiative, the Novice Mentor Committee, and the Video Recording Committee. These committees are appointed biannually by the APDA Board, and applications are announced through the official forum.


What happens at APDA Meetings?


The teams attending the meeting vote on issues affecting the league, such as amendments to the APDA Constitution or Best Practices. Specific meetings (announced ahead of time) will determine the schedule for the following academic year or will be set aside to elect the APDA Board.


How do I vote at APDA Meetings?

It’s really easy! Every school in attendance at any APDA meeting will be given the chance to have a voting member vote. In the case that a school can’t attend, a school may transfer their vote to another institution by emailing the APDA Board at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.


When are APDA Meetings?

APDA meetings are held during specific tournaments throughout the year. These tournaments are unopposed and are indicated on the APDAWeb schedule page.