Guide to APDA & FAQs

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) Case debate, 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 their assigned side. 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!


How is APDA similar to or different from 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 in case debate, teams can run pre-written cases on whatever topics they choose (with some constraints). 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, and 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 rather than disparate ones. APDA speeches are also longer and often involve more points (framework and 3 independent points rather than 2 arguments). It is much more acceptable to not answer questions and dropped points tend to be weighted more heavily.

NPDA: Speech lengths and order are the same! Honestly, the main difference is NPDA is motions while APDA is (mostly) cases. Here are a few structural differences: points of personal privilege are not used, the Reason for Decision is usually given to debaters after the round once the judge delivers the ballot to tab, and the names are slightly different: first proposition speaker is the Prime Minister, 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. Instead, it relies on common sense logic, since the Opposition team does not know about the Government’s case before in case debate. Spreading generally is not acceptable, although people can speak relatively quickly. The speeches are different lengths, and there is no cross examination period, although questions to the other team are allowed before the round starts after case statement is read (“points of clarification”) and in the round after the first minute and before the last minute of constructive speeches (“points of information”). 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, if on the 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 cannot be warranted without this specific fact or if the fact is too specific that it unreasonable to expect someone to know it – these are known as “specific knowledge” arguments, or, colloquially, “spec.” There are only two teams of two people and, except in elimination rounds, 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 generally accessible arguments.

How do I write a case?

  1. Come up with an idea you want to debate, then phrase it as “This House…” For example, this House believes the United States should legalize marijuana.
  2. Come up with 2-4 independent reasons to support this case statement. In the example case, the first point can be philosophical point about the right to freedom, the second could be an economic one about the benefits of taxing marijuana, and the third a constitutional argument for its legality.
  3. Make sure your case is under 7 minutes and 30 seconds when spoken out loud.
  4. OPTIONAL: Come up with responses to general arguments that are likely to be made against your case, as well as reasons why this case is not “tight.” A tight case is an unbeatable one, so reasons why your case isn’t tight (“tight block”) are arguments that the Opposition could have made to win the round.

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). 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 it is debatable!



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,” or 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% are case tournaments. During case tournaments, in rounds for which you are assigned to the Government, you will present a case statement on a topic of your team’s choosing and a pre-written Prime Minister’s Constructive. Conversely, rounds for you are assigned to the Opposition, you will 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 still fairly frequently. Both sides 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 can be found here. 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.



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:

How should I practice APDA?

The best way to practice APDA is via practice rounds. If you have four people and 45 minutes, it’s easy to set up a round even without someone watching.

Better still, do a round in front of someone 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 to practice is to watch the PM speech of an online video, prepare and deliver an LO speech, and then watch the LOC 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.



How can I join APDA?

Participating in APDA is really easy – membership dues are $100 annually per school, although 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, although 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 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.

You can find more resources for joining APDA here.


What is the APDA Executive 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 Executive 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 By-Laws, as well as making administrative decisions about concerns that arise throughout the year. It is also responsible for facilitating APDA Meetings.

What happens at APDA Meetings?

The teams attending the meeting vote on issues affecting the league, such as amendments to the APDA Constitution, By-Laws, 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.

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.

How do I vote at APDA Meetings?

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 (“proxying your vote”).

What are TOTY/SOTY/COTY/NOTY points?

Each tournament on the schedule with at least four participating schools will have a certain number of associated 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 elimination rounds receive TOTY points for their partnership and COTY points for their school (also called qualification points, or “qual points”), speakers that win open speaker awards receive SOTY points, and novices that win novice speaker awards receive NOTY points. Individuals must receive a certain number of qual points to be eligible to compete at Nationals ever year, with the exception that each school is granted a “free seed” of a team of two individuals who may compete without reaching the qual point threshold (“qual bar”).

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

There are two way to compete at Nationals without meeting the qual bar.

  1. Every team is guaranteed the aforementioned free seed.
  2. There are several auto-qualifications (“auto quals”) for certain BP Tournaments and APDA expansion tournaments, such that by reaching a certain point at these designated tournaments, a debater has earned the right to qualify to compete at Nationals regardless of the number of qual points he or she attains prior to Nationals.

What are the committees?

The APDA Executive Board delegates roles to several appointed committees in order to address key issues on the league. These are the Diversity Initiative, Expansion CommitteeEqual Opportunity Facilitators, Gender Empowerment Initiative, Novice Mentors, and Video Recording Committee. These committees are appointed biannually by the APDA Board, and applications are announced through the official Forum.