For Novices

What is Parliamentary Debate?

Parliamentary debate is an off-topic, extemporaneous form of competitive debate that stresses rigorous argumentation, logical analysis, and quick thinking, over the preparation of evidence. It is patterned after the style of platform debate first made famous at Oxford University. The format pits two two-person teams against each other in a contest of argument, wit and rhetoric which roughly simulates debate in a House of Parliament. The Government (proposing) team prepares and presents a case for debate, while the Opposition attempts to rebut the Government’s proposal through counter-argument and refutation. The use of recorded evidence during the debate round is prohibited. A different resolution of the Government team’s choosing is debated in every parliamentary debate round. Resolutions are chosen from a wide variety of political, philosophical, economic, cultural, and humorous topics, and debaters often have a broad scope in which to define the specific case for debate which is drawn from the resolution. Jane Mentzinger (Princeton ’22) has written a great guide for novices interested in trying out APDA, regardless of prior experience!

The Value of Parliamentary Debate

Parliamentary debate on APDA focuses on skills that are not greatly emphasized by other forms of intercollegiate debate. Rather than concentrating on extensive preparation of evidence, APDA encourages a breadth, as well as a depth, of knowledge — as students can be forced to debate almost any topic at short notice, they must have a working knowledge of all manner of political, economic, social and philosophical issues. Topics range from epistemological questions about empiricism to the validity of tiger parenting. A high premium is placed on quick thinking and logical, rigorous analysis. APDA debate is audience-centered; speaking skills learned on APDA can be directly appreciated by the general public, not only specially-trained judges. Parliamentary debate is an activity that is easily learned, extremely adaptable, and widely accessible, yet still rigorous, intellectually demanding, and rewarding.

APDA Tournaments

The heart of APDA debate can be found in the organization’s weekly tournaments. Ranging in size from 20 teams to over 160 teams, these two-day events, hosted by schools across the country, bring together parliamentary debaters from coast to coast. All debaters participate in the traditional five rounds of open competition, with top teams proceeding to elimination rounds. In addition to debate, tournaments offer free lodging for students in dormitory rooms, a tournament banquet, and an evening party or other entertainment. You can register for these tournaments as a competitor or a judge. To learn more about judging, read Audrey Shing’s (Northeastern ‘23) Judging Guide.

In addition to the regular tournament schedule, APDA hosts an annual Novice Tournament, designed to introduce new participants to debate through competition and intensive training seminars; and the APDA National Debate Championship, which traditionally draws between 70 and 100 top teams from across the country. APDA members also participate in the North American Debate Championship (in conjunction with the Canadian University Society for Intercollegiate Debate), the World Debating Championship, and other tournaments in the United States and abroad. Our Novice Mentor Committee has prepared a guide to help prospective debaters navigate their first tournament! It can be found here. Lastly, to get more involved and keep up to date on APDA events, join the forum! If you need help accessing or using the forum, refer to this forum guide.