Judge Training

Welcome to JudgeTraining.org, a free online resource for those who are new to the world of judging Speech & Debate. Here you can learn how to sign up for Tabroom, how to judge different events, and how to provide effective feedback and advice for the students you judge. We provide our service to the Speech & Debate community for those who are new to judging because we know that fair and informed adjudication is the key to the educational value of a learner's experience at a tournament.

Getting Started: Make a Tabroom Account


Digital ballots are becoming the expectation at more and more Speech & Debate Tournaments, so your 1st Step as a judge is to create an account. This will allow the tournament to send info to your phone, tablet or laptop.

*Note: If the tournament you are judging is using paper ballots, you may skip this step.

Benefits of Digital Ballots

  • Tournaments are more efficient and likely to run on-time
  • Less walking between room and ballot tables between rounds
  • More accurate results
  • Timely feedback for students
  • Archives for coaches


  • Must immediately hit the START BUTTON as soon as all competitors have arrived
  • Check that all info is accurate before submitting
  • Check your device for notifications as each round is beginning

Which event will you judge?



Key Info:

What is your Paradigm?

A paradigm, in debate, is a statement about your beliefs and predispositions regarding how you will judge the debate round. Students will often ask about your paradigm before the debate begins so that they can adapt to your preferences during the round. If you are new to judging, it is preferred that you share this with debaters either in an oral comment before the round, or by creating a paradigm on Tabroom. If you are new to judging, let the debaters know. A few helpful comments might include:

  • "This is the first time that I've judged this event."
  • "I'm a volunteer and I've read over some information about this topic and watched a demo video, but I'm new to judging."
  • "Please keep your delivery slow and clear. I appreciate clear analysis of why you should win in the final rebuttals."

It can be very educational to read the paradigms of other debate judge who have posted a paradigm on Tabroom. After you've judged a few rounds and begun to develop your own viewpoint, you should post your paradigm as well. It is most important that your paradigm gives an equal chance for both Affirmative and Negative to win, and is focused on creating an educational experience for all debaters.

Create Your Own Paradigm

  • Log in to your Tabroom account.
  • On the right side of the page, click on the light blue Paradigm button in the "Judging" box.
  • Type in your paradigm and SAVE.

Give an RFD

The Reason for Decision is an important part of educational feedback. Please articulate the specific arguments and areas of clash that you focused on when choosing the winner so that any student or coach could understand your rationale.

Give Comments

Comments to individual debaters or teams can be helpful for improvement. You might include feedback about specific skills, delivery style, ability to adapt to your paradigm or encouraging compliments. Debaters and their coaches can read this information to improve.

Word to the Wise

Be gentle in your critiques. Please remember that when you sit in the judge's seat, you are an educator and your primary goal is to encourage learners. You are often an ambassador of this activity for new speakers and debaters; make them feel welcome.

  • Remember, your decision is based upon "who did the better job speaking/debating" not who changed your mind or agreed with your opinion. Seek to remove your personal bias. In our community, we hope judges will reward skills.
  • Please don't make any comment or engage in any practice that would make students feel unwelcome in our community. We all tend to identify with those students who might remind us of ourselves, but a judge's comments regarding race, ethnicity, gender, physical challenges, socio-economic status and other elements beyond a student's control should be avoided.
  • As a judge, seek to have a balance of positive comments and constructive critique. Each student should read your ballot and feel that they were judged fairly and encouraged to learn more.
  • Be aware of your non-verbal signals. Seek to give each student a smile and avoid any imbalance in attention among the competitors. Treat all with respect and positive regard. In an intense competition, even the appearance of bias can be destructive.
  • Educate yourself about language use and how to constructively express critique to a diverse audience of students. We recommend The Conscious Style Guide.

Where to go:

At every debate tournament there is a centrally-located Ballot Table (sometimes called a Judge Table, Info Table or Registration Table) where all judges check in, confirm details, obtain maps or schedules. Once you arrive at your venue, look for signs (or ask the kids in suits) and locate this table. If you arrive early, you may wait in the Hospitality Room where food and drinks are often provided.

What to bring:

  • Timer or Phone with timer
  • Pens (two different colors if judging debate)
  • Paper or notebook
  • Laptop or Tablet
  • Water bottle, but often tournaments provide hospitality for judges

What to wear:

Casual and comfortable clothing is the norm for most judges. Many are college students with jeans and t-shirts, some are debate coaches dressed for a long weekend. Debate Tournaments are a reversal of typical roles where the students are dressed professionally, and most adults are dressed casually.

Cultural Competence Training from NFHS

We strongly recommend that you complete the training offered by the National Federation of High Schools. It is key to being mindful in your role as a judge. Click the image for a quick link.