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Welcome to the DAV Website
The DAV is a non-profit association which exists to promote debate. It is the peak debating body in Victoria and runs large competitions for adults and for schools across Victoria. It provides training and resources for debaters, teachers and adjudicators.

Adjudicator Feedback

The Adjudicator feedback forms

Around 800 teams across the state filled out adjudicator feedback forms during round three. Thanks to all those teams who provided us with the feedback - it has turned out to be very valuable and has been passed on to the adjudicators.

We found that the feedback was on the whole, quite positive. Many of the debaters commented that the adjudicators were helpful, friendly and approachable. Of course not all debaters were happy with their adjudication, and your comments have been taken on board. The DAV takes the standard and quality of our adjudicator pool seriously and we would always like to improve our pool of talent.

Of great interest is that 67% of losing teams agree with the adjudicator's decision. This is quite a pleasing result as it shows that the majority of teams are happy with the outcome of the debate, despite the fact that they lost.

Common issues raised by debaters
There were a number of issues raised by the debaters in the "comments" section of the forms. I have attempted to deal with many of the questions and comments that have frequently arisen.

The adjudicator based their decision upon their own personal beliefs so we never had a chance at winning

Adjudicators are trained to take the viewpoint of the hypothetical "average reasonable person" when assessing the matter of both teams. Special knowledge of the subject matter, or any personal beliefs are not to play any part in the adjudicator's decision. Therefore when assessing matter, adjudicators are to take a completely objective approach, looking at the logic and relevance of each argument. Of course our adjudicators are human beings and whilst taking a completely objective approach to adjudicating is the ideal, there will always be differences in the interpretation of a debate, even amongst adjudicators.

Often it will be easy to tell whether of not an argument is a good or a bad one, simply by whether or not it has been effectively rebutted. Problems arise when weak arguments are not rebutted by the other team. This does not mean that the weak matter "stands", rather it requires the adjudicator to reach their own assessment of the matter and whether or not an average reasonable person would accept or reject it. This process is what gets debaters upset, and it requires adjudicators to make a difficult "judgment call". Adjudicators will rely upon their experience and understanding of debating rather than their own personal bias. It is highly likely that if matter is not accepted by an adjudicator or given little weight, it has not been effectively explained, does not have any evidence or examples to support it, or is not properly linked back to the topic.

Remember that debating is really a test of your skills as a speaker and advocate of the side of the debate that you have been chosen to represent. Adjudicators aren't necessarily seeking the "correct" argument but are looking for the team who did the best job of "selling" their given point of view to the audience.

The topic is too one-sided and isn't a fair debate

Topics are set by the Vice President (Schools) in consultation with a selection committee of experienced adjudicators. It's hard to please everybody when it comes to topics but we do aim to select topics that are challenging, interesting and above all, fun. When selecting the topics, we are conscious of the need to give both sides a fair argument.

The topics are usually based around contemporary issues that are the subject of vigorous and lively debate in the community. Issues that are one-sided tend not to be contentious and don't really make for good debates - so we don't use them!

If you are faced with being given the side of an issue that you don't personally agree with, then see the debate as a challenge. You might even find that your opinions are modified or even reversed as a result of having a new point of view. Debaters and adjudicators are notorious "fence sitters" when it comes to deciding what they actually believe on a certain issue!

The adjudicator didn't give us speaker-by-speaker feedback

There is no rule that an adjudicator must go through and comment on each speaker during their oral adjudication. An adjudicator might decide that there were comments, both positive and negative, that applied to most or all of the speakers in the debate, therefore to take a look at the debate overall. If you want to find out more specific feedback, then you should ask your adjudicator! Often adjudicators complain that they don't get asked enough questions. Adjudicators want to give as much feedback as possible but they aren't mind-readers so be prepared to ask them about any concerns that you might have.

The adjudicator penalised us for all our mistakes but ignored the mistakes of the other team

Obviously, winning debates is preferable to winning, but for obvious reasons we can't win every debate. If you disagree with the result then you should be prepared to approach the adjudicator and seek further explanation and clarification of the reasons for their decision. That doesn't mean that you can harass and abuse the adjudicator - always be polite and respectful and be aware that the Code of Conduct applies to you. Even if you are extremely upset with the result it is no excuse for inappropriate behaviour - and that applies to parents and teachers too!

We encourage adjudicators to keep their oral adjudications to less than 10 minutes - any longer than that can get quite boring! So it isn't always possible for adjudicators to mention everything that was done well or badly by each of the team.

Adjudicators keep telling us different things. When we are given feedback we change our debating style but then the next adjudicator tells us the opposite of what the first one said.

All adjudicators have received the same training and are told to apply the same set of rules to each debate. Differences of opinion still can occur, which is shown in the finals series when a panel of adjudicators produces a "split" result. This is because adjudicators are only human!

There aren't any "golden rules" that apply to debating - the function of the adjudicator is to look a range of factors in determining which team was the most persuasive. It is extremely rare that any one individual factor will alone determine the outcome of a debate. In every debate, both teams will have different strengths and weaknesses, and the adjudicator must engage in a balancing act to decide which factors were more decisive.

This can sometimes create a misleading impression. For example, and adjudicator might say "Whilst your arguments were strong, they needed more structure and signposting". This is indeed sound advice for any speaker to improve the structure and clarity of the arguments. However debaters need to be aware that even if they fix this for their next debate, this does not necessarily mean that they will therefore win! This is because the adjudicator has to look at the debate as a whole.

If you feel that you are being given conflicting advice, then again, ask your adjudicator for clarification. In many instances, there has simply been a misunderstanding between the adjudicator and the debaters. If you are still unsure as to what the correct rule is, then consult the Australia-Asia Debating Handbook and training materials that are on the DAV website.

The scores given by the adjudicator don't reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each speaker across the Matter, Method and Manner categories

Adjudicators are somewhat limited in how they mark debates. Matter and Manner are averaged at 30 marks out of 40 and can only be scored in the 27-33 mark range. Method is scored to an average of 15 out of 20 and can only be scored in the 13-17 mark range. About 90% of speaker scores tend to come out in the 73-77 point range.

Scoring is used to reflect the reason for the adjudicator's decision. Adjudicators do not score each speaker then add up the scores and get a result! The role of the adjudicator is to reach a decision first, and then adjust scores as necessary to reflect the reasons for their decision. Because of the limited scoring range, it is therefore not always possible for the scores to reflect the different strengths and weaknesses of each speaker and the teams overall. If two speakers get the same score in a particular category this does not necessarily mean that they were exactly equal, only that any difference between the speakers was not enough to justify giving the stronger speaker an extra point.

At the end of the day, scores are for your benefit as a guide to show you what you are doing well and where you can improve. They are used for the calculation of Swannie awards but don't affect your chances of making the finals.

The adjudicator didn't take into account that this was a secret topic (or advised subject debate) and expected too much of us

We understand that these debates are probably a bit more daunting than debates where you can prepare your team case beforehand. But there's no rule that we should expect less or set lower standards just because the teams have only had an hour to prepare. The key to doing secret topics is to treat them just like any other debate and to keep on doing all the basics of debating. Elements of debating such as a team line, team split, signposting, examples, relevance, cleat manner and a good definition still apply. So the trick is to keep doing all the things that you would normally do in a debate and try not to think that just because it is a secret topic then all the normal standards and expectations don't apply.

The other team didn't keep their speeches to within the speaking times and we did. So how can we have lost the debate?

Speaking significantly above or below time is certainly a problem. In both instances it can attract a method penalty. Matter given well after the second knock cannot be taken into account by the adjudicator. If a speaker gives a speech that is well below the allowed time then they probably also have problems in that they haven't explained their material enough, or raised enough arguments.

There is a view however amongst some debaters that if a team has time limit problems then they must automatically lose the debate. There is no such rule. Failing to keep within the time limits is simply one of the factors that an adjudicator takes into account when reaching their decision. Obviously if a team is consistently above or below time then that will make it more difficult for them to win, but by no means impossible.

Getting the most from your adjudication

The most important thing to remember is to listen very carefully to what is being said by the adjudicator. Take notes of what is being said so that you can read over your feedback before your next debate. It's not just the result that matters - the constructive feedback that an adjudicator provides should be important for both teams to decide how they can improve. After the oral adjudication, if time permits, be prepared to ask your adjudicator a few polite questions if you need something clarified, or if you want more feedback. Many adjudicators would like to give more feedback and would be happy to answer your questions - nothing pleases adjudicators more than enthusiastic debaters who want to learn more! Alternatively, email the DAV if you have any questions.

Michael Smith
Training and Development Administrator