Conquering the 1AR

Not everyone agrees that the 1AR is the hardest speech to give in debate, but with only five minutes to answer thirteen minutes of arguments, it is by far the most time pressured. Maximizing the strategy and efficiency of the 1AR is key to writing the judge’s ballot.

First, some general strategic goals. The planning for the 1AR should occur as soon as the 2AC is being given. Where was the 2AC strong? Where was it weak? Predict how the negative block will turn out in terms of arguments and time allocation. Next, the 1AR should, if necessary, foreshadow any radical turn of events that might be blown up in the 2AR. For example, maybe consider kicking case and going all-in on a link turn. But when doing so, formulate the 1AR so that one only vaguely extends case and puts a lot of coverage on said link turn. A debater will force the 2NR to cover case, and it preserves the element of surprise.

Finally, the 1AR needs to lay the groundwork for 2AR assessments. A speaker will need to cover all of the arguments the 2AR has to talk about. If a particular argument is going to become a focal point of the debate, simply extending its 2AC counterpart without any additional analysis is insufficient. While the 1AR cannot possibly cover every single block argument, a debater cannot drop critical points on the flow either. And the 1AR also must set up some sort of impact calculus for the 2AR. Even if it is somewhat shallow, being able to convey why the case outweighs is a task that should not be delayed.


Prepping begins with the 2AC. The first step of the process is damage control. If the 2AC neglected to cover something, figure out a way to make up for that in the 1AR. Debaters should consult with their partner and try to salvage the argument. Do not be afraid to use dirty tricks to sneak things in--tricks like questionable cross-applications on the flow should be normal for many 1ARs. Also, if a debater does not understand something their partner said, now is the time to consult with them and clarify. Speakers cannot go into the 1AR lacking a complete picture.

Next, with the negative block a debater should start marking up their flows. Try to script the 1AR beforehand to the best extent possible. Start thinking about what to extend. At a minimum circle those arguments or numbers so they stick out. Start signposting; write down on the flow what argument responds to what. If anything should be grouped, take note of that. Grouping is the most efficient way to get through the 1AR without dropping too much.

Then, after having identified and organized what is being responded to, start making arguments. Write out what cards say, have some card-by-card analysis ready, reasons to prefer one’s arguments, etc. The more ink on the flow the better the argumentation. Be sure to leave room to flow opponents’ responses.

During the neg block a debater should have the entirety of the 2NC flowed and answered by the time the 1NR begins. Remember, there are three minutes of free prep time while one’s partner is cross-examining the 2NC (plus whatever prep time the 1NR takes). After the 1NR a debater’s prep should start. Never do a stand-up 1AR; those are for posers and tourists who think they are better at debate than they really are. Use prep to decide on strategic decisions, allocate speech time, ask for negative cards to read, fill in gaps on the flow, and eliminate repetition in responses. Remember, the goal is efficiency.


The key to mastering the 1AR is grouping. A speaker cannot answer every argument in five minutes, so the goal is to group as many similar arguments as possible. But do not group everything. Not only will the judge get suspicious (a debater must be dropping a lot if they are grouping that badly), but their opponents will probably figure out how their 1AR arguments are not responsive to one of the things grouped. A debater should also embed clash when grouping arguments; say something like “OFF OBAMA BAD,” or some sort of commonality to the arguments a debater is grouping. This gives the 2AR leeway by allowing a speaker to touch on something briefly without actually dropping it.

Be sure to signpost arguments consistently. And be sure to reference arguments in addition to numbers, as a lot of judges typically do not flow numbers on the flow (like me). If the judge has no idea where to flow a person’s responses, then the 2AR is going to be in trouble.

Also, do not use 1AR overviews. There is no time. One-liners that point out a ridiculously stupid oversight made by the negative are probably okay, but anything more than five seconds is time being wasted.

The worst enemy of the 1AR is blippiness. Never confuse efficiency with failing to make actual arguments. A response to an argument should NEVER consist of “extend x from the 2AC, next.” Debaters need to have short, sweet analysis. Relying on the 2AC as a crutch will get one nowhere. If struggling to keep up, then consider writing out 1AR blocks that preempt common arguments on case. This is especially true for theory arguments. If a debater can prescript the entirety of the 1AR by having responses all written out, it gives them a nuclear option to use in case the 2AC was catastrophically terrible. I went all-in on conditionality bad a number of times when I was having difficulties on other arguments--with the help of a 25 page file with comprehensive 1AR responses to the usual block gimmicks. Being able to give a 1AR at 1AC speeds makes life horrid for many, many 2NRs.

And finally, a debater needs to have impact calculus loaded and ready go. Even if it is just 20 seconds at the bottom of the speech, some sort of analysis explaining why the judge is voting aff will go a long way in terms of assisting the 2AR.

Time Allocation

The toughest part of the 1AR is allocating a finite resource (time) to meet the demand posited by a huge number of block arguments. Prioritizing arguments is the first step. Arguments that are new in the block and arguments that have the ability to be game-changers are ones that should be allotted plenty of time. Never put topicality last, and if the block read some new theory like multiple permutations bad, do not put that last either. And of course, if an argument is inconsequential to the bigger picture feel free to drop it.

A good strategy is to allocate time proportionally to the block. Arguments that the block did not spend much time on probably are not important. If they really over covered something, then there is probably a good chance that it will be in the 2NR. So if they spent thirty seconds on a flow, do not spend three minutes on it. Likewise, if they spent all eight minutes of the 2NC on it, it might be a good idea to devote a big chunk of time towards it. Over cover arguments that seem especially dangerous.

Conversely, a debater can also strategically bait the 2NR into going for something by under covering it. If a debater has one game-winning argument on the flow that can absolutely devastate the 2NR, and think the opponents have not really responded to it or are unaware of its importance, feel free to “accidentally” undercover it at the bottom of the speech. They might make the mistake of going for it. If they do, a debater should blow it up in the 2AR and crush them.