Getting Better at Policy Debate

Probably the most common question that every novice policy debater at some point in time decides to ask is a very, very simple one: “How can I get better at debate?” Well, the answer is actually quite simple. There are two paths you can take to improve at debate.

1) Watch a varsity debate
2) Debate

Anticlimactic? Perhaps. But the truth is, there’s no secret serum that will magically turn you into a wunderkind ready to collect multiple ToC bids. Nor are there any magical debate shenanigans that open up new unexplored pathways to success.

Watching Debates

Observing debates - especially seasoned varsity debaters - is beneficial in a number of ways.

First, it allows you to get a good grasp of what an excellent debater looks like. Keep in mind that your goal should not be to become a clone of another debater. Each person has their own personal set of individual traits and qualities, which makes trying to emulate someone else patently unauthentic. However, watching good debaters at work allows you to figure out why good debaters are classified as such. You will notice the subtle characteristics in their speeches that set them apart, something that can be acquired only through direct observation.

Secondly, it gives you exposure to new arguments and the way in which those arguments are run. If you have not encountered a kritik before, a good way to learn about them is to watch a capitalism debate. Observing how experienced debaters both run and answer specific arguments gives you insights into those arguments and allows you to more effective understand those arguments. It will also give you a better grounding in the theory surrounding new arguments. And, even if you don’t comprehend new arguments initially, there is nothing better than asking the debaters themselves to explain the arguments. Most debaters will be more than willing to share their knowledge, even if they are from a different school, so don’t be intimidated to ask!


This is going to be an incredibly simple explanation - debating makes you a better debater because you actually experience the round first-hand. There is only so much that learning about different arguments will do for you. Until you have actual hands-on experience that involves engaging the arguments you learn about, you won’t get better. Practical application of debate skills occurs first and foremost in actual debate rounds. Even if you struggle, at the end of the round, you will understand why you struggled, and you will be able to correct your mistakes for the next round.

As a novice, the level of improvement you will see in your skills is directly proportional to the number of rounds you participate in. In other words, the more the merrier. Take every opportunity you possibly can to debate - attend all your practices and go to as many tournaments as you can. Only then can you acquire the necessary skills to become a good debater.

When I was a novice, I only attended three tournaments, and I didn’t do many practice rounds. As a result, I did not substantially improve from the beginning of my freshman year to the end of it. However, if you were to contrast that with my senior year, where I attended no fewer than fourteen tournaments, you would find that from the first round of my first tournament to the very last round of my career at NFL Nationals, I gained so much skill and expertise that I had probably become literally twice as good.

Debate! Watch debates! Debate some more! There is a whole world of opportunities out there waiting for you, and all you have to do is participate as much as possible. It’s really that simple.