The rules of the 1st edition of the International Oxford-Style Debating Competition (IOSDC) are based on guidelines laid down by a team of experts from Krakowskie Stowarzyszenie Mówców (Krakow Association of Speakers). They have been founded on a long tradition of debating competitions and over twenty years of experience in funding educational projects in Poland.
Oxford-Style debating is a highly formalised manner of discussion in which two teams are randomly assigned their position – either in favour or against – on a given thesis (also called a motion) formulated as an affirmative statement.
The illustration below shows the seating plan for the participants during the debate.
Participants of the IOSDC debates include:
Chair – the Chair is the host of the debate. It is their responsibility to oversee it in an appropriate and solemn manner and to ensure that the rules and traditions of courtesy are abided. They announce the thesis for each debate, introduce the teams and give the speakers the floor. Should any rules be violated, the Chair may reprimand, interrupt or remove a speaker or a member of the audience and decide to give penalty points to the teams. Proper conduct requires that the Chair is to be addressed as “Mr./Ms. Chair”.
Proposition - the Proposition is the team which argues in favour of the thesis. Their main objective is to prove the given statement to be true. The goal of the speakers from the Proposition is to support the thesis with convincing arguments. They are at an advantage at the beginning of the debate since they are the first to be called upon by the Chair. In the room they are placed at the right-hand side of the Chair.
Opposition – the Opposition is the team which argues against the thesis by refuting the arguments presented by the Proposition. They disprove the motion by putting forward counterarguments to what is said by their opponents. They are at an advantage at the end of the debate since the final speaker on their team is the last to be called upon by the Chair. They are placed at the left-hand side of the Chair.
Adjudicators – the Adjudicators assess the speakers and vote in order to select the winning team. They assess the debate from the perspective of an experienced and well-informed audience member and their judgement is based on the criteria set forth in their assessment sheets. In each IOSDC debate there are two Adjudicators and in each case they vote for different teams. The Chair determines the winning team.
Audience – Due to the format of the IOSDC, the Audience is not allowed to vote for a winning team nor to ask questions; they are the ones to whom the speakers address statements and whose perspective the Adjudicators assume while assessing the debate.
- Opening Words by the Chair and reminder of the rules
- Speeches delivered by the teams in turn order (Proposition – Opposition)
- Assessment by the Adjudicators
- Constructive criticism and score announcement
Rules for speaker’s addresses:
- Time restrictions: The time limit for every speech is five minutes after which the Chair will ask the speaker to finish the sentence in no more than ten seconds. Should the additional time be exceeded, the Chair will interrupt the speaker and team will be given one penalty point.
- Speakers from the opposing teams take turns one by one starting with the first speaker from the Proposition and concluding with the last speaker from the Opposition.
- Point of Information (POI) is a question or a comment made by a member of the other team. The debater raising a POI is required to specify if it is a question or a comment and only address the argument which is being currently presented by the speaker. Each POI accepted by the Chair should be addressed by the speaker in their speech within the constraints of the regular time limits. The speaker is assessed by the Adjudicators on how they respond to the POIs.
- Each speaker is required to respond to no more than two POIs.
- The speaker decides when and how they respond to the POI.
- The speaker may not address a POI offered in the last 30 seconds of their speech. However, if they have not responded to at least two POIs up until this point, they are expected to ask the other team to offer them a POI.
- Both the POI and the response are assessed by the Adjudicators (up to two points).
- By default, each speaker is given two points for responding to POIs. This score can be lowered depending on how many POIs they are offered and how they address them. If no POIs are offered, they speaker still receives two points. If only one POI is offered, and the speaker responds to it in a satisfying manner, they also receive two points. If two POIs are offered and the speaker manages to address only one of them, they receive one point. If the speaker does not manage to address any POIs offered by the other team, they receive zero points.
- Rebuttal: Each team may issue a rebuttal, which is a minute-long counterargument referring to the speech it follows. The purpose of the rebuttal is to provide the teams with more opportunities for interaction and a tool for making strategic decisions. Should a team want to issue a rebuttal, they indicate it to the Chair and to the other team by raising a dedicated card and wait for the Chair to give them the floor. Each team may issue a rebuttal only once during a single debate.
- It is not allowed to issue a rebuttal to a speech delivered by your own team.
- A rebuttal cannot be issued during the last speech of a given team, nor can the speaker who is next in line issue a rebuttal immediately before his turn.
- It is, however, allowed to issue a rebuttal to a rebuttal.
Example of a rebuttal: It is the turn of the second speaker from the Proposition team. The first, the third and the fourth speaker from the Opposition are allowed to issue a rebuttal. The second speaker from the Opposition cannot issue a rebuttal since they are to speak next. The fourth speaker from the Opposition indicates they would like to issue a rebuttal. After the second speaker from the Proposition has finished, the Chair calls upon the fourth speaker from the Opposition to deliver their rebuttal. After they have finished, the Chair calls upon the second speaker from the Opposition and the debate proceeds in the regular turn order.
Each speaker in a team plays a specific role whose objectives they aim to fulfil.
First Speaker – They open the debate. Their task is to present their team’s understanding of the key terms and the topic of the debate, to demonstrate their position regarding the thesis and to announce what issues will follow the speaker’s address. Should they have enough time, they may also provide the first argument.
Second Speaker – They are responsible for developing their teams’ line of argumentation by raising important points and supporting them with convincing and credible evidence. Should they have enough time, they may attempt to contest the definitions given by the other team or to specify exactly how they understand the thesis.
Third Speaker – They should focus on counter-argumentation. They refute the arguments provided by the other team by exposing logical fallacies or misuse of examples. The third speaker may expand on the team’s line of argumentation as it is often that a new argument at the same time serves as a counterargument to a point raised by the other team. Should a need arise, the third speaker can also provide a partial conclusion to what has been said before.
Fourth Speaker – They are tasked with concluding the debate and providing a summary of their team’s line of argumentation. They are expected to remind the audience of how the team understands the thesis, what evidence they have provided for their arguments and what facts the team managed to establish. As they provide the last words, they may as well say their teams’ final counterarguments against the claims of the other team.
All speakers should bear in mind that due to a particularly dynamic form of an Oxford-Style debate they need to be able to adapt to the situation at hand, instead of adhering to a strict plan. There are circumstances in which a speaker is forced to go outside their typical remit of responsibilities and to modify their pre-planned strategy. To ensure this happens in an orderly manner, the IOSDC sets the following rule:
Each speaker may cover for the speaker before or after them.
What it entails is that each speaker may assume some responsibilities of other speakers and partially cover the same basis. For instance, the third speaker may provide new arguments (as if they were the second speaker) or if they deem it necessary, provide a partial reprisal of what was said before (as if they were the fourth speaker). However, it is paramount that each speaker be aware of their own role. Covering for others may result in the team being given penalty points if the speaker does not fulfil their own role first.
Determining the Winner
IOSDC is a single elimination competition. It means that a team which loses a debate is eliminated from the competition until there are only two teams remaining. The last two teams remaining take part in the final debate, and the winner of that debate is the winner of the IOSDC.
A single IOSDC debate is won by the team which gains the votes from both Adjudicators. In case the Adjudicators vote for different teams, the Chair makes the final ruling and determines the winner.
The Assessment Criteria for the IOSDC reflect the qualities necessary to speak in a formal debate and serve as the basis for the feedback given to the teams after each round of the competition. They are included in assessment sheets, which the Adjudicators use to determine which team deserves their vote.
The Adjudicators assess the teams on a speaker to speaker basis. This means that during each turn, the Adjudicators assign points for the particular speaker’s performance (Individual Assessment) and then award group points based on the performance of the team as a whole unit (Group Assessment). Individual Assessment concerns the speaker’s rhetoric, accuracy with regards to the content matter and the strength of their arguments. Group Assessment, in turn, is mostly concerned with factual accuracy, expertise on the topic and teamwork.
Each team may be given up to 100 points by a single Adjudicator, 90 of which are a sum of Individual and Group Assessment results. The remaining 10 points (called ‘the Verdict’) are divided between the teams based on the strength of their argumentation and the power structure in the debate.
In case both teams score the same amount of points, the team which was awarded more points in the Verdict wins the Adjudicator’s vote.
Example: The debate is assessed by two Adjudicators. The scores are as follows:
Adjudicator no. 1 – Proposition 1:0 Opposition, 82 points – 78,5 points.
Adjudicator no. 2 – Proposition 1:0 Opposition, 77 points – 76 points.
Final score: Proposition 2:0 Opposition. Proposition wins the debate.
Individual Assessment: Each speaker may score up to 15 points. In total, each team may be awarded up to 60 points for all its member’s Individual Assessment. Half points are allowed in Individual Assessment. Individual Assessment covers five areas:
- Structure of arguments (0 – 3 points) – This involves clarity of argumentation as well as coherent and cohesive speech structure. Three points are awarded for a well-structured speech which also includes rhetorical devices supporting the content of the speech.
- Performance (0 – 4 points) – Points are awarded for the content of the speech, its persuasiveness, factual accuracy of presented data, rhetorical devices used by the speaker and appropriate language use. Four points are awarded for an error-free and especially convincing speech.
- Delivery (0 – 3) – The speaker scores points for clear enunciation, good control over their voice, appropriate body language, stress management, eye contact and fluency of delivery. Three points are awarded to a speaker who does not read a pre-written speech, has an ease of public speaking and does not make technical mistakes.
- Response to POIs (0 – 2) – By default, each speaker is awarded two points in this category. Depending on the number of POIs issued and the way they are addressed, the Adjudicator may decide to give the speaker point penalties or not to subtract any points from the speaker. Each speaker must respond to two POIs. If no POIs are issued or the speaker responds to them successfully, the speaker scores two points. For each POI left unaddressed or answered in an unsatisfying manner, the speaker loses one point. This should give the participants an incentive to issue POIs and it should enable the Adjudicators to assess the speakers’ ability to react to the unexpected.
- Role fulfilment (0 – 3) – The speaker scores points for fulfilling the responsibilities assigned to them based on their role in the team. Most of the speaker’s turn should be devoted to performing their duties. Three points are awarded to a speaker who successfully and efficiently accomplishes their tasks in accordance to what the team expects them to do in a manner coherent with the team’s line of argumentation.
Group Assessment: Each team may score up to 30 points, which are awarded for a skilful performance of the team as a single unit. The Adjudicators focus on the strength and cohesion in the line of argumentation, effective counter-argumentation and control over the argument. Half points are not allowed in Group Assessment. Group Assessment covers five areas:
- Internal cohesion (0 – 5) – The team is assessed on the grounds of their teamwork, common line of argumentation and support between the speakers. By default, each team is awarded three points for this category; however, there may be penalties for poor coordination. Five points are awarded to a team who cooperates especially effectively and whose members do not contradict or downplay one another.
- Thesis comprehension (0 – 5) – Points awarded in this category reflect how precise the team is at defining the key terms, presenting their position and identifying the core problems. A team scores five points if they are able to make their case in a clear, comprehensive and in-depth manner.
- Line of argumentation (0 – 10) – It includes the audience-appropriateness and strength of presented arguments, quality and relevance of the content to the thesis of the debate, and clear evidence of research into the topic and the speakers’ understanding of the motion. Ten points are awarded to the team who presents at least three strong arguments appropriate to their position, which are well-supported with evidence, data and examples.
- Counter-argumentation (0 – 10) – Points are awarded for the team’s ability to effectively refute or undermine the arguments given by the other team. Counter-argumentation may also serve as support for the teams’ own agenda. Ten points are awarded to the team which successfully refutes all the arguments of their opponents.
Verdict: Verdict reflects the power structure during the debate. It is a total of ten points divided between the teams by an Adjudicator based on their subjective perception of the teams’ performance compared with regards to each other. Each Adjudicator decides how to divide the points after having completed their assessment sheet. Points awarded in this category cannot be distributed equally.
Penalty points: Penalty points reflect the violations committed by the team members which are a breach of the rules of the competition or instances of inadequate behaviour towards other participants of the debate. They are given by the Chair after the debate has finished, but before the Adjudicators complete their assessment sheets. There are three kinds of transgressions for which a team is given penalty points:
- Ad hominem attacks (from -2 to -8 points) – An ad hominem is a statement which does not refer to the substance of the debate, but instead contains judgements on the character of the speaker from the opposite team or downright insults them. The number of penalty points given for an ad hominem depends on the gravity of the violation.
- Inappropriate behaviour (-2 points) – Inappropriate behaviour is understood as interrupting the speaker from the other team, heckling or disturbing the opponents. The Chair reprimands a speaker or a team by saying “Mr./Ms. ... I give you a warning”.
- Exceeding the time limit (-1 point) - If a speaker exceeds the time limit for their turn, they may finish the current sentence if it does not take longer than 10 seconds. If, however, the speaker continues for more than 10 seconds, the Chair will take back the floor and give a penalty point to the speaker’s team.