How To Use Debate To Get You Better Grades

Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy
How To Use Debate To Get You Better Grades

What are the Benefits of Debate for Academics?

Does debate help academic work, or get in the way? After many years of coaching speech and debate, we are crystal clear that it’s hugely helpful to a student’s academic journey. Here are some of the key benefits for students that we’ve identified.

Benefits for Academics

Speech and debate is a highly popular extra-curricular activity for a reason.  The positive correlation with educational achievement is well attested.

Debate teaches students all manner of useful academic skills. Some of these include:

  • Argument Construction. The building block of any debate speech is a clear, logical argument backed up with reasoning and examples or evidence. This skill is directly transferable to academic essay-writing and so it’s not surprising that students often find their grades for written assignments improving significantly as a result of the techniques they’ve learned in debate class.
  • Structure and Organization. As well as the internal logic of building arguments, speeches rely on sound organization in order to be easily followed by judges or listeners. The structure of a debate speech – hook, summary of thesis, roadmap, constructive points, rebuttal of opposing points and conclusion – also transfers seamlessly to many academic settings.
  • Research Skills. Debate places a premium on the ability to research quickly, effectively and independently. Students need to be able to distinguish credible, authoritative sources from fake news sources – a vital skill not merely in school but, increasingly, in life.
  • Presentation and Interview Skills. A recurring theme in discussions with our alumni is how speech and debate gave them the confidence to express themselves cogently and clearly. Presentation skills are a growing necessity at all levels of academic participation, and the ability to express yourself clearly at interview can often be the difference between success and failure. Debaters are better able to handle the stress of an academic or job interview and get their key selling points across to their interviewer.

From conversations with hundreds of LearningLeaders parents over the last decade, it is extremely common for them to share with us that they have noticed improved academic performance from their children as a result of their involvement in speech and debate – sometimes as early as a few weeks into their debate journey.

Nor is it simply anecdotal. Multiple academic studies show that students engaged in debate do better on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT, as well as having higher grades at school. According to this 2021 academic paper:

Debate participation was associated with 0.66 points higher GPA, 52.43 points higher SAT Math, and 57.05 points higher SAT Reading/Writing scores. Findings suggest that competitive debate is associated with better academic outcomes for students.

Benefits for Admissions

Being able to demonstrate a track record of participation in, and success at, speech and debate does wonders on college applications. LearningLeaders students have gone on to gain acceptance at the world’s top universities - whether in their home countries or abroad, and they frequently cite debate as one of the key factors in their attainment. According to former Yale professor Minh A. Luong,

there is no better activity that will develop essential academic, professional, and life skills than dedicated involvement in speech and debate. Colleges and employers are actively seeking these skills and when it comes to selecting extra- curricular activities, like many other things in life, those savvy high school students who will win admission to the best schools will select quality over quantity.

This effect is magnified for those students who are able to achieve significant competitive success. Nothing looks quite as impressive on a college application as multiple international debate championships! The LearningLeaders students who won the World Schools Debating Championships in 2018 with Team China, went on to Yale, Stanford, Chicago and Duke respectively, and all identify debate as a crucial element of their success.

In addition, many debaters going to university for the first time find a ready-made “tribe” in college debate societies, easing their transition to higher education and helping them settle in far from home. Not all school debaters continue to participate in speech and debate, but for those who do, it often serves as a valuable “home from home” in the company of like-minded debaters from around the world.

The ability to speak well is only becoming more important as the importance of standardized testing declines. Live communication and public speaking, via interviews or recorded submissions, is the most authentic form of differentiation that’s available to ambitious students.


Debate and speech are of paramount value in academic work. Far from getting in the way of students’ studies, as some parents fret, debate can actually supercharge a student’s academic performance, as well as looking great on a college application or resume. The lessons learned in debate class can be applied in a variety of academic situations - to great personal and professional benefit.

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Coach Andy
Post by Coach Andy