Preparing for Your First Preliminary Round at a Debate Tournament

Post by Tom Cronin
Preparing for Your First Preliminary Round at a Debate Tournament

Round One, Debate!

Are you gearing up for your first debate tournament? As exciting as it may be, it’s important to know what to expect, especially during the preliminary rounds. After all, it’s in these rounds where you’ll be able to prove your worth as a debater and earn a spot in the knockout rounds. With that being said, here’s a guide on what the preliminary rounds are and how you can prepare for them.

Understanding the Preliminary Rounds

The preliminary rounds in a debate tournament are essentially a series of debates where your team will compete against other teams multiple times. These rounds serve as a chance for the judges to evaluate your performance and gauge your debating skills. During this phase, you will be given a topic, and your team must argue for or against it. Depending on the format, the topic may be know in advance, but that's not always the case! Each debate typically lasts around 45 minutes, and it’ll be up to you and your team to come up with the best arguments possible to win. Make sure to give your all in each one of the prelim debates, as the best performing debaters will make it through to the knockout rounds (also known as breaking).

Know Your Format

It’s important to know what format the debate tournament will be using. There are various formats, such as British Parliamentary, Lincoln-Douglas, and Policy, and all have their own set of rules. Knowing the format beforehand will give you an edge in understanding what is expected of you. You can then plan your arguments and strategies accordingly.

Planning Your Strategies

Like in any competitive sport, it’s imperative to devise a game plan before going into a debate. Discussing your strategy with your team and being well-versed in the format you’ll be using will give you an advantage. As debaters, it’s also important to know your strengths and to utilize them to your advantage. Figure out what your team is good at and make sure to highlight those strengths. This means choosing arguments that highlight your strengths and avoiding ones that make you vulnerable. A good tactic is to try run arguments that you expect your opponents to use, then try to rebut them yourself.

Researching Your Topic

One of the essential aspects of preparing for any debate is researching and gathering evidence. The preliminary rounds will test your ability to think on your feet, but having a well-researched opinion will give you the foundations you need for success. You should research both sides of the argument, so you’re familiar with the points that your opponents may make, and to prepare counterarguments. Make sure to have clear definitions for keywords in the topic, and that you're comfortable with topic as a whole. You don't want to find out mid-round that you've misunderstood the topic!

Practice Makes Perfect

Last but not least, prepare for the preliminary rounds by practicing your debate skills. Practice in different formats and against various teams to broaden your experience. Additionally, time yourself when practicing, as it’s essential to ensure you can complete your argument within the given timeframe. Make sure that you and your team have practiced the rebuttal speeches thoroughly.


In conclusion, the preliminary rounds of a debate tournament are the gateway to success in the knockout rounds. The key to success is understanding the format, researching the topic, planning strategies, and practicing. Remember that a debate is a two-way conversation, so it’s essential to listen to your opponents’ arguments and be prepared to make counterclaims. By improving your skills, investing in research, and being well-prepared, you’ll have a much higher chance of achieving success in the preliminary rounds and throughout the tournament.

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Post by Tom Cronin