Walk Through a Policy Debate

Affirmative v. Negative

A policy debate is a game between an Affirmative team versus a Negative team. During a tournament, teams compete on both the affirmative and the negative side. Each student gets to participate four times during a debate round: a constructive speech, a cross-examination, answering a cross-examination, and a rebuttal speech.

As you can see, policy debate is an interactive speech activity involving the presentation of arguments and evidence in constructive speeches, cross-examination, and rebuttals.

There are two (2) kinds of speeches during a debate round. First, the constructive statement builds the issues and lays out the concepts and proof of the teams’ arguments. In the constructive speeches, the Affirmative side affirms the resolution of the topic.

The policy debate is always about a specific United States political topic chosen for the particular year. The resolution is in the form of a statement that “the U.S. federal government should take action….”

In the constructive speeches, the Negative team says “no” the public at large, i.e., judge, should not affirm the resolution.

The second kind of speech during a debate round is the Rebuttal. In the rebuttal speeches, the teams duke it out over the superiority of their arguments and proof using sound reasoning and arguments. Each side pays careful attention to all of the opposing team’s claims and supports.

Not a speech, but an essential part of a policy debate, Cross-Examination (CX) is a time in which teams ask questions, get clarifications, get information, trap opponents with admissions, set up arguments, and make themselves look good by showing the judge their intelligence and ability to seek the truth. Cross-examination occurs after each constructive speech and can last for up to three (3) minutes.

Constructive Speeches

1AC = First Affirmative Constructive speech – 8 mins

The 1AC is when the affirmative team tells a basic story about a problem, why the problem is continuing, why the problem is not being solved, gives a proposal to solve the problem, and explains why the affirmative proposal will solve the problem. The issue and plan should be topical, i.e., related to the year’s resolution/topic. The 1AC is a scripted speech – the only one the teams write in advance.

After 1AC, cross-x by the 2nd Negative Speaker takes place against the 1AC.

1NC = First Negative Constructive speech – 8 mins

The 1NC attacks the affirmative case by showing that there is not a problem, or that the affirmative plan won’t solve the problem. The 1NC speaker also may introduce other negative issues (i.e., disadvantages, topicality, counter-plan as a superior alternative, critique = the assumptions of the goals are incorrect, evil or both). Some of these negative issues like counter-plans and critiques are considered advanced, and novice debaters will not learn these strategies until later.

After 1NC, cross-x by the 1st Affirmative Speaker takes place against the 1NC.

While a cross-examiner can make good points and gain admissions during cross-examination, a team must mention the point gained in the cross-x in the following speech to ensure the Judge considers the position. Many Judges use cross-examination to give speaker points for good performance but not to decide the outcome of the round.

2AC is the second affirmative constructive speech – 8 mins

The job of the 2AC is to defend the affirmative case. The 2AC must rebut and answer all of the 1NC arguments and present new arguments in support of case claims. The 2AC must refute ALL negative-side arguments, or more than likely the affirmative team will lose the debate against a negative squad that extends 1NC arguments that 2AC does not answer.

During a debate round, teams will often use a strategy called “The Turn.” The Turn is a technique used by the negative in which the negative takes an idea proposed by the affirmative and turns it around and uses it against the opponents. For example, a DA is a type of Turn. A disad could be turned, yet again, back against the negative team to make matters even more interesting. Debaters learn to use turns effectively through practice.

2NC is the second negative constructive speech -8 mins

The 2NC is the last constructive speech. Following the 2AC, there are two (2) negative speeches in a row (called the Negative Block). The negative team’s speakers much work out a division of labor. Usually, the 2NC will take some of the issues proposed by the 1NC and develop them as thoroughly as possible. The 2AC will cross-examine the 2NC.

Rebuttal Speeches

1NR – 5 mins

The 1NR is the first negative team rebuttal speech. The 1NR will take some part of the debate to focus on, without focusing on the same issues as the 2NC.

1AR – 5 mins (quite a challenge)

The 1AR has a tough job because he/she must answer both the 2NC and 1NR talks. Keep in mind that the first affirmative rebuttal must answer all of the opposing team’s arguments or the affirmative side will likely lose the debate. The 1AR speech teaches word economy and efficiency, and forces focus on important issues and ideas.

2NR – 5 mins

The 2NR presents a selection of the winning issues for the negative team and weighs them for the Judge against the responses of the affirmative side.

2AR – 5 mins

The 2AR talks about the significant issues in the debate and evaluates why the AFF arguments are logically superior to the NEG arguments. The 2AR must weigh the issues and explains why on-balance the affirmative case should be adopted.

Preparation Time

During a policy debate round, the local tournament rules will provide some preparation time of typically 5, 8, or 10 minutes to both teams. The teams can use the prep time before each speech in the debate. Most teams prefer to conserve the preparation time until rebuttals and use it carefully.


Usually, the Judge decides the winner without interacting much with the debaters. The Judge fills out a ballot with speaker rank, quality points, and reasons for the decision. The Judge may make comments and allow questions, and the Judge may announce the decision. The Judge is usually a knowledgeable person about debate and bases the decision on how they think you argued the issues in the round.


After a debate round show good sportsmanship, be polite, shake hands, and be gracious to Judge.