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DEATH DRILLS: Also Known as 4-point Refutation Drills


I’m not going to lie: the first time I heard of this drill, I was a bit scared. Not because of the name, but because this was when I was still scared to speak without having every word written out in advance. Needless to say, I eventually got over that fear, and I came to see the benefits of this drill. I’ve seen this drill used by national champions, suggested by high-level coaches, and have used it myself. In this article, I’m going to cover how to do this drill effectively as well as the benefits of this drill.

How to do 4-point Refutation Drills

4-point refutation drills are a pretty simple concept. You take an argument that could be used in a round, give yourself around a minute to prepare a response, and then you deliver your rebuttal argument going through all four points of refutation. For those unfamiliar, the four points of refutation are:

  • Identify

Identify the opponent’s argument that you are addressing. This helps keep the debate more organized and can be as simple as saying “to address my opponent’s first contention…” or something similar. In 4-point refutation drills it often means stating “I would like to address the argument [insert tag line of the argument you are addressing].”

  • Tag

Tagline your response. This is just like the tagline of a contention. It should generally be a short sentence that sums up your contention and is useful for keeping the debate organized and helping your judge flow.

  • Support

This is what most people think of when they think of their rebuttal and consists of all the logical arguments and pieces of evidence you use to address your opponent’s point.

  • Impact

After proving your point, explain to the judge the logical weight that your refutation holds in the round: in other words, show both why you’re right and why it matters that you’re right. For example, if you address your opponent’s value by presenting “justice” as a counter-value, an impact might be “I have shown that justice is the superior value in this round. My opponent hasn’t shown any ways in which their side achieves justice, but I have shown several ways in which my side achieves justice, therefore I ask that you vote negative.”

When you are doing a 4-point refutation drill, you can find arguments to refute in numerous places. Some of the places you can look include source book cases, the NCFCA sample cases, your own cases, friends’ cases, or cases you’ve seen in tournaments. Once you’ve read through or heard the argument, give yourself time to prepare your response. I’d recommend increasing the time if you’re relatively new to debate or aiming to improve your arguments’ structure or quality, and I’d suggest decreasing it if you’re a bit more experienced or wanting to get better at thinking on your feet. Then give your rebuttal. You can give it to your friends, your parents, your stuffed animals, or the wall. If you are struggling to fill your time, you can give yourself a time minimum; if you are struggling with going over, you can give yourself a time maximum.

Benefits of 4-point Refutation Drills

I think 4-point refutation drills are the best drills for improving your refutation since you get to go through the entire process of refutation just like you would in a debate. In particular, these drills promote:

  • Better-organized rebuttals

Because identifying the arguments you are responding to and tagging your responses is helpful for organization and flowing, expressly making an effort to practice this through death drills can elevate your rebuttals and help to make these practices become second nature.

  • Better delivery

It’s no secret that practice is the best way to improve delivery, but practicing refutation especially helps to improve your delivery by increasing your familiarity with and allowing you to come up with better wording for common areas of argument in a given resolution.

  • Practice with argument formation

4-point refutation drills improve your ability to come up with responses on the fly, but beyond that, repeatedly practicing rebuttals increases your chances of having already practiced responses to any given argument you face in a tournament.

  • Identify holes in evidence

As you practice rebutting common or difficult arguments, you’ll naturally tend to notice where it would be helpful to have more evidence supporting your responses, giving you a better idea of where to direct your future research efforts.

D. J. an economics major at North Carolina State University. Her debate philosophy is that debate should be fun for everyone, so keep it ethical so your opponent can enjoy the round, keep it entertaining so the judge enjoys it, and keep it lively and humorous so you can enjoy the round too. To learn more about D. J. you can read her bio here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/djmendenhall/ or book coaching with her here: https://www.ethosdebate.com/xl-3/

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