“Excuse me, sir, what’s your opinion on pineapple pizza?”
You look down and see a child you don’t know talking to you. Confused at the initial question and needing to think about it for a bit, you pull out a pocket kitchen timer that you keep with you at all times and say “Excellent question, I’m going to set a five minute timer for prep time and I’ll be right back to answer that.”
This scenario obviously would never happen in the real world. Your new friend, the child, would expect you to answer her question right off the bat. Prep time just doesn’t exist in normal conversations, and for good reason.
Last week, Jeremiah Mosbey — a long-term blog writer of ours here at Ethos — wrote an excellent article on why you should be taking all of your prep time. If you haven’t read his article, I would highly recommend clicking there first and then coming back here because it’s a great read.
Now that you’ve heard the pro-position for using more prep time, I would love to give you a con-position for using more prep time. I’m of the opinion that Team Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debaters should become less reliant on prep time and that once they do, their overall debating will become better.
I do want to quickly disclaim the following: my opinion on TP and LD debaters reducing their need for prep time is definitely controversial and not many people agree with this point of view. However, I do believe that there is a very strategic benefit to using less if not no prep time and since the most persuasive strategy wins the debate round, learning how to use less prep time can’t hurt your overall debating, only improve it.
Prep Time Does Not Make You A Better Debater… Sorta
Before we begin, however, I want to make a quick clarification: prep time does not inherently make you a better debater.
When analyzing the subject of preparation, what we need to look at is the quality of argument construction — not the amount of time used to make that argument. Throwing a lot of time at an argument doesn’t make it a good argument. What makes it a good argument is a good debater who uses good logic. Therefore, the assumption that using more prep time will make your arguments good, is not a very good one.
That being said, for some people, spending more time thinking about an argument will allow them to better construct the argument. If you find that your argument construction when using prep time is better than your argument construction when not, then that’s a sign that you need to use prep time in rounds. Do NOT stop using or limit your prep time in a round if it means that your arguments reduce in quality. The only case in which you should start to think about reducing prep time is when your arguments can be pristine and persuasive without the extra time.
But with that being said, it’s not the time that makes your debating better. It’s how well you can construct quality arguments. If you’re struggling to craft good arguments without prep time, don’t fret! We’ll be going over some ways on how you can reduce your reliance on prep time at the end of this article.
Reasons To Stop Using Prep
1. The Real World
If you were asked for your opinion on a subject in the real world by a normal person, then you wouldn’t be able to tell them “I’m setting a timer for 5 minutes so I can think about your questions or arguments” just as our opener with the child demonstrated.
You wouldn’t be given time to allow yourself to think in detail about your opponent’s arguments and what your arguments are. Instead, you would just have to state your beliefs on the subject based on your prior “out of round” thoughts and preparation.
Using less prep time in debate rounds mimic the real world better. And while I do note that team policy rounds, for instance, are different from the real world because you need to read and cite evidence as well as review opponent evidence — however, I would say two things. First, the existence of parliamentary high school debate. In parli, teams are given no prep time, yet evidence can still be cited and used in rounds. Second, the 5 minutes of in-round prep time is not required in order to review evidence, but we’ll be talking about that in subpoint D really soon.
2. Small Psychological Advantage
If we look at debate as a game, every bit of leverage on your side helps. If you’re hitting an equal time in quarters at NCFCA nationals for instance, you’ll need to differentiate yourself as much as you can. If you have the ability to make solid speeches without prep time and can skip prep time in rounds while your opponent needs prep time to make similar arguments to you, then I think regardless of how much leverage that is, if you tie with your opponents, using no prep time and being in the head of the judge at every single second could very well lead to you breaking the tie.
Let me be explicitly clear, however: taking no prep is not going to make the judge think you’re superman, even if it might make you feel like superman. The judge most likely won’t notice, or care, about how much prep time you talk. What really helps you here is being in the judge’s ear sooner than later and giving the judge less time to think about opposition arguments.
I do want to mention lastly that this psychological advantage is super small. It’s not going to win you a round that you’re losing. Instead, it poses the ability to tie break a close round.
3. For Some, It’s Easier Than Not
Aside from the small strategic benefits of no-prepping an opponent, some debaters find it easier to debate without prep time. A reason I would take as little prep time as possible — especially before 1ARs — is because I already built arguments in my head and the longer away from the previous speeches we went, the faster those pre-constructed arguments in my head would go away. This would especially be dangerous when I would scribble a note on my flow and come to it later and have no idea what I was saying.
For me, I just preferred not to use prep time because I already had the arguments I wanted to say all laid out and pre-written during my opponent’s speech — given that for every argument my opponent says out loud, I tag down three responses at the same exact time (I might not get to all of them, but at least I have three responses to his original claim that I can use at will).
Figuring out a method such as this to speed up your argumentation creation is highly effective at reducing the amount of in-round prep you need, but that being said, I do want to mention that this is all up to personal preference. Some people prefer to just dive right into speeches because they have arguments in their heads, while others would prefer to sit down and think about them more. However, with that being said, I would argue that it’s super easy to go from needing a lot of in-round prep time to needing little to none. We’ll be talking about some strategies on that at the end of this article.
4. Prep Time Is Used As A Crutch
Prep time in a debate round gives debaters a crutch in a round to stop and spend a lot of time thinking about arguments. Team Policy debate, however, is more about out-of-round prep vs in-round prep. If a debater needs to use a lot of in-round prep, chances are that they aren’t spending enough time prepping out of rounds.
A. AFF Teams
AFF teams should have three pre-written responses to every single argument that could ever be run against them. Preferably before the first tournament (by use of lots of practice rounds as well as Ziggy Online Debate which provides a practice round per week for 8-10 weeks per semester for a super low price), but 100% before regionals and some of the later qualifiers and nat opens for NCFCA. AFFs shouldn’t need prep time and a 1AR shouldn’t need to confer with his or her debate partner. This is because AFF teams should already have a game plan going into the round. This is their home court, they should know it like the back of their hand and if they don’t, then the team that knows the court better usually ought to win the round.
I’m not saying that AFF teams will never need to talk with each other, however. I recognize the need to discuss a super new and interesting NEG strategy. That being said, AFF’s shouldn’t need to use much if any prep time at all.
But that’s the AFF team who literally gets to decide the case. What about the NEG who might very well be hearing this case for the first time? I would argue the same actually. In fact, if anything, the NEG team needs LESS prep time than AFF.
Why’s that? Well, I’m glad you asked!
B. NEG Teams
NEG teams don’t really need a ton of prep time because they already get nearly a half hour of it every single debate round! To understand why, we need to understand a speech structure strategy called the “Emory switch.” With this strategy, the 2NC takes the job of responding to the 1AC while the 1NC does the job of bringing up your heavy and winning arguments, such as disadvantages. This is one of the most persuasive strategies because if you think about it, you’re putting more light on your good arguments. Two reasons I say that.
First, if you respond to the 1AC in the 1NC, the 2AC will respond to those responses and that will further boost their case. You’re spending the first 24 minutes talking all about the AFF case and zero time on your case. Whereas if you spend your 1NC on your main winning NEG arguments, then the 2AC barely has time to build their own case because they’re scrambling to respond to your amazing arguments. By the time the 2NC brings up all the case arguments on the 1AC, the 1AR barely has any time to refute them because he has to respond to all the 1NC (carried through by the 1NR) and 2NC arguments.
Second, if you bring up an argument in the 1NC, you can respond to the AFF arguments on it in the 1NR and in the 2NR. If you bring up an argument in the 2NC, then you only get to respond to the AFF once in the 2NR while AFF gets two responses to your argument. This tells us that you want to be running your best arguments in the 1NC so that you have the most responses as possible to absolutely crush the AFF’s response (which chances are they only have one main response prepped out and then one they can cobble together when you respond to that response. If you can get three responses on an argument that most teams normally only put two responses on, then you’re going to catch the AFF off guard, which is something that always helps when trying to win rounds.)
“What about if the AFF runs a squirrel that NEG has no DA or solvency evidence on?” you might be asking yourself. “What else is there to do but talk about the 1AC?” In a scenario like that… I do not recommend using in-round prep to come up with your main arguments. Instead, once more, rely on your out-of-round preparation.
Here’s what you should do: All NEGs need a generic strat they can run on any case ready to go. The 1NC shouldn’t be case responses to the 1AC on a case you don’t have specific evidence for. The 1NC should have generic DAs, generic T presses, and generic solvency holes, etc. Generic briefs — especially generic DAs — are massively helpful in allowing you to win rounds you don’t have a ton of specific evidence for. I highly recommend writing as many as you can in order to boost how well you do during the season. I would also recommend picking up the Ethos sourcebook if you don’t already have it. The Ethos sourcebook includes four generic DAs that you can apply to almost any case in NCFCA or Stoa.
C. Why is this Important?
Okay, so maybe reducing prep time for AFF and NEG teams is good. Why does it really matter tho? Well, I would argue that if we encourage NEGs to take less prep time in-round, then they’ll create more generic strategy briefs for any case like all NEGs should be doing lol, we encourage better NEG block forming which is a net good.
Therefore, AFF and NEG doesn’t realistically need prep time. AFF has infinite prep time before the round and NEG has 30 minutes of free in-round prep time. To me, that sounds fair.
That being said, I’m not saying all debaters are better without prep time. In fact, that’s actually the problem. Debaters right now are too reliant on prep time when they shouldn’t be. But that can be fixed.
How To Reduce Your Need For In-Round Prep
The easiest solution to removing your reliance on prep time is two fold. First, never use prep time in practice rounds! My senior year partner (who is awesome by the way XD) and I did this with great success and found that we didn’t need a ton of prep time in normal rounds. Going into the later national opens, qualifiers, and nationals itself, I barely took any prep time for my 1ARs and only did so to talk with my partner because I already had my argumentation written down and plastered in my head. On the NEG side of things, since I was the 1N speaker, I would take no prep time and just run my generic or pre-prepped out arguments and my partner would only take prep time to either talk with me or get evidence from the other team. He already had thirty minutes of free prep time to shred the 1AC.
However, the second way you can reduce prep time is the more important way: out of round prep. The more time you spend out of round thinking about and preparing arguments, the less time you’ll have to do it in round. So maybe cut a TV show or video game period of your day and instead spend that half an hour or hour just thinking through your NEG brief and what the AFF is going to respond with. Or perhaps think about what NEG teams are going to say to your responses to their NEG arguments. In fact, this is a part of a really effective research strategy that I developed during my senior year of high school debate. You can check out the 4 steps of that effective research method over here.
You won’t reduce your reliance on prep time overnight, but you’ll probably find that you have less of a need for it by the end of the season while also maintaining good arguments. Let me be clear though: If using less prep time leads to a decrease in argumentation quality, I would say you’re not entirely ready to reduce your usage of prep time and should focus on more practice rounds and using more out of round prep to reduce your need for in-round prep time.
I think too many debaters rely on prep time to rely on their 5 minutes of prep time to replace out of round prep and the 30 free minutes NEG gets. These should be used to your advantage in round, but out of round prep is massively better than in-round prep education-wise and if you can attain the skill of not using or using little prep time and still creating fire quality arguments, it’s a net benefit to you because you maintain a psychological advantage by staying in the head of the judge rather than letting your opponent’s arguments settle in. Furthermore, it gives you better skills for the real world and you’ll eventually find it easier and more preferable with a lot of practice.
It’s ultimately a personal choice on whether you’d like to take steps to reduce or completely recycle and eliminate your prep time. However, it’s not something that can hurt your debating… only improve it.
Justin is a three-year alumnus of NCFCA and an honors student at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Currently a junior, he hopes to receive his degree in computer science with a specification of cyber security as well as minors in criminal justice and math. Justin has plans to achieve his master’s and PhD in computer science and specifically cyber security. In his senior year of high school debate, Justin went from never competing in an outround to averaging semis or quarters at every national open, including a 4th place at nationals, as well as averaging finals at regional tournaments. His philosophy in debate is that there are no rules. Providing one is ethical, the most persuasive argument flies. At the end of the day, Justin argues you should honor God & have fun! Debate is not all about winning, it’s about the skills you foster.
You can learn more about Justin by reading his bio, and you can book coaching with him over here.
Loved the article, but there are a few problems with this logic.
1. Real World – Taking prep time in now way hinders your ability to have normal conversations in the real world. I don’t know of a single debater – and I know a lot of debaters – who are hindered by prep time. The entire point of doing debate is to prepare you for the real world, which is why there is a difference between debate and the real world. Here’s what I mean: Debate is structured to get you to think critically, argue well, structure arguments in an organized way, etc. etc., and the best way to get debaters to do this is to give them time to think about these arguments so that they can achieve these goals, even if they lose the round. If we are going to conform debate to the real world then there is no point in doing debate.
2. Small Psychological Advantage – If I don’t take any prep before a speech, you may feel like superman and the other debaters may think that too, but the judge doesn’t. Last year in debate, I tried to take no prep time when I was aff, especially on my 2AC’s. However, even though I felt like it was a power-move I often got comments telling me to take more prep. Judges think much differently than debaters, and judges do not view no-prep as a reflection of preparedness, they see it as a lack of professionalism.
3. For Some, it’s easier than not – Great, if you’re that person, don’t take prep. However, discouraging the use of prep only benefits those specific people.
4. Prep time is used as a crutch – yes, because using it is great. Using less prep doesn’t mean teams are going to write more generics. It means they’ll take less prep. I’ve gone impromptu neg many times this year, and it didn’t encourage me to write more generic briefs. Why? Because they wouldn’t have helped. Developing specific argumentation is much more effective than general argumentation almost every time. General argumentation, especially in DA’s, is non-unique and therefore null. Furthermore, almost none of the arguments would have applied. I have many generic briefs (which I wrote pre-season, not because I got unbriefed) and I pulled them out when I got unbriefed – but they wouldn’t have worked, so I didn’t use them, I took prep time and I gave a speech that made logical sense, even though I didn’t read evidence.
Why to take prep – because no, it doesn’t make you a better debater, but it does allow you do debate better in a round. Not taking prep gives teams who do take prep an advantage. They get 5 minutes more time to think through arguments which means their arguments are better and more organized.
Ultimately, I believe taking all 5 minutes of prep is a much better strat than reducing it.