The Case for More Prep Time

Connor Engel | Jul 28, 2021
5 min read

The Opinions Expressed In This Blog Post Are Solely Those of the Author And Not Necessarily Those Of DebateDrills

Why does Lincoln Douglas debate have prep time? When our activity began it looked very different from how circuit debate functions today. Norms hadn’t been fully adopted from policy so a typical LD round would be far more traditional. An emphasis on slower pace and intuitive argumentation made the activity more of an exercise in persuasion and public speaking than competitive argumentation. In this format minimal prep time was reasonable. With less emphasis on the line by line and less burden to organize evidence, prep time was primarily used to lay out one’s argumentative strategy before the next speech and brainstorm responses. 4 minutes was typically enough time to decide which argument you would crystallize and extend for the judge. With much less variety of argumentation one could assume you had probably heard at least a variation of most arguments making prep time less necessary for generating responses. It was a time to catch one’s breath and ready themselves for the next speech, but not a pivotal moment in the round. Compared to the way prep time is used today there is a huge contrast.

In modern circuit debate, while prep time is certainly still used for strategic planning its main purpose seems to have shifted to organization. During the 4 minutes of prep in any elimination round of a bid tournament you can expect both debaters to use most of their prep hurriedly compiling speech docs rather than pensively musing on which aff advantage would sound the most convincing. With this in mind, how does this change the way we ought to view prep time, and why should we conclude that it ought to be increased?

1. More Prep Allows For Better Debating
Prep time is inevitably used for at least one of the following things: thinking of new responses, reviewing an opponent’s evidence, making strategic choices, or compiling existing responses/arguments into a speech document. Doing all or even a couple of these things at once is difficult enough within the span of 4 minutes, but the disparity becomes even clearer when one considers that prep time functionally occurs in halves. If one assumes that a debater must take prep time before each speech, then each time one enters prep they really only have 2 minutes. The more prep time we allow debaters the more well thought out responses and strategies will be, and the better organized speech docs will be. Increasing prep by just 1-2 minutes will help elevate the level of engagement while ensuring prep time doesn’t become too much of a crutch.

2. More Prep Leads to Fewer Cheesy Positions
Here a “cheesy strategy” is defined as one which generates its strategic value not from its thorough composition and proximity to the truth, but solely from the fact that it is unexpected. A classic debate technique is to read a non-disclosed, obtuse position and hope to win based on the fact that your opponent does not have enough time to untangle your position’s confusing web of dream logic. These positions aren’t educational and don’t endeavour to engage one’s opponent fairly. They only remain viable by exploiting an opponent’s inability to prepare a response. Thus the round is won not by doing the better debating, but by default, as your opponent simply has no idea what you’re talking about until it’s too late. Expanding prep time helps weaken these strategies without relying on dogmatic censorship of certain arguments or styles. The hope is that giving debaters more time to think will help them see the weaknesses in an argument rather than getting overwhelmed and frustrated as they have 2 minutes to decipher 6-7 minutes of a nonsensical position that’s difficult to flow and will often deliberately hide arguments.

3. Less Prep Makes Prep Time Too Important
While competitive debate has always emphasized the importance of thinking under pressure, pressure itself ought not be the primary aspect of a debate round. Debate is an activity that should first and foremost reward intelligent, efficient, and persuasive argumentation. And while the ability to act under pressure is necessary for competitive success, it would be wrong to insist that pressure is good for its own sake. I have seen many rounds revolve entirely around prep time. A debater was just 20 seconds away from compiling their doc but couldn’t and lost because of it. A debater lost because they were unable to focus after a judge decided to start and time prep for them before they were ready. Simply put, shorter prep time arbitrarily introduces extra pressure into a debate round at the expense of better debate. It forces debaters to prioritize objectively unimportant skills like quickly formatting Word documents over educational skills like weighing strategic options.

4. More Prep Lessons Inequality
We must pay attention to how prep time is subtly intertwined with disparities in technology and disability. If one has only 2 minutes of prep, having a computer that can open Word or Gmail in 3 seconds as opposed to 15 makes a significant difference. Similarly, those with dyslexia who may have trouble reading as quickly are uniquely disadvantaged when it comes to reading and compiling documents. Having a bit of extra wiggle room helps balance inequity while not providing either side with a unique advantage.

Sidenote: Prep Disparity
A slight side-effect of disclosure is the elimination of necessary prep time before the 1NC. Almost all high level neg debaters will have a 1NC strategy prepared before the 1AC even begins, so taking prep time before the 1NC serves almost no purpose. This also means that the neg is always heavily advantaged in terms of prep time as they can save all of it for the 1NC while at the very least the 1AR will probably have to take some time to compile a speech doc. In my mind this is the greatest limiter on growing speech times and something that should be considered. Nevertheless, it is still balanced by the 1AR’s ability to predict and prepare for the 1NC minimizing the prep time they have to take before the 1AR.

Prep time for every tournament should be 5 minutes, minimum. You can decide where you think the upper limit ought to be, but I would push you to really consider what the downsides would be to a form of debate in which we had all the time in the world to craft the best possible strategies and arguments before each speech. Would it really be so bad, and would it be worse than not having enough time?

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