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A debate is a team-based form of assessment where groups of two or more students preparepresent and defend an argument or stance often in front of an audience. Typically, each group is assigned a particular stance on a controversial topic and must deliver a series of oral presentations/arguments to argue their stance, supported by evidenceA debate commonly takes place between two opposing teams but may also involve audience interaction.  

Typically used to…. 

  • assess your ability to form or justify an argument.  
  • assess your capacity to select materials appropriately to support your opinions.   
  • assess your ability to present and communicate information, arguments and ideas coherently and concisely.  
  • assess your capacity to consider multiple perspectives and to analyse and question your own thought processes and underlying assumptions. 
  • evaluate ‘soft’ presentation skills, e.g. interactivity, ability to collaborate. 

Debates are often used in disciplines such as Law, Politics or Social Work where students, as graduates, are expected to be able to present and defend their positions against other parties. However, debates can also be used in many disciplines. 

Key considerations when preparing for debates

When preparing for a debate as part of an assessment, always refer to the guidelines and requirements provided by your lecturer, keeping the following points in mind:  

  • Is the debate being used for formative or summative assessment purposes (or both?) 
  • If your debate contributes to your final grade (i.e. is being used for summative assessment), how much is it worth? 
  • What criteria is being used to assess your debate contributions? Has a rubric been provided? 
  • Are there any Trinity guides/supports that might be useful to review in advance? 
  • Ask yourself ‘why is this topic important?’ ‘Why should people care about your side of the debate?’ This should give some insight into the points you should make. 
  • Research the topic as you would an essay or report and make sure your points are supported with evidence. 
  • When presenting your arguments, structure is vital: have a few clear points and tell the audience when you are moving from one to the next. 
  • Use examples, statistics and personal anecdotes to make your speech engaging. 
  • Think about how you will prepare your notes. Will you write out your speech in full or will you summarise in bullet points and adapt according to opposing arguments? 
  • Think about the opposing team’s potential counter arguments. How will you try to counter these in your contributions? 


Trinity-supported tools:  

A student perspective on debates

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