These questions and answers cover what judging is like, how to give good feedback on ballots, what to do before each round starts, and more. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for below, try our FAQs for Coaches and Students; and of course, you can always e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
how do i know if i'm qualified to judge?
We require all judges to be very advanced, fluent, or native speakers of English – so, C1 or higher. If you’re not sure, consider whether you are comfortable listening to and writing in English for an hour or more at a time. We also require judges to be high school graduates. If you meet these two requirements – congratulations, you’re qualified! We consider all BEST performances to be works of art, and art is subjective; it doesn’t require any special certification or prior experience to be moved by it and think critically about it.
Will my expenses be covered?
Yes, we will reimburse you for your travel expenses and hotel costs. We will handle your hotel reservations, as well.
What is the time commitment of judging like?
Our regional tournaments will always start on Saturday morning and end on Sunday afternoon, and our national tournament will probably start on Friday night and end on Sunday morning. We ask that all judges be present and ready to judge the whole time. You won’t judge every round, but you must check in at the judge room before every round to see if you’re needed. If you don’t check in before each round, we will not cover your travel and hotel costs! We’re quite serious about this. Judging is a weekend-long commitment, and we invest a lot of money into ensuring we have enough qualified judges at each tournament. We ask that you be present, and in return we promise to provide you with an exciting, educational, and meaningful weekend.
I’ve never done this before. Will I receive any training?
Yes! We require all judges to attend a training at the tournament site before the tournament starts. This training will cover the rules and components of a good performance for each event. We also strongly recommend that you read our speech and debate rulebooks, look at ballots, and watch real performances on Youtube beforehand by searching for the performance event name.
How to Be a Better Judge
I’m a new judge and I’m feeling very nervous about judging A specific event. Can I just judge the other events?
We empathize with the stresses of judging for the first time (we’ve all been there), but we really believe that if you are C1 or above in English and a high school graduate and have attended our mandatory judge training, you are qualified to judge every event. Again, BEST performances are art. As a human being, you are pre-qualified to feel moved by it and have opinions about it. This includes debate! We want all judges to feel empowered to make decisions that are both informed by the training we give them and by their own unique, emotional responses to each performance. Trust yourself, trust that you will get better with each round you judge, and trust that the competitors are much, much more nervous than you are.
What should I do when I enter the room for the round I’m judging?
Get to your assigned room a few minutes before the round is scheduled to start, if possible, and make sure the desks are arranged so that there’s a space at the front of the room for students to perform in and a desk for you to sit at with a clear view. If the round is debate, you’ll need desks and chairs for each team at the front on either side and a little space in the middle for individual speakers.
Read out the names of the students competing in the round and make sure everyone’s there (keep in mind that if someone is double-entered in another event, they may come in late or leave right after they perform; this is okay).
Take a little time before starting to fill out the top part of each ballot with the competitor’s name, school code, round, section, and speaker number (you’ll have a master ballot with all of this information, but you need to write it on each individual ballot, too). You can ask competitors to write their piece or oratory titles on the board before starting, or you can just ask them before their performance begins.
Get out something to keep time with – phones work great as long as they’re on silent. You can also ask someone in the audience to keep time.
Let students know that they can request time signals, and explain how they’ll work. (See below!)
Smile. Welcome everyone to the round, remind them to silence their phones, and ask them to please refrain from talking or getting up to leave unless it’s between performances. Invite the first performer to the front, and you’re ready to begin!
What are time signals and how should I give them?
Time signals are given to let performers know how many minutes are left before the 30 second grace period begins. At the start of the round, let performers know that you can provide time signals and to tell you if they want them before they begin. Also let them know how you’ll give them. Most judges hold up fingers to show how many minutes are left (so, two fingers at the fifth minute to show two minutes left). A student may request that you just give a signal when they’ve reached the sixth or seventh minute, which is fine, too. It may feel stressful to have to keep track of time signals while you’re writing comments and paying attention to the performance, but we promise that no one is more stressed than the performer is! You’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
What should I write in the ballot comment sections?
The comments section is a space for you to provide feedback regarding what you think is strong and what needs improvement in a performance. Students do see your comments after the tournament is over, so this part of the ballot is a wonderful opportunity for them to better understand why they ranked the way they did, receive some encouragement, and learn how to improve. Coaches often have to judge at tournaments, so they can’t see their students’ performances themselves and give their own feedback. That’s where you come in!
The more you judge, the better your feedback will become, but there are some habits you can adopt right off the bat which will make your comments more helpful:
Writing only praise (or worse, nothing at all) helps no one. Students who rank poorly may not understand why or what they should work on for next time, and students who rank first or second may come away thinking there’s no room for them to grow.
Relatedly, your critiques should be constructive. Please be supportive. Always frame your comments as suggestions for ways to improve, not statements of what they did wrong. Instead of writing “I couldn’t understand you,” write “Practice slowing down and enunciating clearly.”
Aim for a balance between writing your comments and keeping your eyes on the performers. Students notice when judges spend the whole round looking down at their ballots, and it doesn’t feel good. They think, how can they judge me fairly when they’re not even looking at me? Jot down comments, but don’t try to make them super exhaustive; you can always take ten or fifteen minutes after the round is over to flesh out what you want to say.