Points of Clarification When You’re Totally Lost

By Max Neuman, Columbia University, ’20

The point of clarification (POC) session is one of the newer arrivals on the APDA scene, coming into its prime over the years since the league-wide adoption of Rocky Clocky in stopped the clock on the PMC during the time when the opposition asked clarification questions. Points of clarification during the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) speech time were a component of British Parliamentary (BP) and APDA, but they were rare, and, crucially, discretionary for the PM, who had to use their own speech time to answer them. After this development the time spent on POCs grew until, in the 2016-2017 season, a norm of capping POCs at 15 minutes began to emerge. Even this extent was appalling to many dinos, who had been accustomed to a single question, or even none at all, prior to the beginning of the PM’s argumentation during their debating careers. As POCs have grown longer and case statements have become more complex, the POC session has become almost as important and powerful for opposition as the 15-minute motion prep session of BP. As with anything debaters do, several schools of thought have emerged about how to properly utilize the POC as an opp team.

Finding Win Conditions

In actor cases, especially about actors whom you do not know very much about, ask what the actor’s goals are. Different people interpret “the spirit of feminism” or “the Ethiopian military in 1960” to have different interests. This can also help to clear up weighing, allowing you to focus more on LOC arguments when, based on POCs, you know what matters most. Questions like “what do I care about” and “what does an optimal world look like for me?” are easy ways to find out what gov will prioritize in their case. Note that if you are familiar with the actor and can make a convincing argument about something, it can be advantageous to not allow government to caveat actor analysis, and instead win a debate about why they want what you say they want.

Buying Time

The most startling aspect of APDA for many novices is the complete absence of preparation. While policy debaters have up to a year of prep, LD debaters have two months, PF debaters have one month, and Worlds debaters have 15 minutes, LOs are expected to come up with 8:30 of material in 7:30. To give the LO some room to breathe and to write, many MOs learn the dark art of asking circular or obscure questions. (Although this article is written for the benefit of opp teams, I should remind govs of the oft-forgotten fact that POCs are at the discretion of gov, not opp. If you feel like cheekily asking opp if their LOC has been written up yet or even cutting POCs short altogether, you are well within your rights to do so).

Avoiding A Spec Call

Among all of the theory arguments (arguments claiming that the other team has broken or abused the rules, and should therefore be dropped for the sake of debate) on APDA, few are harder to win a ballot with than the spec call. The standard for what an opp team should know varies from “an average American” to “a typical APDA debater” to “an informed global citizen” to “whatever the judge happens to know.” Moreover, unless the government’s entire case hinges upon an intimate geographical and mechanical understanding of the precise location and extraction methods of oil deposits in Venezuela, they can simply win based on other arguments in the round, forcing opp to waste valuable minutes on a spec call. To bolster a spec call (or protect against the necessity of one), it also helps to conclude even the briefest POC session by asking “is there anything else we should know for this round?” as a blanket question to elicit sneaky information, and to make gov look worse if anything wildly unknown emerges during an MG spike.

The Snap Decision

Some debaters think that POCs are in fact disadvantageous to opp. They contend that they unnecessarily offer previews of sneaky opp arguments, allow gov to introduce more spec into the round, and cause the LOC to become bogged down in factual minutiae. For instances where no opp arguments present themselves after the case statement is read, these opp teams are happy to resort to a tight call instead of digging for a needle-sized opp in a haystack of POCs. Try implementing the above strategies in your rounds, and see what works for you. Depending on how accessible a case is, don’t be afraid to change up your POCs, just as you can vary your opp tactics.

Further Reading

Former Swarthmore Debater Jodie Goodman also writes excellently about POCs to ask in rounds
about certain topics in a very handy and more specific guide. You can find that here.

Posted in Basics, Tips and Strategies

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