WHAT IS Decision Calculus?

If you can successfully argue Framework and do Impact Calculus, you have reached what I like to call Decision Calculus. The combination of the big picture perspective and the internal comparisons make voting an easy process. Both tools instruct the judge on voting. With preparation and practice, the right combination of Framework and Impact Calculus will help a good debater become a great debater.

A friendly reminder: Framework is different than Impact Calculus. Framework concerns why the judge should adopt a certain perspective on the round. Framework can shape Impact Calculus by articulating what should be the most important considerations when comparing impacts. Framework does not, however, prevent you from making impact comparisons that do not fall neatly into the Framework.


Decision Calculus is when you use your Framework to encompass your impact comparisons and present the judge a complete picture.

WHAT IS contrast?


Contrast (verb):

: to be different especially in a way that is very obvious


: to compare (two people or things) to show how they are different

I would add…

: the key to winning a debate.

Contrast can clean up the messiest round because it shows the judge how your side and your opponents’ side are DIFFERENT.

To truly win, you cannot simply win your own arguments or prove that your impacts are important.

You have to prove your arguments or impacts are BETTER than your opponents’, thus the need for contrast.

To create effective contrast, use the tools in your PF toolkit.


  • Pre-emptive arguments: Embed pre-emptive arguments in your case in order to begin to draw comparisons with what your opponent is likely to say.
  • Framework: this should set-up a structure that helps you compare the two sides of the debate in your case. Extend it to continue the contrast throughout the round.
  • Pro/Con language: Make sure you tag arguments as yours and your opponents CLEARLY. You want to make sure the judge knows what belongs to what team.
  • Models: Using models in the Summary and Final Focus can help build contrast with organizational structures. One such model is the Pro world vs. Con world separation of arguments.
  • Impact Calculus: The tool to explicitly compare impacts based on components such as magnitude and probability.

Before you focus in on your goal of winning, aim for the goal of contrasting your case with your opponent’s case. You’ll be on your way to persuasion and a win.

WHAT IS debating on the circuit?

“The Circuit” is a mysterious and foreign world for many debaters. What is it? How do you get there? Who are these elusive beings called “circuit debaters”?

Here’s a post to break down the mysteries and myths about debating on the circuit.

What defines a circuit tournament?

  • A circuit tournament will have a diversity of schools competing at it. Diversity means schools from different districts, states, etc.
  • Local tournaments are generally not circuit tournaments.
  • Circuit tournaments often have a round robin or a bid to the TOC.

What are major tournaments on the circuit?

  • Major college tournaments include: Harvard, Berkeley, Emory, Stanford,
  • Large regional tournaments include: Glenbrooks, Bronx Science
  • TOC Qualifying Tournaments are often circuit
  • The Tournament of Champions (TOC)
  • The NCFL National Tournament
  • The NSDA National Tournament

What is the TOC and why does it matter?

  • The Tournament of Champions is a tournament you have to qualify for by receiving at least two bids (three is a guarantee) in order to attend. You win bids by reaching a certain round at a TOC qualifying tournament (usually dependent on how many teams and schools attend). You can also apply at-large if you only have one bid or do not have bids but believe your winning record justifies your acceptance.

What are the logistical differences at circuit tournaments?

  • The pool of debate teams will usually be larger than non-circuit tournaments.
  • The number of preliminary debates will usually be higher than a local tournament. 6 is often the number of prelims you’ll have.
  • The judging pool will usually be more varied and include more experienced judges (ex-debaters, college students, etc).

What are the debating style differences?

  • Evidence is often more prominent and more often challenged if fishy.
  • Framework is a requirement for many judges and many debates.
  • You may encounter regional differences in both debate conventions and stylistic differences.

If you are new to circuit debating, you should realize….

  • Circuit debates are not radically different than other debates.
  • Stay true to your style and don’t get intimidated by the “big fish” in the pond.
  • The TOC and TOC bids are not everything. It is one tournament. Often teams with many bids have the resources to travel often to compete at qualifying tournaments. It is one measure of success, but not the defining measure. Don’t go bid crazy!
  • Try out debating on the circuit if you can. It will challenge your skills, open your eyes to the larger debate world, and be a lot of fun.

WHAT IS Impact Interactivity?

None of the tools of Impact Calculus (magnitude, timeframe, probability) are independent. All three interact within each impact. A good rule is to combine two comparisons together in your IC. To compare all three you is often too complicated and will hinder your word economy. Be strategic about which two best fit the impacts you want to compare. When working on your case, it is a good idea to sketch out the Probability, Timeframe, and Magnitude of the impacts you will be arguing. With these prepared, it will be easier to do IC in round; you will only have to analyze your opponent’s arguments. This will also make strategizing about which comparisons to make simpler when you know the strong points of your own impacts. Here are examples of comparisons interacting.

Probability + Timeframe

While the probability of a dangerously large asteroid hitting the earth is high, we know that it could be predicted and will not occur for hundreds of years. Therefore, while funding for an asteroid defense is a good idea, we should prioritize fighting the growing hole in the ozone layer. Although the probability of significant growth in the ozone hole is lower, we know it will occur in the next few years.

Probability + Magnitude

While the probability of the seepage of radioactive waste is small, the effects of seepage will devastate the environment, the health and economy of our society, and cause irreversible damage. Nuclear energy may guarantee more energy for our country, but there are other energy options that pose no threat to our environment, health, and the economy. These other options pose no irreversible harms. We must limit our nuclear energy because of the devastation the waste can cause.

Timeframe + Magnitude

If we ban handguns today, the decrease in gun sales may be immediate, but the removal of handguns from the population will take an extended period of time. The immediate impact of guns remaining in the hands of criminals is much more devastating when people cannot buy guns for self-defense. Though a ban may be effective in the future, the short-term harms are too great to justify the long-term chance of solving the gun problem.