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Guide to the NSDA Nationals – America’s Biggest Debate Tournament

Guide to the NSDA Nationals – America’s Biggest Debate Tournament

Are you a middle school or high school student interested in Debate and Public Speaking? We’ve got everything you need to know to get involved with the nation’s most prestigious speech and debate competition: NSDA Nationals.
1. What is the NSDA National Speech & Debate Tournament?

Before we get into the details, NSDA stands for the National Speech and Debate Association. So, what does the NSDA do? Every year, the NSDA hosts the world’s largest, most prestigious, and acclaimed speech and debate tournament, commonly known as the NSDA National Championship. This year, 6,700 middle school and high school students from 1,500 schools will compete for 42 championship titles at NSDA Nationals 2024.

In addition to NSDA Nationals, the NSDA also has NSDA Districts competitions, which are the most common way to qualify for NSDA Nationals. There are many different events within each NSDA competition—including but not limited to Commentary and Prose for Speech, Big Questions, and World Schools for Debate. See here for a comprehensive guide on NSDA Competition Events and descriptions of what makes each one unique. You’ll be surprised how many types of speech and debate there are; there’s definitely a perfect option for you!

2. When do I register for NSDA Nationals?

Before we get into how to register for NSDA Nationals, we’ll cover some important details on Nationals 2024 (Nats24) and how to qualify for this exclusive, competitive tournament.

When and where is NSDA Nationals 2024?

NSDA Nationals is split into two tournaments: one for middle schoolers and one for high schoolers. See below for a detailed breakdown of NSDA dates and NSDA locations.

NSDA Nationals for High School: June 16th to June 21st, 2024

NSDA Nationals for Middle School: June 18th to June 21st, 2024

Both NSDA Nationals will be held in: Des Moines, IA

How to register for NSDA Nationals 2024

Do you qualify for NSDA Nationals this year? Registration for NSDA Nationals 2024 opened on March 15th so make sure to register ASAP!

Registration can be quite complicated, and many students like yourself are eager to participate, but don’t know how to get started. Watch this detailed webinar held by NSDA hosts for a step-by-step walkthrough of how to register for Nats24 on Tabroom.

What is Tabroom?

Tabroom is the official portal for NSDA events. Each participant has their own profile on Tabroom and can use this platform to register for competitions. Tabroom is also where students can find answers to common questions like “Which NSDA District am I in?” or “What NSDA events are near me?”

NSDA Schedule and Venues

Check out the following helpful links for more specific information on Nats24!

NSDA Manual/Guidelines

3. Who won NSDA Nationals 2022, 2023?

Excited about the tournament? Check out previous NSDA results to see what categories you can win in.

4. How do I qualify for NSDA Districts or Nationals tournaments?

How to qualify for NSDA Nationals

To qualify for NSDA Nationals, students must attend other debate tournaments called National Qualifiers, for a chance to compete at the National tournament. The most common way to qualify to compete in NSDA Nationals is through competing in and earning points at NSDA District Tournaments. “Each district tournament is hosted by an Association District, which is made up of a set of schools in a given geographic region.” We’ll walk you through how this works. You can also refer to the NSDA website on How do I Qualify?

First, am I eligible to compete in NSDA Districts?

Login to your account on https://speechanddebate.org/ and verify you have at least 25 NSDA points. Your school must be an NSDA school in order to compete in NSDA Districts—check with your school teachers and refer to How does NSDA work? *link subsection*

Second, which NSDA District am I in?

You can find this information on your account page. On the left side menu, click on District Info page to find when/where is NSDA Districts 2024 for your district. Need some more help? Watch these helpful “All About Districts” tutorials.

Third, what District events can I compete in?

The following are all NSDA Districts competitions that you can enter to qualify for NSDA Nationals.

  1. Compete in District Congress in the Senate or the House. Review the NSDA Rules for Congressional Debate.
  2. Compete in a Speech or a Debate event. Review the different types of NSDA Competition Events.
  3. Join an NM District World Schools Debate.

Before attending a District tournament, read up on the District Tournament Operations Manual.

While it is now too late to qualify through Districts for Nationals 2024, there are still exciting other ways to get a spot at Nationals 2024. We’ll cover these options below.

Last-Chance Qualifier

If you don’t already qualify for NSDA Nationals 2024, take advantage of the Last-Chance Qualifier. This is a free, live, online competition held on April 25-27th, 2024, exclusive to current NSDA members in high school. Students who didn’t qualify for Nats24 through Districts tournaments have a last chance to qualify if they successfully compete at these events. However, the student’s school must have participated in at least one district tournament. There are 7 categories you can compete in: Speech, Congress, Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum, Policy, Big Questions, and World Schools.

Check out the NSDA Nationals 2024 Last-Chance Qualifier Schedule and read more details on Eligibility. Registration is already open and closes on April 19th, 2024.

Non-Qualifier Supplemental Participation

Did you find out you don’t qualify for NSDA Nationals? Don’t worry; you can still participate in the Non-Qualifier Supplemental Events. These events include Extemporaneous Debate, Impromptu, Expository, Commentary, Original Word-Spoken Poetry, Poetry, prost, Pro Con Challenge, and Storytelling. Supplemental Events are a great opportunity for an amateur debater to attend NSDA Nationals, watch more experienced debaters, learn new skills, and practice with other newer, non-qualifying debaters in a less intense, competitive setting.

Watch the Nationals 2024 (Nats24) Info Session, where you’ll find tournament-specific details on how to participate in the Last-Chance Qualifier, Non-Qualifier Supplemental Participation, hotels near the venue, transportation, and much more.

5. How does NSDA work?

NSDA is a membership-based organization, so your school must have an NSDA membership for you to compete in NSDA events. How do I join NSDA? Check out NSDA memberships for schools, students, and coaches.

How do NSDA points work?

If you’re like most students new to NSDA, you’re confused about what NSDA points are and how you get NSDA points. When you first joined NSDA as a member, you had 0 points. As you compete in speech and debate events, you earn merit points. There are many different degree levels you can advance to as you accumulate points.

How do NSDA degrees work?











(More advanced degrees available.)

What is the NSDA Honor Society?

NSDA students who earn at least 75 merit points are considered part of the nationwide-renowned, prestigious NSDA Honor Society. “Students who are members of the National Speech & Debate Association’s Honor Society stand out in the college admissions process.” –College Counselor (NSDA Website).

6. How many NSDA members are there?

NSDA currently has 137,568 students and over 2 million alumni. 3,002 high schools and 551 middle schools are official NSDA member schools. Famous NSDA alumni include Oprah Winfrey, Ted Cruz, Elizabeth Warren, Celeste Ng, Min Jin Lee, Brad Pitt, Zac Efron and Idina Menzel! Check out more official NSDA member statistics.

7. What is NSDA Road to Nationals?

NSDA Road to Nationals is a fund for high school students to attend NSDA Nationals. This NSDA grant awards $250 to $1,000 to accepted students. The applications are sent through the school instead of to each student, and each school can only send one application. These funds are given on a rolling basis open from March 12 to May 2. The application isn’t essay based, and the longest responses are max 250 words, hence making this more need-based and different from a typical scholarship application.

8. How much does NSDA cost?

The entry fee for middle schoolers attending NSDA Nationals is $45-50 per student, and $75-100 per student for high schoolers. This doesn’t include the school/students’ membership fees.

9. Is NSDA international?

NSDA does accept students from international schools—have your school administrator email info@speechanddebate.org While international schools obviously cannot participate in Districts tournaments, they can compete in Last-Chance Qualifiers. Find more information on NSDA international programs here.

10. Who are the judges for NSDA Nationals?

While there isn’t a list of judges, due to the large number of events at the tournament, you can find more information on what qualifies a coach to become a judge for Nationals 2024.

11. How else can I get involved with the tournament?

If you don’t qualify for NSDA Nationals or want to get involved in Nats24 and it’s too late to register, you can volunteer. Fill out this form with your contact information and availability between June 13th to June 24th. This is an excellent chance to get your foot in the door and watch some heated, highly intellectual debates and speeches from some of the most talented student speakers.

12. Why should I participate in NSDA competitions?

1) Being a NSDA member can help boost you into top colleges.

Being on the NSDA Honor Society is very impressive to colleges, and makes you a standout applicant, as it is “one of the oldest and most respected honor societies known to college admissions offices” (Read more about NSDA Honor Society). Hence, NSDA has a proven record of their alumni enrolling in top-ranking colleges and universities compared to the national average (refer to graph below).

Picture1 1
(Graph from Reasons to Join the NSDA)

2) NSDA competitions teach you skills vital to academic success.

All NSDA events are recognized as intense, competitive, and excellent achievements– offering incredible growth opportunities. Competing at NSDA Nationals demonstrates your strong research and organizational skills, as well as oral and writing composition skills. And most importantly, it builds your confidence. Debating and public speaking develop your critical thinking skills and teach you how to present yourself professionally, both in language and posture. Debating in a World Schools team can improve your collaboration, teamwork, and leadership skills, as this debate tournament relies heavily on working together with students you’ve never met from other schools.

In debate events specifically, you will learn to think on your feet and quickly develop counterarguments without prior preparation. Practicing debate will make you a more independent, insightful, and creative thinker. Speech & Debate goes beyond Public Speaking, thus why we encourage all students to try it out. Since debate tournaments select topics relevant to current events, students will be very well versed in world affairs and become well-educated, socially in-tune, global citizens.

Hence, this explains why NSDA debaters have on average a 0.66 higher GPA than the average student (Reasons to Join the NSDA).

3) Win nationally recognized NSDA Awards and college scholarships.

NSDA offers many opportunities for students across the country to gain recognition for their excellent speech and debate skills. As a prestigious and acclaimed organization, NSDA awards are a big deal to college admissions. NSDA awards include All Americans, Academic All Americans, District Student of the Year, and National Student of the Year, just to list a few. Read more about the different types of NSDA winners.

Each year, the NSDA offers a total of $150,000 in college scholarships to its best students. Join the NSDA to take advantage of these scholarship opportunities. Also, be sure to check out these 200+ NSDA Scholarship Listings for college-specific speech and debate students!

13. How do I prepare for the NSDA Tournaments?

Take advantage of the member exclusive NSDA practice questions.

Another bonus reason to become a NSDA member: you gain access to thousands of exclusive online educational resources to help you improve your speech and debate skills. Create an account today and get started on “50 individual drills and practice activities for delivery, prep, strategy, memorization, characterization, movement, and more” (login and access practice questions through this link).

Earn NSDA points in events both inside and outside your classroom.

Stacking up NSDA points is easy! You can even earn merit points at non-NSDA speech and debate events—in fact you can even earn them right from your own classroom. Refer to the tables below to see what you can do to prepare, and how many points you’ll earn from those activities.

Tables from NSDA

Carefully review NSDA’s guides

Helpful links:

Hear insider tips from the 2014 NSDA Nationals Champion in Lincoln-Douglas debate: Lawrence Zhou. While most of the tips in Lawrence’s blog are specific to Nats23, you can skip to section 5 Practice Presentation for more relevant tips.

14. Participate in NSDA World Schools Debate Tournaments

“World Schools Debate is a three-on-three format… Resolutions come in two types: prepared motions and impromptu motions. Teams will be assigned… either the government team proposing the motion or the opposition team advocating the rejection of the motion.” Read more about NSDA World Schools topics, application, and rules here.

15. Take a debate course with Aralia Education

While the above options are great, the best way to receive detailed, personalized feedback and direct, attentive guidance before participating in NSDA competitions is to take a class with Aralia Education. Check out our Public Speaking and Debate online class open to all high school students. We prepare our students well with in-class, live speeches and debates, as well as class-wide critiques. Our students are encouraged to be self-driven and take charge of their learning, while guided by expert teachers with records for bringing out the best in their students. Students will be trained in all sorts of debate and speech events and, due to our intimate class sizes, will also be able to get insightful, individualized, constructive feedback. Reach out to us with any questions!

Further reading: 6 Debate Competitions for High School Students

Public Speaking
Public Speaking and Debate

This Public Speaking and Debate class will offer the opportunity to speak and listen to others talk only as much as possible. We will alternate between learning the structure of different types of speeches and making presentations by one student to the rest of the class. After each speech by students, we will have a critique from the peers, and the teacher. They will also be required and coached on how to participate in the discussion and to critique their peers.


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