Member Login

Big Questions Debate

Big Questions is a debate format supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. High school and middle school students will grapple with complex worldview questions as they debate both sides of the 2020-2021 resolution,

Resolved: Mathematics was discovered, not invented.

More than 100,000 students across the country have debated the intersections of science and philosophy, and almost $1.5 million has been awarded to programs since 2016! As a result of the incredible success of this event, the Templeton Foundation has generously decided to provide another three years of support for Big Questions.

Big Questions is designed to enhance students’ current debate experiences, opening their minds and encouraging them to engage in life discussion that may not align with their previously held beliefs. Whether or not students change their opinion, the rich experience of this debate event will advance their knowledge, comfort, and interest in learning more about the subject matter.

Special thanks to the John Templeton Foundation for providing the grant support to make this event possible.

Explore Event Resources

Learn the Format

Interested in hosting a Big Questions event at your school?

2020 Nationals Final Round

2019 Nationals Final Round

BQ Updates

2020-2021 Updates

  • In order to maximize the Big Questions opportunities, schools, booster clubs, or non-profit organizations may be given a maximum financial award earned per year.
  • District tournaments are not eligible for grant funding.
  • The full grant amount will be awarded following the completion of the reporting requirements.
    Standard awards (Champion, Runner Up, Third Place) may be optionally ordered (with costs deducted from the grant). The cost of customized plaques and membership (if applicable) will be deducted from the check. Printable certificates are available for free.
  • Applications will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. If your application is not immediately accepted, we encourage you to host your event and turn in the reporting information to be put on a waitlist to receive funding if your application status changes.
  • Applicants should carefully consider their estimated number of participants before applying. For budgetary reasons, we will not award amounts above the amount estimated on the application.
  • The NSDA reserves the right to bill back schools for the shipping and cost of awards if the event is canceled.

Grant Requirements

  • Rounds must follow the Big Questions format described in the Big Questions Format Manual
  • Each student must compete in a minimum of 3 rounds.
  • A minimum of 10 students must compete. A partnership counts as two students.
  • High school and middle school students are eligible.
  • To be eligible, schools must be in the United States.
  • Due to the demand for the Big Questions grant, only NSDA members will be eligible to receive funding. If you are currently a non-member school, you can apply part of your Big Questions grant to cover the cost of membership!
    Applicants affiliated with the school’s speech and debate program will be given preference.

Additional Opportunities

  • Elimination rounds are encouraged, but not required.
  • Your own school’s students qualify under the grant and may be counted toward your total number of student participants.
  • You are encouraged to charge an entry fee to increase the likelihood that students have thoroughly prepared for the event and as an additional way of raising money.
  • You may apply to host multiple events by filling out the application more than once. Each event must have at least 50% new participants. It is rare that an institution will be accepted to receive funding for more than two events.

Reporting Materials

All hosts will be asked to complete a host pre-survey prior to the beginning of the event. Complete host pre-survey prior to your event.

Judge Training

All judges should be provided access to the NSDA’s judge training.

Print Ballots and Judge Primers

  • The tournament will use Big Questions ballots designed by the NSDA.
  • The tournament will print a copy of the judge primer for each judge to keep. The judge primer will be distributed before the start of round one.


  • When you apply for an event, you will select the number of plaques you wish to purchase from the NSDA Trophy Shop.
  • At minimum, the tournament will provide the top three students in the division with a Big Questions plaque purchased from the NSDA Trophy Shop. The cost will be $10 per award + $4 per award shipping. The amount owed for awards will be automatically pulled from the final grant payment.
  • If you are purchasing awards for all of your tournament events through the NSDA Trophy Shop, please contact for special pricing options.
Invite new, non-member schools to participate in your Big Questions tournament and they’ll receive a half price school membership and free Resource Package after your event! Learn more.

Topicality Requirements

  • The tournament must have a staff member checking in Big Questions ballots. They must check that all parts of the ballot are filled out properly, as well as receive verbal confirmation from each judge that the winning debater(s) did not run any non-topical positions.
  • If a judge votes for a side that did not run a topical position, the following will occur:
    • The winning debater(s) on the judge’s ballot will be forfeited by tab.
    • The judge will be permanently removed from the pool, forfeit their payment (if hired by the tournament), or the school that provided the judge will be fined.

Survey Completion

  • The tournament will request that student participants and judges in the Big Questions division fill out the survey after at least three rounds are completed. The tournament will also request that any audience members who watched at least one Big Questions round take the survey.
  • The survey should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Please have your participants fill out the online survey.

All materials need to be submitted within one week after the final day of your Big Questions event. Missing this deadline will result in forfeiture of your grant award.

1. Survey data

Judges, students, and audience members must complete the online survey. Any paper copies must be manually submitted online by the event host.

2. Reporting form

The reporting form allows us to determine how much you have earned in your second grant installment. The final question on the reporting form will ask you to submit the results within this excel spreadsheet.

3. Complete and provide certificates to students.

Click here to download a template for a certificate.

2019 National Tournament Details


  • Students can only qualify to the National Tournament by being the top-placing student at their district’s Big Questions national qualifying event.
  • District tournaments are not eligible for grant funding
  • Big Questions entries will not count toward a school’s district entry limits. District committees may choose to add a limit to the number of students that each school can bring in the division, but this will be separate from the district entry limits.
  • All competitors must be NSDA members
  • The district Big Questions division may be held in conjunction with the district tournament or as a stand-alone event on a separate date. The district event will meet the following requirements.
    • Minimum of 10 high school competitors
    • All students must compete as individuals
    • More than one school in attendance
    • The event must be organized through or with the permission of the District Chair.
    • The event will follow the tabulation method chosen by the District Committee for all other debate events. For example, if the district is using the double down method for the other debate events they must also use double down for Big Questions.
    • The top-placing student will not be eligible to compete in the Big Questions division at the Nation Tournament if they have qualified in a main event. A BQ qualifier may choose to attend the National Tournament in Big Questions over World Schools Debate.
    • If the Big Questions district event is held before the district’s main national qualifying tournament, the top-placing student’s name may be withdrawn and replaced with an alternate’s if the top-placing student qualifies in another event.

As a coach and educator, I like Big Questions because it allows students to discuss big philosophical ideas in a format that all levels of students can attempt. In a time where teachers are constantly told to increase the rigor and broaden the curriculum, this style of debate offers debaters and teachers an opportunity to do both.

Jeff Stutzman

Concord High School, IN