Rules and General Information


Modeled after the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl and the National High School Ethics Bowl (Regional and National Competitions), the NJ Middle School Ethics Bowl involves teams of students from grades 5 through 8 analyzing a series of wide-ranging ethical dilemmas.


The Ethics Bowl is about giving an insightful perspective on each case, one that a layperson should be able to follow. The competition values students’ reasoning abilities, so the emphasis is more on the broader ethical implications of the cases and less on a rule-oriented approach. It’s not about memorizing ethical theories or important philosophers, and teams should not focus on citing philosophers or moral theories. Ethics Bowl is designed to promote thoughtful, civil dialogue about difficult questions.


Teams should score highly when they demonstrate good ethical reasoning, clarity about and consistency in their views, and a willingness to engage thoughtfully with points made by the other team.



(adapted from the rules for the NJ High School Ethics Bowl, December 2018)


1. For the sake of fairness, judges should be strict in enforcing the time limits during the debates, although the teams should also be allowed to finish their sentences and thoughts. One minute notice is given before time is up.


2. Teams are not allowed to use notes prepared in advance. They are only allowed to take notes during the debate and presentations. Electronic devices are only allowed for keeping track of time.


3. Teams are allowed to present in any way that they want. Whether teams have only one speaker or let all members speak should not influence the judges’ evaluation.


4. Judges evaluate teams based on their performance during the match. Teams do NOT have to defend a specific position, and they also do NOT have to oppose each other. The goal of the competition is to articulate the best analysis of the problem and present the best possible solution. Breadth and depth of the analysis are the main criteria.


5. To emphasize the collaborative aspect of the debates, students are allowed to stay seated during the debates if they prefer. However, teams should agree in advance whether both stand or sit

while speaking.


6. When one team speaks, the other team and audience members must remain silent, although writing and passing notes is permitted. The judges should address any unacceptable behavior including, but not limited to:


  • Coaches, parents, or audience members communicating with (verbally or non-verbally), or demonstrably reacting to, team members during a match.

  • Judges showing hostility or asking inappropriate questions to team members. Inappropriate questions include, but are not limited to, any that highlight a participant’s race, religion, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, appearance, etc. Judges should direct their constructive questions to teams based on the discussion, not to individuals.

  • Anyone in the room who intentionally makes distracting noises while one of the teams, judges, or moderator has the floor.

  • Foul, insulting, or excessively graphic language or confrontational behavior by anyone in the room. 


7. No dress code is in effect.



The NJ MS Ethics Bowl is composed of three rounds: two open rounds, and a final round between the two teams who earn the most cumulative wins from the panel of judges.


Each round includes two teams (five students per team, with up to two alternates: each team has a maximum of 7 students), three judges and a moderator (as well as any family, friends and other audience members).




After the two teams (3-5 students) have taken their seats, this is how the round unfolds:


  • A coin is tossed by the moderator to determine Team A and Team B. The school that wins the toss can choose to either present first or respond first. The first Presenting Team will be designated as Team A; the other team is Team B.

  • The case to be discussed in the first half of Round 1 will then be announced by the moderator.

  • The moderator will then hand out copies of the case to each student on both teams; he/she will then read the case out loud. Students on each team are permitted to take notes during this time.

  • To start the round, the Moderator will ask the question to be answered.

  • Then, both teams have 2 minutes to confer.


1. Presentation – TEAM A

Team A has 5 minutes to present its analysis of the case.

Worth 15 points


2. Commentary – TEAM B

Both teams have 1 minute to confer, Team B has 3 minutes to comment on Team A’s


Worth 10 points


Note:  During this portion of the round, Team B should not present its analysis of the case under

discussion, but rather should comment upon Team A’s presentation with the goal of helping to

strengthen it by commenting on the presentation’s strengths, noting its flaws, and pointing out

what has been omitted or needs further development.


3. Response – TEAM A

Both teams have 1 minute to confer, Team A has 3 minutes to respond to Team B’s commentary

Worth 5 points


4. Judges’ Questions – 10 minutes of questions addressed to the presenting team only, not individual students.

Worth 20 points


Before asking questions, judges may confer briefly. The opposing team may also ask additional questions. Judges will ask questions of not more than 45 seconds to give students sufficient opportunity to reply.


The judges will make individual scoring decisions for the first case after the question period for Team A.


Then the moderator will announce the new case and the procedure repeats with Team B as the presenting team and Team A as the commenting team.


At the end of each round, the moderator will compile the scores and announce the round’s

winner. The winner of the round will be the team that is deemed the winner by a majority of

judges (either unanimous or 2 out of 3) – not according to total points.



(Adapted from NJ High School Ethics Bowl, December 2018)


1. Judges do not only add their scores but also vote for the winner of the debate.


2. Teams win the debate if they have the majority of votes. It is possible to win and have lower overall scores.

For example:

Judge 1: Team A 48, Team B 43 (1 vote for Team A)

Judge 2: Team A 45, Team B 44 (1 vote for Team A)

Judge 3: Team A 39, Team B 49 (1 vote for Team B)

Team A is the winner of the match with two judges’ votes, despite the fact that Team B had a higher overall point total (136 to 132).


3. Judges can vote for a tie. This can happen for two reasons: both teams are scored equally or slight differences in a score (no more than 1 or 2 points!) are considered too insignificant to determine a winner in the debate.


4. A match can end in a tie–if all three judges score the match a tie, or one judge votes for Team A, one for Team B, and one has them tied.


5. Although the point differential is not a factor in determining the winner of an individual match, it is used as a tiebreaker when ranking teams at the end of the seeding rounds. It is therefore important that the teams are scored as accurately and realistically as possible to allow for comparable results in the overall ranking.


6. The rubric for “respectful dialogue” should be used as consistently as possible. The suggestion is to give 5 points by default and to reduce the number of points only in case of an obvious violation. That is, do not reduce the number to 4 or lower if the team’s behavior was perfectly fine.


7. Judges announce the winner of the match to the teams. Reveal only the overall result; individual scoring sheets are not shared. Sometimes teams ask for advice, which is best given after the event.


SCORE SHEET: NJ Middle School Ethics Bowl Score Sheet (adopted from National High School Ethics Bowl)



First place – winning team

Second place – finalist team that did not win

Third places – two semi-finalist teams that did not advance to the final round


The winning team will compete in the first-ever Virtual MS National Championship against the winner of the Houston and California Regional Bowls. Date: early May 2019.