Figuring out an effective practice schedule for extemp can be a challenging task. In this article, Katelyn Cai takes a deep dive into a few practice strategies that will make you a more effective extemper.
How much should you really practice? How many speeches should you give a week? How much should you really read? What should you be reading? Should you do drills? Which drills? How many?
Those questions are the bane of many students’ extemp careers. And, unfortunately, the answer is all too familiar: it depends.
But I’m going to do my best to help you figure out the “it depends” part by walking through the three most common parts of prepping for a tournament: reading, doing drills, and giving practice speeches. Just remember to take my advice with a grain of salt; what works for me, may not work for you.
Ah, easily the most painful part of extemp. But if done right, reading can be one of the most enjoyable parts instead.
We should start by talking about the elephant in the room: how much you should be reading each day? Personally, I like to read at least 30 minutes a day, with my reading going up to 3 hours a day during the week before a big tournament like Glenbrooks. But everyone is different! I know plenty of successful extempers who read much more than me, and plenty who read much less. I didn’t figure out a schedule that worked until junior year. You’ll probably have to experiment with your own reading schedule — choose whatever maximizes your limited time and makes you feel the most prepared.
To help figure out a good reading schedule for you, I have a few tips:
The first thing I would recommend is to subscribe to email newsletters. They often condense the day’s news, so you won’t miss anything. A few I enjoy: any NYT briefings, the Politico Playbook, the Daily Skimm, and CSIS’ By the Numbers. Each briefing should only take a couple minutes to read, and you’ll be fully-briefed on the most important events of the day.
Second, take time on the weekends to really dive deep into certain topic areas. Struggle with education policy? Go through think tank articles on charter schools and Title IX for an hour. Need some help on the Middle East? Read reports on Libya’s conflict and the crisis in Lebanon. The point being this: identify topics you’re unfamiliar with, and read up on them until you would feel confident giving a speech on that subject. Think tanks also make you sound very smart in round — The Brookings Institute and The American Enterprise Institute are good for USX, and the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies are good for IX. If you want to try out some other sources, check out our comprehensive source list. Meanwhile, if you want a good baseline for the most commonly discussed topics in extemp, check out the twenty free presentations we created for our summer camp.
Third, if you can access it, read The Economist. The Economist is basically the extemper’s bible (pun!). The magazine does an amazing job of providing graphics, thorough analysis, and funny quips you can borrow for AGDs.
I have the least to say here, because I personally don’t like drills. I prefer to give a practice speech and keep giving it until I figure out the best possible version of it. But if drills work for you, that’s great! Drills are good for practicing very specific skills like fluency, and they’re shorter than a full prep. Looking for a list of some drills you can try? We have some on our website, linked here and here.
3. Practice Speeches
Practice speeches are a very important part of preparing for a tournament. However, some people find that reading and filing helps more than giving more speeches. So if you’re one of those people, it’s okay to only give a speech a week!
Most people that I’ve talked to tend to give somewhere between 2-3 speeches a week regularly, with more speeches right before big tournaments. Personally, I give 2-3 speeches a week and then 4+ speeches the week before a big tournament. I also don’t give speeches on the day before a tournament, but others give speeches the night before and the morning of. There’s a huge diversity of prep styles in extemp, because there’s diverse ways of learning. Again, just find what works for you!
One more thing about speeches: record yourself. You should know how you appear while delivering a speech (Do you sound too informal? Does your substructure make sense? Are your explanations clear?), so you know what to improve upon. Especially with online tournaments, where your camera has replaced your judge’s eye, it’ll give you the most accurate representation of what the judge sees.
Extempers are extremely busy people, so don’t feel pressured if you can’t hit a certain number of speeches. It’s the quality of the work you put into speaking that really makes the difference.
I hope this was somewhat helpful! I know it can be frustrating to not have a clear answer on how you can improve (trust me, I was in the same boat), but with time, you’ll find your groove and your best practice strategy. Just remember to be consistent with your practice & trust in yourself, and watch the results follow.