Rules and Scoring

APS is both a Weekly Slam and a Year Long Tournament. Below you will find the rules of the weekly slam, and below that, you’ll find an explanation of the tournament and the scoring system we use to pick our slam team.

Live Scores:

If you want to keep up with the scores during the slam, you can watch the live weekly slam spreadsheet in Google Drive. Use the tabs to find the right date.

Current Season (2019/2020) Link Text:

Weekly Slam Rules

As a general rule, we try to run all of our slams according to standard slam rules, as outlined in the MC Spiel.  Here’s a link to the official “MC Spiel”.

Everything below basically serves to elaborate on these rules in the MC Spiel and answer detailed questions about how these rules are applied.

Regular Slams

Original Work in Any Style. Poems can be on any subject and in any style. Each poet must perform work that she has created.

Sampling. It is acceptable for a poet to incorporate, imitate, or otherwise “play on” the words, lyrics, or tune of someone else (commonly called “sampling”) in their own work. If you are only riffing off another’s words, you should expect only healthy controversy; if on the other hand, you are ripping off their words, you should expect the full wrath and shade of the APS Council and/or Hosts (A.K.A., “Emcee”).  If more than 50% of your poem is sampled from another source, you may be penalized 2 points or disqualified for not creating original work, at the host/scorekeeper’s discretion.

The rules on props are actually pretty complicated.
The staff would count as a prop, Chuck.

No Props. Generally, poets are allowed to use their given environment and the accouterments it offers – microphones, mic stands, the stage itself, chairs on stage, a table or bar top, the aisle – as long as these accouterments are available to other competitors as well.

Accidental Props. The rule concerning props is not intended to squelch the spontaneity, unpredictability, or on-the-fly choreography that people love about the slam; its intent is to keep the focus on the words rather than objects. Refer to the Definitions in the current PSI Rulebook for further clarification on what is and is not a prop. Teams or individuals who inadvertently use a prop (for example, a timely yet unwitting grab at a necklace) can be immediately penalized two points if the host of the bout deems the effect of the violation to have been appreciable, but sufficiently lacking in specific intent.

Intentional Props. Teams or individuals whose use of props in a poem appears to be more calculating and the result of a specific intent to enhance, illustrate, underscore, or otherwise augment the words of the poem will be disqualified from the slam, although they will receive the appropriate number of participation / third place points according to our scoring system. The decision of the emcee can be appealed after the bout, and the final decision would go to the highest ranking member of the slam council present, or to a quorum of council members and hosts, if available.

No Music. No musical instruments or pre-recorded music. You may use music created with your own body.

No Costumes. If you wear something all day, and it is a part of your regular wardrobe, you can wear it when performing your poem. Be careful… if you direct attention to the article of clothing, or point directly at it, it will become a prop, and will be breaking the prop rule. Thus, you can’t change into a special outfit for a specific poem.  However, if you wear a black hat every day and want to write a poem about wearing a black hat, we won’t make you take it off before performing, nor penalize you for talking about it.

The Three-Minute Rule. Performances will be timed by a timekeeper. No performance should last longer than three minutes. The time begins when the performance begins, which may well be before the first utterance is made. A poet is certainly allowed several full seconds to adjust the microphone and get them-self settled & ready, but as soon as they make a connection with the audience (“Hey look, she’s been standing there for 10 seconds and hasn’t even moved”), the timekeeper can start the clock. The poet does not have an unlimited amount of “mime time.” Poets with ambiguous beginnings & endings to their performances should seek out the timekeeper at each venue to settle on a starting & ending time. After three minutes, there is a 10-second grace period (up to and including 3:10.00). Starting at 3:10.01, a penalty is automatically deducted from each poet’s overall score according to the following schedule:


Time Penalty
3:10 and under no penalty
3:10.01 – 3:20 -0.5
3:20.01 – 3:30 -1.0
3:30.01 – 3:40 -1.5
3:40.01 – 3:50 -2.0
and so on [-0.5 for every 10 seconds over 3:10]

A chart explaining time penalties

The announcement of the time penalty and its consequent deduction will be made by the emcee or scorekeeper after all the judges have reported their scores. The judges should not even be told that a poet went overtime until it is too late for them to adjust their scores.

If you go over 5 minutes, the host or senior APS council member has the right to cut you off and end your poem prematurely.

Judging.  All efforts shall be made to select five judges who will be fair. We try to create “diverse” judging panels, however the host chooses to interpret the word “diverse”.  Once chosen, the judges will have a private, verbal crash course by the host/emcee or bout manager on the do’s and don’t’s of poetry slam judging (where they can ask questions).  If the time is available, competing poets are given the opportunity to see the judges to verify that they will be impartial.

Protests. Complaints, problems, and/or disagreements regarding the impartiality of the judges should be brought privately to the attention of the emcee or house manager BEFORE the bout begins. Having heard and understood the complaint, the house manager or emcee will then make a decision (also privately) that cannot be further challenged

 Scoring. The judges will give each poem a score from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest or “perfect” score. They will be encouraged to use one decimal place in order to preclude the likelihood of a tie. Each poem will get five scores. The high and the low scores will be dropped and the remaining three scores will be added together. Team scores will be displayed or otherwise publicly available during the bout.

Year Round Tournament Scoring System


At each weekly slam, and in APS-sponsored qualifying slam events, points based on the following system will be awarded:

  • 1st place = 7 points
  • 2nd place = 5
  • 3rd place = 3 (See Note 1)
  • Everyone else who slams that night = 1 (See Note 2)

Note 1. In cases of ties for 3rd/4th place heading into the third round, no matter who got 3rd and who got 4th, both poets will receive 3 points. In fact, this is true of a tie in any position. If two poets tie for 1st, and we decide to let the tie stand, both receive 7 points. If two poets tie for 2nd place, they both receive 5 points.

Note 2. Poets who make the third round do not receive the 1 point for participating, i.e., a poet who wins a slam gets 7 points, not 8.

Quarter and Super-Semi Finals

There are 3 ways to get to the Slam-off for a chance to be our annual Slam Champ:

  1. By winning a Quarter Final
  2. By winning the Austin Indie Championship
  3. By being in the top 5 poets in Semi Finals.

Quarter-Finals. The top 10 scoring poets of each quarter only (see “Calendar” below) will compete in a Quarter Final.  This happens approximately every 10 qualifying slams (every 13 weeks, not counting specialty slams). The winner of each Quarter Final gets an automatic spot in the Slam-Off. The Quarter Finals will consist of 3 rounds: two rounds cumulative, cut to 3, a clean slate final round.

Semi-Finals. Additionally, top 10-scoring poets across the entire year — points cumulative across all quarters — will compete in a Super-Semi Final. Semi-Finals occurs the week before the Final Slam-Off. Top 5 scoring poets get automatic spots in the Slam-off. Semi-Finals has 2 rounds, and is formatted exactly like the Final Slam-Off (see below).

Ties When Qualifying. In the event of a tie in scoreboard points (not nightly slam score), both poets will advance into a final or tournament qualifier. Also, if a poet in the top 10 for a Quarter-Final, Semi-Final, Indie Final, Women’s Final, and etc.) cannot compete in their round, the next highest scoring poet(s) will be invited to compete.  If there is a tie in a Q-Final, Semi-Final or Indie Final, we will break the tie and determine the winner (or 5th place in Semis).

Notes. Once you qualify for the Slam-off, you cannot compete in another Quarter Final or the Super-Semi Final.


The Austin Poetry Slam has a different quarterly schedule than your regular calendar. Hey, we’re poets, so we work on weird schedules. Pay attention!  Here’s roughly how it goes:

  • First Quarter: ~May to July
  • Second Quarter: ~August to October
  • Third Quarter: ~November to January
  • Fourth Quarter: ~February to April (Slam-off)

Slam-Off / Final Grand Slam

The end-of-year Slam-Off is for the sole purpose of determining the APS National Poetry Slam Team. Under current rules, 5 poets will be on the team.

Poets Competing. There will be 10 poets in the Slam-off: 4 from each Quarter Final, 1 from the Indie qualifier, and 5 from the Super-Semi Final.

Rounds. There will be 2 rounds in the Slam-off, cumulative. Top 5 scoring poets of the night win spots on the team.

No Repeat Rule for Slam-Off Only. Two of the poems from whichever event got you into the Slam-off (either the Quarter final or Indie final which you won or the Super-Semi in which you qualified) are “burned for competition”, and therefore may not be repeated in the Final Slam-Off.  Thus, you need at least four poems to make the team each year.

If a poet read more than two poems in their qualifying bout (whether it was Quarter-Finals, Indie, or Semi-Finals), they can reclaim the additional poems for the Slam-Off, assuming these poems aren’t already disqualified for a different reason.

You also can’t repeat any poem that you’ve ever used previously (in a final slam-off for a team) to successfully make a slam team. Yes, ANY slam team, ANY where.  If you have a special case for repeating from a previous qualifier, talk to our Slammaster about it. (i.e., “Uhhh, yeah, I’m from Bogota and at the Bogota Final Slam-off, we had to read 20 poems in the final, which seems to unfairly limit me in the APS Final.”) You just might have a case!


Austins Premiere Showcase of Spoken Word and Slam Poetry