Engineering Notebook Advice For You

What does the Design Rubric say? THAT should guide you as to where you should put effort and priority…

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It’s in the notebook guidelines of the vex provided notebook. It’s one of the first pages.

Edit: Wait nvm I just checked the notebook and I guess they took it out.

No worries- most important is to look at the Rubric about the focus on documenting DESIGN PROCESS in the development of your team’s robot. The Rubric this year is really good at quantifying certain aspects - such as having a number of different solutions to the problem. and Qualitative - such as being about to reproduce the robot following the notebook. All good stuff in preparation for real world.


Hmm, I think I disagree here. What’s the rationale behind this suggestion? In my view, there’s no reason not to submit a notebook if you have one, even if it will be better at a future event.

(my creds: have judged VRC/FLL/FTC at the local/state level in the past; often talk about judging with friends who are judging at events I’m reffing)


Yes, it certainly doesn’t hurt to turn it in. Plus, for excellence award, a team does not need the top notebook - only one of the higher ranking ones. So, the team could still be in contention for excellence award even without a tip top EN.


Even if it is not the best, just turn it in! What good does it do to just have it sitting around somewhere instead of turning it in. Plus, the judges interview will give you some practice for next time (and who knows, the judges might give you some feedback).


The Judge Guide 2019-2020 says (**emphasis mine):

 Excellence Award candidates **should**:
    • be at or near the top of the Design Award rankings;
    • be ranked in the top 10 or top 30% of teams (whichever is larger) in qualifying rounds during the last round of qualification matches played;
    • be ranked in the top 5 or top 20% of teams (whichever is larger) in Robot Skills;
    • rank among the top teams in other judged awards;
    • exhibit a high-quality team interview with the Judges;
    • exhibit a high-quality robotics program;
    • be student-centered, show positive team conduct and dynamics, sportsmanship, and professionalism.

I recently asked Mike Martus about how to interpret these. He said if they were hard requirements TM would generate the excellence award winner. You might get a 15th ranked team or a team that did not attempt skills that deserves it . The judges are there because this cannot be a simple algorithm.

I tell my judges if a team cannot back up their performance (rankings) with the interview then they probably didn’t do the work and certainly don’t understand it. Also, when in debate between two teams use the interview as the tie breaker.


Many of the top teams for Design and Excellence have a binder notebook with a type section (easier to read), a bound EN (usually spilling over to a second one by state), code print outs, and photos.

Quick Question:
We have a series of engineering notebooks but programming is fully absent. Like none at all. It’s a big differentiating factor, should it be integrated into the same general book or is it able to be put in a separate book? I ask because it would be easier to put it in its own book because there’s a lot to break down. It wouldn’t be as good to determine how it develops alongside the physical aspects of the robot, though.

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Can you describe what you mean by “binder notebook with type section”? I’m having trouble visualizing this.

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Personally, I like it when the code is included with everything else. It demonstrates that the build and programming were an integrated process. Also, when there are multiple concurrent notebooks, I frequently struggle to align them in time. It makes for extra work for the judge.


so, do a programming breakdown in the main notebook then push updates to the main book as needed

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If you were one of my teams, that’s what I’d recommend. There is not one right answer, though.

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I’m a little late to the party, but I also disagree with you here. If someone has a notebook with at least some entrees, turning it in can only help them.

I won excellence my first competition this season being 12 weeks behind in the notebook.

On one hand - it is good to have different approaches in the notebook as it shows all in the team are participating in the documentation. On the other hand, it would be better if the documentation norms were agreed upon. by the team.


I actually, agree with @JustARedneckEngineer. Since judges no longer have to return notebook scores or feedback to the teams, then if team believes that their notebook is not ready, then what is the point to take judges time?

However, there could be variations, as some judges may like to give informal feedback anyway. If I see a team putting a lot of effort, I will talk to their coach and tell what they need to work on for the next time. If there is an improvement next time, it makes a good impression. However, if you see them making same sloppy mistakes ignoring feedback, then that will be noticed too.

Mentors like me, that were commenting on this thread, are spoiled by umpteen years of looking at some of the best high school notebooks.

It is easy for us to share judging room inner workings or talk about the best notebook examples that we have seen. But it is not easy for us to put ourselves into mindset of the rookie middle school team that just started VRC.

@JustARedneckEngineer, you are in the unique position of still remembering how it feels to be that rookie team and, at the same time, knowledgeable enough to understand advanced notebooking stuff that we were talking about.

This unique position makes you the perfect person to answer these questions better than any of us, adults, could do.

Please, take some time to think about things that you wish you knew about notebooking when you just started. You don’t have to make this list exhaustive but, please, rank the entries by their impact and importance.

What are the most important things for every new team to know about notebooking?

What are the workflow gotchas that they should avoid?

If team wants to put an extra effort, what are the best areas for them to spend their time on?

What are the small tips and tricks that made your life easier, and you didn’t realize on your own, until you learned them from somebody else?

Only you could rank and put it into the language and perspective that is easy to understand and relate to by a rookie MS team.

Thank you!


Judging process has NEVER required returning scoring rubric, it is only recently that it has been explicitly prohibited as it is confusing to teams when the receive it. The reason it is prohibited is that team notebooks are reviewed by different groups of judges. These judges may have different scales/opinions. The process by its very nature is very subjective, but through deliberation the judging teams identify candidates worthy of top awards who undergo further interviews. So what may have looked like a team that with great promise, may get bumped down after deliberating and find the ultimate award recipient was more worthy… So the scoring may have been an early view.

I urge teams to get the design rubric and then have conversations with their coaches, teachers, and mentors about the gaps about their documentation component in their design process. If possible, note only IF POSSIBLE, have conversations with judges, other team coaches/mentors, about how to improve and what they consider are best practices… This approach as served my club well over the years and our teams have shared what they consider best practices with other teams in the region.

As for the point, what is the point of taking judges time - simply put THAT IS HOW YOU LEARN. Otherwise you are working in a vacuum and can not improve and grow the team to its fullest potential.

I urge teams to use the Game Manual as the problem definition and to explore all material to solve the problem. There are tools provided to all teams - for design process - the Judge Guide which includes the Design Rubric used for engineering notebook and team interview evaluation.

Keep asking great questions on the forum.


The 3-ring binder contains a print out notebook type with a word processor, the hand written Vex bound notebook, printout of code, and pictures. So they have the bound notebook to get the points and the typed pages so the judges can read the text.

I’ve seen the typed version sometimes be a near exact recreation of the written notebook and sometimes its the “how to build our robot” with the bound written notebook being the daily log with problem/solution tracking and match evals.

My gut, the typed version of notebook, if duplicate of handwritten of events entered as they happened, provides no addition value for judges. The authenticity of the process being applied is actually supported by things being cleanly crossed out, paper napkins pasted in from brainstorming sessions - I have a notable picture of QCC2 team at Worlds during Skyrise explaining how they were solving the problem of uneven fields at dinner on a napkin - their “ah ha” moment captured in extremely stressful moment. Those break through moments are more important than scripted interviews, CADs, … There is no doubt about the value of that napkin being included in an engineering notebook.

So do not obsess with super penmanship and drafting - but do be articulate about the problem you are solving, how you go about solving problems, how do you know you have solved the problem… Plenty of ways of doing it, and judges should accept all forms of expression as long as it is authentic.


This is another possible approach but note that this would not get the 5 point bonus for using a bound notebook.