Guide to Judging: Judging Engineering Notebooks

The Engineering Notebook: Purpose & Academic Honesty

The Engineering Notebook serves as a useful tool for the team in the current season, a reference for future teams who may use past notebooks as a resource for solving future design challenges, and as a document that illustrates the team’s journey throughout the season. A well-executed Engineering Notebook is useful and readable by students and outside observers, such as Judges. Teams should choose a notebook format and system to organize content that best suits their circumstances. The Engineering Notebook is not intended to exist primarily as a “presentation piece” for judges.

The Engineering Notebook, as well as the processes students follow to create it, should be in alignment with the REC Foundation’s Student-Centered Policy and Code of Conduct. Templates for notebook entries can be a useful tool to help guide (particularly younger) students as they document their process. However, the end goal should be for students to independently organize and create notebook content. It is never acceptable for adults to contribute materially to the students’ notebook. Adult involvement including adding content, excessive guidance or direction, “cleaning up” documentation (as an example, an adult rewriting a notebook entry for a student with difficult to read handwriting), or organizing notebook content, is not in alignment with the REC Foundation Student-Centered Policy. A significant part of the educational value of the Engineering Notebook is for students to have an opportunity to practice written communication skills, which includes collaboration between students on the team, organizing and synthesizing ideas, and summarizing activities and actions.

It is required that teams abide by the principles of academic honesty in their Engineering Notebook, which includes citing and crediting materials and ideas that are not their own. If students find information that is helpful for their design development from any outside source, be it a website, book, video, or another individual/team, they should properly credit the source of that information and explain how they are using that information in their design process. They should not attempt to claim outside information as their own original work. Misrepresentation of student work is considered a violation of the REC Foundation Code of Conduct as well as the game manual.

Teams from the same organization that submit notebooks with common content make it extremely difficult for the content to be verified as being representative of the students on each individual team, and may be interpreted as a misrepresentation of student work. Similarly, student programmers who make use of code libraries should cite their sources, explain what they changed and what they utilized, and ensure that they understand the programming they are using. Students should avoid using programs or code that are beyond their ability to create and explain independently.

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs or tools to generate or organize Engineering Notebook content or programming code is also contrary to the REC Foundation Student-Centered Policy and Code of Conduct. What AI tools can produce from prompts or from building on existing materials does not genuinely represent the skill level of the team utilizing these tools. REC Foundation programs offer opportunities to learn a variety of technical, organizational, and interpersonal skills. Not all students will have the same levels of competence in these skills, but all students will benefit from the practice and application of those skills as a part of the engineering design process, of which the Engineering Notebook is a significant part. The misuse of AI tools, similar to non-student-centered adult involvement, takes opportunities away from students to gain experience at practicing core communication, organization, independent inquiry, and decision-making skills.

If judges become aware of academic dishonesty in a team’s notebook, or of violations of the Student-Centered or Code of Conduct policies, those concerns should be escalated to the Judge Advisor. This may result in the removal of the offending team from Judged Awards at that event, and potentially further actions in accordance with the REC Foundation Code of Conduct process.

Overview: The Engineering Notebook

REC Foundation programs help students develop life skills that they may use in their academic and professional future. Documenting work in an Engineering Notebook is a widely used engineering and design industry practice. By following the Engineering Design Process and documenting that process in an Engineering Notebook, students practice project management, time management, brainstorming, and effective interpersonal and written communication skills. The Engineering Design Process is iterative: students identify and define a problem, brainstorm ideas to solve the problem, test their design ideas, and continue to refine their design until a satisfactory solution is reached. Students will encounter obstacles, successes, and setbacks as they work through the Engineering Design Process. All of these should be documented by the students in their Engineering Notebook.

Below is an example graphic outlining the steps of a simple Engineering Design Process.

Simple design process.png

In REC Foundation programs, the Engineering Notebook is required for the Excellence, Design, Innovate, Amaze, Build, Create, and Think Awards, but is not a requirement for other awards. Submitting a notebook is not required for a team to receive an in-person interview, and all teams at an event must be given the opportunity to be interviewed.

Teams may use the physical notebook available from VEX Robotics, or they may purchase a different form of physical notebook. Teams may also use any one of various computer applications or cloud-based services available for digitally creating and maintaining a Digital Engineering Notebook, including the templates developed by VEX Robotics. Please see the section on Remote Judging for more information on Digital Engineering Notebook submissions. Regardless of the format, all notebooks are evaluated by the Judges according to the same award criteria and rubric.


Notebook Formatting

  • Team number on the cover/beginning of document
  • A table of contents with entries organized for future reference
  • Each page/entry chronologically dated and numbered, starting with the first team meeting
  • Each page/entry contains information noting the student author(s)
  • All pages/entries intact; no pages/entries or parts of pages/entries removed or omitted; errors can be crossed out using a single line (so they can be seen) rather than erased or removed
  • Permanently affixed pictures, CAD drawings, documents, examples of code, or other material relevant to the design process (in the case of physical notebooks, tape is acceptable, but glue is preferred)
  • Each page/entry chronologically numbered and dated
  • Notebook has evidence that documentation was done in sequence with the team’s individual design process

Notebook Content

  • Provides a complete record of team and project assignments including team meeting notes, goals, decisions, and building/programming accomplishments
  • Resource constraints including time and materials, are noted throughout
  • Descriptions, sketches, and pictures of design concepts and the design process
  • Observations and thoughts of team members about their design and their design process
  • Records of tests, test results, and evaluations of specific designs or design concepts
  • Project management practices including their use of personnel, financial, and time resources
  • Notes and observations from competitions to consider in the next design iteration
  • Descriptions of programming concepts, programming improvements, or significant programming modifications
  • Enough detail that a person unfamiliar with the team’s work would be able to follow the logic used by the team to develop their design, and recreate the robot design

Notebook Submission Format

The choice of judging format for the event rests with the Event Partner. Detailed information about judging should be found on the event page on RobotEvents. All teams at the event must submit their notebooks in the same format, regardless of their notebook’s native format. A team with a physical engineering notebook may need to upload a link to a digital copy via RobotEvents, or conversely, a team with a digital engineering notebook may be asked to print it out prior to the event.

Irrespective of whether the notebook is submitted digitally or in person (physical notebook), teams are responsible for their notebook’s formatting and presentation, and must ensure all materials are properly organized—including numbering and/or dating pages.

If the Engineering Notebook is written in a language that is not common for the region and Judges fluent in the original language are not available, it is the team’s responsibility to provide the original language version along with a translated copy. This should be brought to the Event Partner’s attention as early as possible so they can inform the Judge Advisor.

Different teams may submit notebooks with varying levels of sophistication and beautification. For example, some teams may have brief sketches in pen, others may have colorized illustrations or CAD/electronic drawings. Judges should be cognizant of evaluating the content of notebooks, not the level of beautification. It is possible for many different types of notebook and different communication styles to present relevant content explaining the design process.

Teams may utilize different methods for organizing their Engineering Notebooks. For example, some notebooks may be organized purely chronologically, while others might be organized into subsections based on topic. Depending on the submission format, this may complicate the efforts of Judges to evaluate notebooks. Judges should make every effort to evaluate the contents of the notebook based on the Engineering Notebook Rubric, and not be unduly influenced by the organization methodology chosen by the team, particularly if the submission is not in the native format of the notebook.

Note: The confidentiality principle of judging also applies to Engineering Notebooks. Whether notebooks are shared physically or digitally, Judges should not photograph, share, or duplicate information found in Engineering Notebooks or otherwise breach this principle.

Engineering Notebook Handling

Physical Engineering notebooks are typically collected at team check-in or robot inspection at an event and delivered to the Judge Advisor. Digital Engineering Notebook links are required to be submitted via RobotEvents prior to the event date.

It is not recommended for Judges to collate Engineering Notebooks and rubrics by slipping the rubrics into the notebook. These can be easily forgotten and unintentionally returned to teams which would violate the confidentiality principle of judging.

Notebooks collected at an event should be returned directly to teams in their pit area or via some other controlled process; it is not recommended that notebooks be left unattended for teams to pick up. This should be done prior to Finals Matches, as some teams may decide to leave prior to the completion of the event.


It is recommended that the same Judges which interview a set of teams also evaluate those teams’ notebooks. The Engineering Notebook and Team Interview should reflect one another; having the same judges evaluate both will help give judges a better understanding of the team and may prove insightful.

Judges perform a quick scan of all the Engineering Notebooks and divide them into two categories: Developing and Fully Developed. If it is unclear whether a notebook should be categorized as Developing or Fully Developed, either another Judge can help make that determination, or the notebook should be given the benefit of the doubt and categorized as Fully Developed.

Developing Engineering Notebooks contain little detail, will have few drawings, and will not be a complete record of the design process. To save Judges’ time, the Engineering Notebook Rubric will not be completed for these teams. However, all Engineering Notebooks should still be retained until the end of judging deliberations.

Fully Developed Engineering Notebooks contain great detail, and will include detailed drawings, tests and test results, and solutions to problems the team encountered. Fully Developed notebooks include a complete record of the design process. Notebook attributes for Fully Developed notebooks may be scored as Emerging, Proficient, and Expert on the Engineering Notebook Rubric. Only Fully Developed notebooks should be considered for any awards requiring a notebook. The absolute minimum for a notebook to be considered Fully Developed would be a score of two or higher (Proficient or Expert) in the first four criteria of the rubric, outlining the initial design process of a single iteration.


Important: The Engineering Notebook Rubric is a tool for initial team notebook evaluations through quantitative comparison. The final determination of all award candidates and winners is done through further qualitative deliberation among Judges based on award descriptions and criteria. As such, a team earning a particular or overall score on a rubric is not an automatic disqualification or threshold for any judged award.

Fully Developed notebooks are scored and ranked using the Engineering Notebook Rubric. They may be initially ranked according to their rubric scores, then top notebooks can be re-ranked according to further qualitative evaluation by Judges.

Judges should review the notebook to identify the proficiency level of the student entries for each of the Engineering Notebook Rubric criteria. There will likely not be enough time to do a page-by-page reading of every notebook.

Judges should focus on the entries associated with the Rubric criteria and proficiency level to determine the scores for each Fully Developed notebook. It is recommended that at least two Judges score each Fully Developed notebook, and the first few notebook scores be discussed so that Judges can “calibrate” scores to be consistent across the event. Having additional Judges score notebooks will provide even better calibration. Further notebook evaluations and interviews may be needed to support the final rankings of the notebooks and interviews during deliberation.

Continue to the next section, Guide to Judging: Team Interviews