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VEX Trophies and Award Plates

Judged Awards Overview

All VEX competitions include trophies for the tournament winners and (if applicable) skills champion. They also include a number of “judged awards” that are based on criteria other than match play. Since many of these awards sound very similar to each other, this article boils things down, and also includes a description of the judging and interview process at a tournament, as well as important, special rules for VEX Worlds. Photo credit1)

  • Excellence - Given to the top team in multiple categories including Design Award/engineering notebook, Skills Challenge scores, and qualification ranking.
  • Design - Given to the team with the best Engineering Notebook and judges interview.
  • Judges Award - Given to a team that the judges deem worthy of special recognition.
  • Amaze - Given to an amazing, consistently well-performing robot.
  • Build - Given to a robot with great build quality.
  • Create - Given a team that uses a creative approach to the game.
  • Think - Given to a team with an autonomous program that is high-scoring, consistent, and effective.
  • Innovate - Given to a team that includes an innovative feature of some sort on their robot.
  • Sportsmanship - Given to the team that is the most courteous, helpful, and enthusiastic at an event.
  • Energy - Given to the most enthusiastic team at an event.
  • Inspire - Given at World Championships to a team that demonstrates outstanding leadership through actions with other teams.
  • Service - Given to a team that helps other teams the most at an event.
  • Teamwork - Given to an organization that has multiple teams that work well together.
  • Community - Given to a team that is involved with and assists its community in a positive way.

The Judges & Competition Judging Process

Each tournament will have recruited a number of adult volunteers to be judges; some of these people know a lot about VEX and robotics, and others do not (but do generally understand engineering, in my experience; some VEX Forum posters have experienced judges that do not have a technical background at all). Judges spend their day in a combination of reading through the engineering notebooks that teams have submitted in the morning when they register (see the separate, in-depth article about the Engineering Notebook); and walking around the pit area and talking to teams face-to-face. Judges are generally assigned certain teams to speak with, to make sure that every team is visited during the day. Occasionally judges will talk to a team in the pit area more than once, or a second group will stop by later in the day; one can take this as a good sign, that the team is interesting enough for a second look.

Student-Centered Teams

The 2017-18 VEX Awards Appendix has added a section on the front page entitled “Student-Centered Teams.” This section reiterates wording that has been added to the In The Zone game manual emphasizing that work should be primarily done by students (even though most people would think you wouldn’t need to have to write this in the manual; apparently there are some teams out there not on the same page). Judges are instructed to observe in the pits whether coaches and mentors are offering help and guidance versus doing the work themselves. The stated emphasis is to make sure that “the purpose of the program is to enhance the learning process, not to win at all costs.”

Pit Judges

VEX publishes a Judges Guide with the specifics of what types of questions judges may want to ask, and specific things they should be looking at and evaluating. According to the guidelines, judges should allot 10-15 minutes per robot team; in reality, this time is frequently far less than 10 minutes. Students need to be prepared for whatever happens in the interview process, and be ready to improvise when needed.

But what if a team is in a match when they come around? Don't worry, the judges will definitely come back when the team is done on the field. Here again, teams need to go with the flow; they may be in the pit area trying to fix the robot in a limited amount of time, and the judges may say that this is the only time they are available—these things happen, and the team should be prepared to improvise.

Judging Room

At some larger competitions (usually depending on whether the venue has the space available), the judges may be set up in one or more side-rooms, and teams must sign up in the morning for an interview time slot—and then manage their time so that they and the robot and any presentation materials get to their judging slot on time. In our experience, teams often have to sign up in advance of when the match schedule is handed out, which is a bit head-scratching, but again, the teams need to improvise and communicate with the judging team if they have a time conflict.

They're Watching You

Teams are not just evaluated in formal discussions with the judges in the pit area or interview room. Judges also look at teams and their robot during match play: What is their conduct around the event volunteers? What do their interactions with other teams look like? Are they good sports when they lose? Are they also good sports when they win? This author's team has also had judges ask at tournaments whether any other teams offered assistance during the day, to find out more about how teams act, basically, when no one is looking.

In 2017, VEX added a document for event volunteers: the “Field Note to Judges.” This form is an official, standardized way for volunteers out on the floor or at the competition fields to relay information about specific teams to the judges—either positive (GREEN) or negative (RED).

Confidential Deliberations

Judges keep their deliberations and evaluations of the specific teams 100% confidential, and at the end of the day, all written materials are generally shredded. Don't expect to get feedback from the judges for an individual team; they have taken a vow of silence.

The Interview

So what happens during the judges interview? What should a team be prepared to do?

The most important thing that teams can do is prepare an organized presentation of their robot before the competition. This author's team has a PowerPoint presentation that they show on an iPad or laptop, and every team member is assigned a few slides to cover. Other teams use posters or display boards in lieu of an electronic presentation. Most teams, however, just put together a verbal description of the important features of the robot, but the important part is to organize things ahead of time. “Winging it” will not produce the most high-quality interview.

This author's team presentation starts with a brief overview of the team, and then goes over the various mechanical features of the robot (with pictures), discusses programming aspects they feel are important, talks about the team's goals for the year, and so on. They find that having a PowerPoint prepared ahead of time is a great, structured way for the students to practice what they're going to say and also to make sure that every team member has time to talk, every team member interacts with the judges, and people don't talk over each other. These are all foundational aspects to having a good interview experience.

Having many different team members talking to the judges over the course of the interview and answering impromptu questions is a way of demonstrating that every team member has been engaged with the robot build and design process. If one student does all of the talking, then the judges have no way to evaluate the level of teamwork and organization that has been done in the design/build process.

Details: Excellence, Design, and Judges (The Usual Suspects)

In the VEX Awards Appendix, there is a long list of judged awards, but in reality most of them are not handed out at local tournaments. Certain awards are predominantly given at large tournaments or state championships. Every tournament, however, will include the Excellence Award, the Design Award, and the Judges Award.

The Design Award

Design AwardThe Design Award is based on 2 components: the engineering notebook and the judges interview. There is a very specific scoring rubric for this award that VEX makes available for download. Once you read the rubric, there is really no mystery about what the judges are looking for, but there are a lot of details to think about. Photo credit2)

The “engineering notebook” section of the rubric includes 8 items (discussed below), and the “student interview” includes 5 items. Teams can score up to 3 points in each line-item, based on whether their book or interview meets the criteria listed. Do the math, and the notebook/interview weighting is about 60/40, so merely having a fantastic engineering notebook is not enough if a team doesn't also do reasonably well on the interview.

Engineering Notebook

For the engineering notebook specifics, please read the Engineering Notebook article. The award criteria make clear what the judges are looking for: details. And they want details, with photos or drawings, at every stage of the process, from evaluating the game and developing a strategy to brainstorming to the actual design and build. It's important to include details about “the road not taken”: include all of the team's brainstorming ideas, not just the one they settled on in the end, and include an explanation of why the final design was chosen and the others not.

Once the building process starts, one can summarize what's needed this way: details, details, details. For example, to earn 3 points in the “Design Process” item, “the notebook records the building and programming process in such detail that someone outside the team could recreate the robot by following the steps in the notebook.” Wow. But that is the standard against which the notebooks are judged. So during the season, even on non-building days, details should be included; instead of “we had drive practice today,” one could write “we had drive practice today and our high score in 60 seconds is now xx points.”

The 2017 Design Award rubric was updated to give teams 3 extra points if they have a bound engineering notebook. This addition has made it explicitly clear that a 3-ring binder will be accepted, but those teams will not receive these extra points (in the past, some judges had differing interpretations on “bound notebook preferred”).


As stated above, about 40% of points are awarded for the team interview; one of the best things a team can do, even without making a formal presentation, is to make a list of what they'd like to say about their robot, and divvy up that list among all team members.

Judges use the interview process as a way to confirm (or not) the information included in the engineering notebook. If a team has a fantastic notebook, but team members can't adequately describe how their robot is put together, then that's a red flag, indicating that the students themselves may not have done all of the design work themselves (or alternately that the notebook entries may not be their own, exclusive efforts).

If the judges arrive at a team's table and see that all 4 robots from their school are exact clones of each other, that's another red flag that the design may not represent the exclusive work of the students on that robot team. (Note: it's perfectly acceptable for all teams from the same school to have identical robots; however, they will not all score highly in the Design Award criteria.)

At large tournaments in California, the Design Award can qualify a team for a spot at State Championships; however, that is not the case in most local competitions.

See the Worlds section below for details on who is eligible for the Design Award, and what happens when you're there.

The Judges Award

Judges AwardThis one could be summed up as: “We thought you were great, but you didn’t fit into one of the other judging categories, but we thought you deserved an award anyway.” (This is not a put-down of this award, but it is, in a nutshell, this award’s description.) Types of teams winning this award:

  • a rookie team that did unusually well at a tournament, or a team with limited means nonetheless doing very well in competition
  • a team that was a finalist or had high marks for the Design and/or Excellence Award, but got beat out for the top spot
  • a team that has significant or meaningful community outreach to spread the word about STEM or robotics

Having an Engineering Notebook is not a requirement for this award. This award can place a higher emphasis on the judges interview, take into account a team’s community efforts and/or comportment at the tournament, or anything else the judges consider worthy of “special recognition.” If a team was aiming for the Design or Excellence Awards and won the Judges Award instead, teams can sometimes fell like it is some sort of consolation prize. Not at all! At every tournament, there are many, many teams that go home with no award at all, but this team was judged to be special enough in some way as to warrant official, public recognition. Photo credit3)

The Excellence Award

Excellence AwardThis award description is included last in this section because the team's Design Award scoring is one factor that the judges use in their evaluations for this award. There is also a rubric for this award, as described on pages 6-7 of the Judges Guide. Teams are assigned the following points:

  • 1 point is earned if the team was a top-5 finalist for the Design Award
  • 1 point is earned if the team finished regular match play (qualification rounds) in the top 8 robots
  • 1 point is earned if the team finished in the top 10 of robot skills (if <15 teams participated in skills, then teams must finish in the top 5 to earn the 1 point)
  • up to 4 points are awarded based on the “Judge Ranking,” with 1 point assigned for each award that the team was a finalist for
  • teams must have an engineering notebook in order to be considered

However, that's not the end of the story. That point system just puts teams in a particular rank order. From that point, the Judges Guide says “Judges will use their best judgment to choose the team they feel best exemplifies the best overall robotics program.” (Italics, bold, and underline in the original.) What does that mean, exactly? The guide goes on to say that it “may include a team's behavior, sportsmanship, and professionalism at the event,” noting that “team” includes adult mentors in attendance (so adults' behavior in the stands matters too!). Community outreach/service efforts are also taken into consideration.

In most tournaments, the Excellence Award is handed out last, after the playoffs have determined the Tournament Champion, and usually qualifies a team for their State Championships. (And the trophy is a little taller than the rest. Photo credit4))

See the Worlds section below for the details on the extra criteria required to be eligible for the Excellence Award at Worlds, as well as what happens at Worlds for teams in the running.

Details: Building & Programming Awards: Amaze, Build, Create, Think, Innovate

Many VEX awardsA lot of these awards sound very similar to each other, so here they are in a nutshell (described in detail in the VEX Awards Appendix). These awards are generally given out at very large tournaments, State Championships, and VEX Worlds. At large tournaments, when more than the standards 3 awards are given, often just one or 2 of these awards given (such as Build and Think)—not the whole raft. In addition to the evaluation criteria described below, all of these awards take into account the team's judges interview quality, professionalism, and teamwork displayed. Though not explicitly stated, having a great engineering notebook to go along with a great robot would certainly be in a team's favor. Photo credit5)

  • Amaze Award. Like it sounds; the robot has to amaze the judges by being high-scoring, competitive, reliable/robust, with great, consistent autonomous code and use of sensors in both autonomous and driver-control periods. (A pretty high bar.)
  • Build Award. This is the “extra” award that this author sees most often in Northern California. Its description is sufficiently vague, but the criteria stress a professional, robust robot that holds up under competition conditions, with an elegant use of materials. The next bullet point states that the robot was constructed “with a clear dedication to safety and attention to detail” (the “safety” part is a head-scratcher for this author). Note that this criteria does not take into account robot performance, the way the Amaze award does; there is no mention about it being competitive or high-scoring (though those would undoubtedly help).
  • Create Award. This award is given to a team that has developed a creative solution to an engineering problem—a unique design solution. A creative design process and creative ways to play the game are also considered.
  • Think Award. This one is for a team's autonomous programming. The robot's performance is one component of the judging, but the rest is made up of the team's actual code (often submitted in a 3-ring binder or similar, along with the Engineering Notebook), the team describing a clear programming strategy, and showing that it has a good programming management process (such as keeping track of version history).
  • Innovate Award. This award recognizes “thinking outside the box” in terms of robot design: “Robot design demonstrates an ingenious and innovative piece of engineering.” This could be one specific component or subsystem of the robot, but it's important that the innovative component is well-integrated into the rest of the robot, and that it is a well-constructed part of a well-constructed robot. Students should clearly state why they designed this interesting component—how is it related to their game strategy or some other game restriction that makes it a good solution. Innovation-for-the-sake-of-innovation is not rewarded here.

VEX also publishes a judges scoring sheet that lays things all out in one grid. It's a useful document to boil things way down. During the day, as judges interview teams, they put tick marks in the bold-titled-columns, indicating the rank of the teams that they speak to. If a new team they interview is superior to all the rest, they get 1 tick mark, and everyone else gets another tick mark added to their rank—the former #1 becomes #2 and so on. The same thing happens if the new team is better than, say #3 (but not better than #2). The new team gets 3 tick marks, and every team lower than them gets another tick mark added to their rank (so #3 becomes #4, and so on down the line).

Details: Awards for Team Actions & Activities

Last, but not least, there are several awards for a team's comportment at an event and interactions with other teams. This author has seen the Sportsmanship Award given at local competitions, and the Energy Award given at state championships, but has never seen the remainder of these awards given at a local tournament. They are given at VEX Worlds.

  • The Sportsmanship Award is given to a team that demonstrates excitement and enthusiasm throughout the event; interacts with event volunteers in a respectful and helpful manner, is willing to help; and interacts with other teams in the friendly spirit of competition. This author has often seen this award given to a team that finishes last (or close to it), but that has maintained their enthusiasm nonetheless throughout the day. This author has also seen this award given to a team-of-one that finished high in the rankings, so attributes other than being a good loser are clearly important.
    • At VEX Worlds this award is given based on team voting; each team votes for the team they felt best demonstrated these qualities in their division.
  • The Energy Award recognizes a team that shows a high level of excitement and energy throughout the event. Additionally, this team's passion for competition and robotics enhances the experience for other teams.
  • The Inspire Award is given predominantly at World Championships to a team that “demonstrates outstanding leadership through actions with other teams.” The team serves as an example to others and embraces the idea of cooperative learning, as measured by openly sharing their design ideas with others or inspiring other teams' designs.
  • The Service Award is given to a team that is always willing to help other teams and share resources and knowledge. This team helps not just their alliance partners, but is of service to all teams, and has volunteered at local VRC events.
    • At VEX Worlds this award is given based on team voting; each team votes for the team they felt best demonstrated these qualities in their division.
  • The Teamwork Award recipient is a school or organization with multiple robots that has demonstrated cooperation, unity, and mutual respect among its robot teams, all season long.
  • The Community Award is for a team making a difference in their community, supporting students and STEM, and teams outside of their school.

Details: Individual Awards

  • Volunteer of the Year is given to a person who has volunteered numerous hours to make local events happen and shows a devotion and commitment to their community. This award is given out at Worlds, and also at select local tournaments.
  • Teacher of the Year goes to a teacher who shows true dedication and leadership, and ensures a valuable experience for all students.
  • Mentor of the Year is given to a mentor who has helped students achieve goals that they thought were unattainable. This person is a role model who helps students expand their knowledge and solve problems in new ways.

See the Worlds section below for the time-sensitive, extra requirements that must be undertaken in order for someone to be considered for Mentor or Teacher of the Year at VEX World Championships.

Special Rules for VEX World Championships

VEX Worlds logoRead and understand this part—your team may be going to Worlds one day! VEX Worlds has specific instructions and requirements for certain awards that are different than/over-and-above what happens at local events, and they have hard deadlines associated with them, well in advance of the World Championship week. Photo credit6)

Excellence Award at Worlds

First, only teams that have won an Excellence Award at their local or state competition level are eligible for this award at Worlds. So if a team didn't win an Excellence trophy at some point during this game year, they need not worry about these criteria, as they are not in the running. Other requirements:

  • Teams must sign up for a judging interview on the VEX/RobotEvents website between early February and late March (the specific dates for Starstruck were Feb. 1 to March 20). If a team figures this out on March 21st, sorry, they are now out of the running for Excellence at Worlds. It is a hard deadline.
  • Teams must submit their engineering notebooks at check-in when they get to Worlds.
  • Teams must enter two Online Challenges during the year. This is a biggie to keep your eye on.
    • The deadline to submit Online Challenge entries is usually the first week of January, way before most teams know they have qualified for Worlds (or States, for that matter). So this is one that teams and coaches have to be proactive about if the team thinks they could be in the running for an Excellence Award during the season.
    • This author recommends the photography contest as one of the challenges to enter, as it merely involves submitting an interesting photo (taken by a student). Multiple students on the same team can each submit a photo if they choose.
    • The Online Challenges are published in September of each year, and the submission deadline is in early January. This author's team has typically done the lion's share of work during Christmas vacation. For a small team like ours, working on the challenge means not working on the robot, as there are not enough people to do both, so this is something a team might need to keep in mind.
    • Read all the challenges when they come out, and go over them in detail with the whole team in September. Set the students off to noodling about it for a few months. If team members get started thinking about a topic early, then as the season progresses, ideas may pop up in the normal course of building the robot.
  • Teams that have won Excellence at Worlds some time in the last 3 years are not in the running.

The rules also note that the Excellence award is given to the entire school/organization, and not just to one robot team. Hence, even if multiple robots on a team won an Excellence Award during the season, that group will only be given one combined interview slot.

At Worlds, the judges have a number of small (quiet) conference rooms outside the main expo hall in which to conduct team interviews.

Design Award at Worlds

Only teams that have won a Design Award or an Excellence Award at their state/regional/national qualifying event are eligible for this award at Worlds. This is a change for 2017-18 from prior years. Previously, if your team won Design or Excellence at any time during the season, they were in the candidate pool for Worlds. Now a team must have won this award at the tournament-that-got-them-to-Worlds (state championship, national championship, etc., depending on where you live).

  • As with the Excellence Award candidates, Design Award candidates also submit their engineering notebook upon check-in at Worlds.
  • Once judges have reviewed all of the engineering notebooks submitted, the top-tier teams will have Design Award interviews with the judges in their pit areas (don't call us, we'll call you). There are no scheduled, sit-down interviews for this award; Excellence candidates are the only ones who sign up for an interview slot.

Special Requirements for Other Awards

All judged awards other than Design and Excellence that are given out at Worlds:

  • Do not have scheduled interviews. All other awards only have interviews with judges as they walk around the pit areas, talking to teams in between matches. (At Worlds, there is generally a lot of time between matches.)
  • Do not involve an engineering notebook submitted upon check-in, or at any time during the event. Students may show their notebooks to the judges as they are interviewed at their pit location.

Other awards that are handed out at Worlds have an additional, time-consuming essay-submission requirement in order for a team to be considered, which must be submitted online before the between February 1 and March 20, 2018; late entries will not be accepted. The URL used for submissions in 2018 is|]].

  • Mentor of the Year and Teacher of the Year require students on that person's team to nominate them via a 500-word essay.
  • Volunteer of the Year must be nominated by a member of the REC Foundation staff in order to be considered for this award at Worlds.

Other Information

Adherence to Award Criteria

The Judges Guide says, in in bold on page 6: “Official events may not change award criteria from those listed below. Events not following the award criteria in this document will not qualify to higher level events.” This statement does not appear to be universally adhered to, and when it is not, it usually causes an uproar on the VEX Forum. At the same time, no one after the fact can know what the judges' exact rationale was for awarding Team X the Fill-In-The-Blank Award instead of Team Y, since their deliberations are confidential. Teams that believe that the criteria were not adhered to should first re-read the specs for the award in question; what is being evaluated may be different, or much more specific than what is assumed, or may not include the criteria the team thought was in there (such as robot performance or final rank).

If teams still feel like awards were given inappropriately (after re-reading the criteria closely and impartially), the best thing to do is to contact their local REC Foundation representative to discuss the issue in a respectful, calm manner. While doing so will not change the awards for the event in question, it will alert RECF that guidelines may not have been followed correctly, and that more event partner training or judges training is needed on these specific topics. A list of REC Foundation Regional Support Managers, including their email addresses, can be found about half-way down this page.

Multiple Awards for One Team

The judges guide says, at the top of page 6: “Awards are to be spread as equitably as possible among the teams, with no team winning more than one judged award if possible. A team should only win additional awards if they are for robot performance (Tournament, and/or Robot Skills awards), or there are no other qualified teams.”

There are varying interpretations of this last sentence. Some people believe it means that if the most-qualified team for, say, the Think Award happens to be the Excellence Award winner, that the Think award should go to the 2nd place contender. Others believe that if Team X is the clear winner of that Think Award, then there is “no other qualified team” for it, including the runner-up.

Resources & Downloads

VEX resource links mentioned throughout this article:

  • Awards Appendix D. This is a must-have; it describes all of the awards in detail in one single document, as well as the specific Worlds extra criteria.
    • The Design Award Rubric is the last 2 pages of the Appendix D. If a team is interested in pursuing the Design Award, they should read this 2-page criteria before writing the first page in their engineering notebook.
  • Judges Guide. This document is designed for adults who are judges at an event. It includes all of the information in Awards Appendix D, along with starter questions for pit-area interviews as well as specific things that the judges are looking for, and a schedule of the judges' day.
  • Scoring Sheet for Judged Awards. This file shows a grid of the criteria for all judged awards, neatly fit into one location, with the concepts really boiled down.
  • Award Descriptions for Judges' Room. This file contains one page for each award, which have the criteria also boiled down to the essentials; at an event, these pages would be taped to the wall in the room so the judges can easily reference it and put team numbers below it on post-it notes during their deliberations.
  • Field Note to Judges. This new (2017) form is a way for volunteers and referees to communicate their observations about teams to the judges—positive or negative.
  • Trophies and/or award plates can be purchased through the VEX online store
VEX Robotics, “VRC Competition Trophies & Award Plates,”
2) , 4)
RoboDukes, “The Awards,”
Michigan State University, College of Engineering, “Michigan VEX Robotics State Championship coming to MSU,”
REC Foundation Twitter page,
robotics_competitions/vex_robotics_competition/awards.txt · Last modified: 2017/07/25 01:39 by