Appendix 3: Classroom Competitions

This section provides an overview of how to host an easy-to-run competition within a classroom.


Now that the students have completed the process of designing and building their robots it is almost time for the most exciting part, the competition.  The idea of running a competition in a classroom may seem a bit daunting, but with the following instructions and ideas, the process can be done quite easily


Presented below is the general schedule for a Classroom Competition.

  • Inspection
    • During inspection, teams will be validated for rule compliance.  The VEX Classroom Competition is designed such that inspections are simple and quick.  For full details on how to complete an inspection, see the specific inspection selection below. You should allow three to five minutes for each team’s inspection.
  • Practice Matches
    • Practice matches allow teams one final chance to run their robots on the playing field before the actual competition.  If the teams competing have been given ample practice time prior to the competition this is a phase that can be skipped entirely.  Practice matches typically run for two minutes and there should be at least three minutes between matches.  Since not all teams may want to use this time to practice, it is recommended to run the matches as “first come, first serve” as opposed to using a formal schedule.
  • Qualifying Matches
    • The “real” competition begins with the qualification matches.  Teams will play in a round robin tournament, with each team playing each other an equal number of times.  Matches typically run for two minutes.  The amount of time between matches is dependent on the number of teams in your class as well at the length of time available for the matches.  Giving teams 3-5 minutes between matches allows teams sufficient breaks, while maintaining the energy and excitement of the competition.  Below is a sample round robin schedule for a four team tournament. 

In this example each team plays the other three teams once.  It is recommended that teams play as many qualifying matches as time permits. Cycle fully through the schedule as many times as possible.  To ensure that all teams play each other the same number of times, it is critical that you cycle fully through your schedule.  Notice that the schedule is split into “rounds”.  It may be advantageous to play one round followed by a longer break before beginning the next round.  This gives teams time to make changes and improvements based on their play in the prior round.  It will also provide a natural break in between matches to fit any class schedule. 

  • Elimination Matches
    • After the qualification rounds, the teams will be ranked according to the rules given by the game. Here’s an example of a ranking grid where teams are ranked on the basis of their win/loss record, followed by the highest individual match score. 

  • Recreate this table either on the chalk/whiteboard or on a large piece of chart paper.  After each match the referee can update each column to reflect the last match.  For simplicity’s sake, there is no reason to reorder the teams to keep them in rank order, just make sure the rank column is up to date.
  • Based on their ranking teams will face off in a head to head, best two out of three elimination tournament. 
  • Budgeting time for the elimination rounds takes some guess work since each matchup will consist of either two or three matches.  It is recommended that you budget for 75% of the matchups for three matches.  The number of elimination series is always equal to one less than the number of teams participating in the elimination rounds.  For example, if you have five teams, that means there will be four series. 
  • Awards
    • Once the elimination rounds are finished and a winner has been crowned, the competition winds down with an award ceremony.  Below is a sample list of potential awards that can be handed out to reward teams for their efforts and accomplishments. 

1. Tournament Champion – Awarded to the team who wins the overall tournament.
2. STEM Award – Awarded to a team for superior multidisciplinary integration as evidenced by design documentation in their Engineering Notebook.
3. Design Elegance Award – Awarded to a team for an elegant robot design which performs well throughout the competition.

4. ERB Award – Awarded to a team for a manipulator design that achieves Expected Repeatable Behavior.
5. Drivetrain Design Award – Awarded to a team for excellent robot drivetrain.

At the end of this chapter is a sample certificate that can be used as a model for any tournament awards.


Prior to competing in any matches, all teams must have their robots inspected for compliance with the rules listed in the game specific manual. The inspection process is very simple.  Meet with each team individually and answer the questions posed on the inspection checklist.  Issues that may arise include:

  • A team has accidentally used parts that exceed the allowed quantities
  • A team has a robot which is too large
  • A team has attached parts via an illegal method

For all three of these common violations, the team will have to rectify the situation and make their robot compliant.  For this reason it is recommended that inspections are done a day before the matches.  This way teams who are not compliant have time to fix their errors.  As well, it is a good practice to have the teams do “self-inspections” throughout the build process, to help keep them on track. The inspection process should not be a stressful time for teams. Help the teams wherever possible, and work with them to find a solution to any problems.  The teams have invested significant time and effort into their robots; the goal is to make them legal so they can compete.

When inspecting teams, a great place to start is to ask them to describe their robot.  This gives the teams a chance to show off their robot, and gives the inspector a chance to inspect all subsystems of the robot. It will be easier to keep track of the parts used if the team describes their robot section by section.


Robotics competitions, much like sports, need someone to ensure that match rules are being enforced as well keeping track of time and the score.  This is the role of the referee.  The referee has four main jobs.

  1. Ensuring the field is set up as prescribed and is set up correctly for each match.
  2. Starting and stopping matches as well as keeping track of time.
  3. Enforcing the match play rules.
  4. Tallying the score at the end of match or when a team is “SWEPT AWAY”

Field Setup

The “Field Setup” section of the game manual describes exactly how the field should be set up for each match.  Prior to each match, verify that all field objects are in the correct spot and that robots are in a legal starting configuration.  At the completion of each match, once the score has been tallied and verified, then the field should be reset to its starting configuration.

Time Keeping

All matches consist of a standard time period.  Teams will start and stop their robots on the command of the referee.  The following steps describe how matches should be started and stopped.

  1. Teams place their robots on the field.
  2. Referee verifies that the starting positions of the objects and robots is rule compliant
  3. Teams hold their VEXnet Joysticks such that the controls are facing outward, and the referee can see that no buttons/joysticks are being touched. 
  4. While holding a stopwatch or watching a clock, the referee counts down “3, 2, 1, Go!”
  5. The time period begins on “Go” and teams may now control their robots.
  6. Give the teams a time update every 30 seconds.  With five seconds remaining the referee counts down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, End of Match!!!”
  7. Once the referee calls “End of Match” teams must immediately stop controlling their robots, and hold their VEXnet Joysticks in the same manner they did to start the match.

Not all teams will stop controlling their robots on the referee’s signal.  Any scoring by a robot after time has expired should not be counted.  This is a judgment call on the part of the referee.

Enforcing Rules

Competition robotics games are typically designed to minimize the impact of rules violations. However there are times when rules violations affect game play and the referee is forced to step in. Referees should be vigilant during all matches and enforce the rules of the game as written. Warn teams for minor infractions, but do not be afraid to call an appropriate penalty when warranted.

Scoring Matches

At the end of the match, it is the referee’s job to tally the score and record it on the score sheet.  Wait until all robots have stopped moving and all objects have come to rest, and carefully count each legally scored object. Make sure to pay careful attention to the specific scoring rules for the game being played. In competition robotics, the scoring rules are often very specific and detailed. It is important to make the calls based on the correct interpretation of the rules, as the teams have designed their robots based on these scoring rules.