DURHAM — For Oyster River Middle School eighth-grader Sonia Barth-Malone, building a robot means rebuilding a robot.

And rebuilding some more.

"You think that you have a plan," Sonia said. "And pretty much a week in, you realize that plan won't work. Your perfect plan is not going to work at all."

What's more, she said, is the closer one comes to an actual robotics competition, it seems like the robot breaks down even more.

"You get stressed, because you have to fix all the mistakes," Sonia said. "We had a robot that kept on breaking, so we completely re-did the robot."

All the stress and uncertainty is worth it for Barth-Malone and her fellow Oyster River robotics competitors, which are busy preparing for next weekend's New Hampshire/Vermont VEX IQ Challenge state robotics championship in Manchester.

Oyster River will send five teams to the competition, in which students are tasked with designing and building a robot to compete with other robots in a game-based engineering challenge. Last year, a team from Oyster River won the state title and went on to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

Chris Hawley, a seventh-grader, said programming a remote-control robot for a competition is a lot more complex than people might think.

"You can't just tell it to 'go left, go forward,'" Chris said. "To make it do what you want every time, you have to program in rotations. Like, 'go forward three rotations.'"

Chris said while it's fun to build and program a robot, the competition itself is fairly intense.

"You know it's all built up to this," he said. "You try to just think of nothing. Just do it."

An avid gamer, Koushik Nimoji, also a seventh-grader, said controlling a robot in a competition is a little bit like playing a video game, but in real life.

"In a video game, you're controlling something virtual, but you can't actually touch it," Koushik said. "In robotics, you can restart it whenever you want, set up the board, do what you want. There's a goal, but you can start over."

According to the VEX website, competitors use STEM concepts and learn lifelong skills in teamwork, leadership, communications and more.

Seventh-grader Rory Flynn said robotics work is tedious at times, but always fun.

"You have to be ready to be committed," Rory said. "We come here twice a week after school until 4:30. A lot of us are practicing any time we can get, whether it's during our free time, or lunch or recess."

For more information on VEX robotics competitions, visit www.vexrobotics.com.