Spelling Bee Champs Will Actually Have to Learn the Meaning of the Fancy Words They Spell

Kids will have to define words in addition to spelling them, which the competition hopes will help the process of identifying finalists

At the Scripps National Spelling Bee this year, whiz kids will not only have to correctly spell the curve-ball words thrown at them but also to define them. Contestants will be able to chose definitions from a multiple choice vocabulary test, AP reports, which the organizers think will help make it easier to weed out 12 finalists. This has proven a challenge in years past due to the limited amount of television broadcast time available.

Executive Director Paige Kimble said the changes were driven by the desire to reinforce the competition’s purpose — to encourage students to improve their spelling and broaden their knowledge of the language.

Over the spelling bee’s 87 year history, AP writes, participants could ask for definitions of words in order to help them arrive at the correct spelling, but this is the first time they’ll have to define those words themselves. Past competitions indicate, however, that most winners focus on both spelling and vocabulary, anyway, so the most legitimate competitors should welcome the opportunity to flaunt their vocabulary prowess in addition to spelling skills. 

The initial vocabulary portion of the spelling bee will not appear on broadcasts and won’t come into play in the finals, either. Viewers will be able to see vocabulary put to the test in the semifinals, though, which have shifted in format a bit from past years. The AP:

While the finals format remains unchanged, the televised semifinals will have a different payoff. Spellers will continue to be eliminated if they misspell on stage, but there will be only two semifinal rounds. The results of those rounds will be combined with the computerized spelling and vocabulary tests to select the finalists.

This year’s spelling bee will take place May 28-30, so competitors have a few weeks to get even cozier with their dictionaries and flashcards.

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