WASHINGTON - For the 281 kids competing in the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee, life just got tougher.
Not only will Bee competitors be tested on spelling, but they'll also be tested on vocabulary in changes announced Tuesday.
"This is the first time we've integrated vocabulary into any stage of the Bee," said Paige Kimble, executive director of the Bee, which is sponsored by The E.W. Scripps Co. of Cincinnati.
"It's all about the Bee deepening its commitment to its purpose," Kimble said. And that's to "to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives."
In the preliminaries on May 28, national participants -- who've qualified to compete at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md., by winning their local bees -- will take spelling and vocabulary tests by computer. In each subject, 24 questions will be asked with 12 of them scored. Participants also will answer two vocabulary questions unique to them, for 50 total questions.
On May 29, students will take to the stage to spell before judges. If they misspell a word, they'll immediately have to leave the stage. This onstage portion of the preliminaries will take place during the day. Later, around 5 p.m., spellers moving on to the semifinal rounds will be announced. They'll have a quick dinner break and then take yet another computer test: again 50 total questions, consisting of 24 questions (12 scored) in both spelling and vocabulary, plus two unique-to-them vocabulary questions.
On May 30, spellers who make the semifinals will be quizzed onstage in rounds aired on ESPN2 from 2-5 p.m. EDT. After that, based on their cumulative scores, "no more than 12" will move into the finals to be aired on ESPN at 8 p.m., Kimble said.
The changes to the 86th annual Bee "have been percolating for about the last 18 months," Kimble said. A "diverse group" of contributors developed the vocabulary tests and helped the Bee restructure the competition. The same secret group of advisers comes up with each year's spelling words, she said.
Bee organizers decided to announce and implement the changes now out of "fairness," because all of the participants would hear about the changes at the same time, said Chris Kemper, Bee spokesman. He said that at any other time of the year, children who have competed in the Bee would be more attuned to news about changes than would newcomers and that would give them an edge.
This year, spellers come from across the United States, plus seven other countries. The Bee continues to study the possibility of launching an international competition, Kimble said.
"Should the Bee launch an international program, it will make sense to have vocabulary at both the national and international level," Kimble said.
"Spelling and vocabulary really are two sides of the same coin," Kimble said. The changes for this year's Bee are exciting. We look forward to getting feedback from our spellers and the general public. This is a nod to what spelling bees have been all about -- increasing participants' spelling but also increasing their vocabulary."
Test your vocabulary knowledge
These multiple-choice vocabulary questions are similar to those that spellers will answer as part of the new vocabulary portion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
1. What is the purpose of defibrillation?
a) Removing fibrous matter from vegetables
b) Removing bodily hair
c) Restoring the rhythm of the heart
d) Reducing a fever using medication
2. An heiress is a woman who:
a) Inherits great wealth
b) Owns a hot air balloon
c) Accrues massive debts
d) Tests new hair products
3. What does it mean to be intestate?
a) Be under strenuous circumstances
b) Be without a valid will
c) Be in the middle of a test in school
d) Be in possession of a large amount of money
4. Something described as indocile is:
a) Markedly inane or foolish
b) Not able to be physically documented
c) Not easily instructed or controlled
d) Perseveringly active
5. What does it mean to winnow?
a) Expel through an opening in the side of a building
b) Swim quickly
c) Take out undesired parts
d) Play a game of chance for money or other stakes
Answers: 1. c. 2. a. 3. b. 4. c. 5. c.
(Source: Scripps National Spelling Bee)