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The National Spelling Bee Will Now Include Vocabulary Tests

When you're watching the spelling bee, do you ever get the sneaking suspicion that some of the kids simply memorized the dictionary?

They haven't, of course. The etymology and language of origin can clue in a contestant on a word they've never seen. But if you're a little tired of some home-schooled Indian kid blowing through the competition by grasping phonemes instead of actual words, this rule change is for you. Starting at this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee, contestants will need to pass vocabulary quizzes to progress to the final. Not so smart now, are you smarties? (You are still smarter than us.)


The viewing experience will not be affected, at least not directly. The vocabulary sections, in the form of multiple-choice, written tests, will be administered offstage. And they will only happen in the preliminary rounds—everything up until the live, prime-time final round. The vocab scores will be combined with spelling scores to decide who moves on. Or, perhaps more sinister, who doesn't.

Scripps says this is all about making a more well-rounded contestant. But read between the lines, and it's all about satisfying their TV masters. In the past, rounds would run on forever as kids kept nailing the words, or end too quickly and leave a hole in the broadcast. Now the semifinals will fit neatly into their allotted timeslots, and kids who haven't misspelled anything will be quietly eliminated before the finals.

"Previously, we just knew that we were going to spell until we had a reasonable number of children to bring into the finals," Kimble said. "Now we have some definition around how that happens."

The upshot of all this? It's finally time for Arvind, the coolest kid in America, to claim his rightful prize.

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