April 9, 2013

Spelling Bee kids will have to know definitions too

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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In this May 29, 2012 file photo, contestants in the National Spelling Bee take the written exam on computers in Oxon Hill, Md., before the oral competition began. Ever wonder if those spelling bee kids know the meanings of some of those big words? Now they'll have to prove that they do. Organizers of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Tuesday announced a major change to the format, adding multiple-choice vocabulary tests to the annual competition that crowns the English language's spelling champ. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

While Shivashankar was concerned about the anxiety the changes could add to an already nerve-racking competition, his daughter already sounded ready to tackle the challenge.

"We're just going to try to our best and understand the words more," Vanya said. "Before we were studying the roots, and now we're using the root to understand what it means, which we kind of did before, but we have to spend more time on each word, understanding every single part of it."

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.

The issue of determining the number of finalists has been problematic in the past because of the need to fit the bee into its allotted broadcast slot. Parents and spellers were upset in 2010 when officials abruptly halted the semifinals in the middle of a round because spellers were being eliminated too quickly.

The bee, working with its television partners, usually prefers to have nine to 12 spellers in the finals. That will be easier to accomplish now because the bee can take the spellers with the most points, with wiggle room to account for ties.

"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."

Kimble said she's open to the idea of having the vocabulary test take place onstage in future bees, but she wants to try the computer format first and see how it works.

The national bee waited until all the regional bees were completed to make the announcement so that everyone would start on equal footing. The national bee will supply materials and suggestions to help local bees introduce a vocabulary test next year, Kimble said.

"In the long run, it's pretty good, right?" said Srinivas Mahankali, Arvind's father. "But in the short-term for the competitors right now, I think it's a little more complicating, definitely."

 

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