It’s that time of year again. The time-honored tradition of making the nation’s children recite combinations and patterns of letters directly from memory is upon us: The 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee is here.
Over the past week, 516 young humans, from ages 8 to 15, have been competing in the preliminary rounds of the tournament, and now those who avoided the cull will get to flaunt their spelling prowess on national television for a chance to win $40,000 in prize money.
Here’s what you need to know about this year Spelling Bee, how to watch it, and what to expect:
A rule change this year opened up the field to more than 500 spellers
While we’ll see the nation’s best young speller crowned on Thursday, the biggest news from the bee this year is a new rule change called the RSVBee program that expands the field of competitors significantly. RSVBee allows spellers who didn’t qualify through a regional bee to apply and then possibly compete in the National Spelling Bee, provided they won their school’s bee or have been a prior national finalist.
“The Bee approved 238 spellers to compete through RSVBee out of the 855 applications they received. Spellers received points based on their age and whether they had competed at the National Finals in prior years,” USA Today reported.
The 238 spellers admitted through RSVBee pushed the total number of competitors to a record 516. According to Scripps, 113 of those spellers have previous national finals experience and 45 spellers have relatives who “previously participated in a combined 99 Scripps National Spelling Bees, including Atman Balakrishnan, a sixth-grader from Chicago, whose father, Balu Natarajan, is the 1985 Champion.”
Nouns, words that begin with O, and words with Latin origin are spellers’ worst nightmares
ESPN, the network that televises the National Spelling Bee, crunched the numbers and found the common traits in misspelled words of the recent past (ESPN didn’t specify the dates). Of the missteps it studied, 4 percent of nouns, 5.4 percent of 12-letter words, 6 percent of words that begin with the letter O, and 30.7 percent of words with Latin origins knocked out spellers. Essentially, if a 12-letter noun of Latin origin that begins with O shows up on Thursday night, kiss that speller goodbye.
To avoid the bell of death — or if you just want to play along at home — Scripps suggests studying the 2018 School Spelling Bee Study List (available to teachers) and mastering at least 1,150 words on that list, and perusing the Spell It! online study guide. To give you an idea of the difficulty of words, here are the winning words from the past eight years of competition (years with two entries signify co-champions):
2014: Feuilleton / Stichomythia
2015: Nunatak / Scherenschnitte
2016: Feldenkrais / Gesellschaft
Further, in 2017 there was a switch made to the Unabridged Merriam Webster Dictionary as the official source of words for the bee, as the previous official source, Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, is out of print. So getting familiar with the newest version is key for spellers.
Thursday’s night’s competition is televised, but spellers have been competing all week
The important thing to remember is that all the kids we’ll see on Thursday night are the select and lucky few who get to compete on national television. Prior to the finals on Thursday, spellers will have gone through preliminary rounds on May 29 and 30, which consist of a multiple-choice test and two rounds of oral spelling onstage. After these rounds, based on a score on the multiple-choice test, the bee whittles down the competition to no more than 50 spellers for the finals.
How to watch the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee
When: The finals will take place on May 31, 2018, from 10 am to 2 pm and then resume in primetime from 8:30 to 10:30 pm. Matt Barrie and Paul Loeffler, a finalist at the Spelling Bee in 1990, will host the event.
Where: The morning’s competition will be televised on ESPN 2, while the primetime portion of the event will be televised on ESPN. They will also be streamed live on ESPN’s website and the ESPN app.