Scripps National Spelling Bee

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a student winning at the contest

Scripps National Spelling Bee

Ever had a chance to notice a  pint-sized human being tucked in a corner, deeply engrossed with a dictionary and wondered what is he up to? Let us demystify it for you. The smart kid trying to memorize odd words like Scherenschnitte (would you even know if there was such a word!)?, is most likely preparing for one of the world’s toughest competitions – The Scripps National Spelling Bee.

These national-level competition witnesses more than 11 million aspirants each year. Only after making it past their school and regional competitions do the best of the bees get a chance to be a part of the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition.

To some, the idea of kids having to participate in a spelling competition might seem bizarre. Why would anyone want their child to rote words that they are never ever going to be using in real life?

If you too don’t understand the kind of craze that spelling competition attracts we will delve on why such competitions are so popular with children across the globe.

Students taking their exam

Scripps National Spelling Bee – Much more than just a competition for top spellers

Kids and their parents preparing to participate in the national spelling bee competition aren’t after the winning prize and trophy. The real charm of this challenge is in the overall learning and development of the child that comes with each progressing stage.

So, what’s in it for any child who dearly aspires to be a part of any spelling competition, say for example, the Scripps National Spelling Bee?

Strong command over English

One of the best ways of championing the English language is to get competitive while learning it. Participating in competitions from an early age stage help bolster not just spelling and pronunciation but strengthen the fundamentals of the language – reading ability, comprehension, writing, and speaking.

In the process of learning some words that a child hasn’t ever heard or taught, he or she gets to know a lot about the origin of the word, its correct usage, and at the same time his/her communication skills are also enhanced. Naturally, as a result, the child develops a rich vocabulary. It wouldn’t be to comment that he/she would be a fast learner as compared to his/her peers in the English language.

Confidence to face the public

Every competition that a child participates in requires facing the masses. When you encourage your child to walk in front of the public and speak out, he or she braves initial hesitation and fears. If your child, for example, stutters, it is important that he/she learns to face the fear of speaking in public from an early age. It would bolster a great amount of confidence in the kid and help ease the anxiety of having to interact in public.

Let’s now hear from one of the winners of the competition on how the National Spelling Bee competition helped him overcome the fear of public speaking.

Name: William Cashore

Winning word: Transept

Current occupation: Neonatology specialist and professor emeritus at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School

Cashore completed his pre-med at the University of Notre Dame. Thereafter, he pursued futher studies in medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. Cashore says that it was only because of the Scripps National Spelling Bee that he got the confidence to compete and to speak in public. This skill of public speaking helped him tremendously when he started teaching and giving lectures in later years of his life.

Prepares them for different walks of life

No matter which field of education your child wants to pursue, English would be in most occasions the prime language that he/she would be required to communicate in.

If your child aspires to be a doctor and pursue studies from Yale or Harvard, he or she would really need to be well-versed in the language. If he or she is inclined to become a lawyer, intending to graduate from a top-notch Ivy League college a strong command over the English language is imperative.

Some of the spelling bee champions have also become best selling writers. Few of them are popular television anchors.

Peg McCarthy, a winner of the 51st Scripps National Spelling Bee, became the first member of her family to go out of Kansas for her college. She won herself a seat at Yale University and graduated with B.A. in English. Thereafter, she bagged the copy editor’s job at the former Albuquerque Tribune!

Whatever your child’s dream profession might be, participating in spelling bees could only help them be better than rest, early on.

So, now that you understand the madness surrounding spelling bees, wouldn’t it be great to learn a bit about the world’s most popular spelling competition?

College students walking in the school campus.

Scripps National Spelling Bee – A brief history

What is now known to be the world’s toughest competition started way back in 1925, as an amalgamation of numerous local spelling bees. It was organized unfailingly every year,  by The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. 1943-1945 is the only time period that did not witness this competition, due to World War II.

In 1941, the E.W. Scripps Company became the Sponsor of the National Spelling Bee. Hence, the name Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Even though the Scripps National Spelling Bee is the United States National Spelling Bee competition, it is not limited to Americans. It is an international event that invites and accepts participation from all the fifty states of the U.S., as well as from Canada, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, New Zealand, and some European countries.

The annual competition is held every year at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center hotel in Oxon Hill, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.

Spellers who qualify in their school and regional spelling bee competitions, and participate in the National Spelling bee, get to stay at this grand resort and convention center for a few days!

Intrigued? And, wish to see your child tough it out at this prestigious competition? Let’s dig into the rules and regulations for entry, right away.

Rules and regulations for the Scripps National Spelling Bee aspirants

To participate in 2020 or beyond, as an aspirant, you:

  1. Must not be more than 15 years old.
  2. Shouldn’t have previously won the competition’s finals.
  3. Should be studying in a school that is officially enrolled with SNSB.
  4. Shouldn’t have passed beyond the eighth grade in the year you have enrolled for the competition.
  5. Must not have repeated any grade for the purpose of extending spelling bee eligibility. In case, for some reason, you have repeated a grade you must notify this before March 31st of the competition’s year.
  6. Must not hold the legal equivalent of a high school diploma.
  7. Must not deliberately refrain from normal school activities just to focus on spelling bees. Scripps National Bee competition does not encourage absenteeism from school to study for the competition.  Also, children participating in the spelling quiz must study other subjects – Latin, Greek, vocabulary, art, or etymology for at least four hours every week, in the previous year, before they participate in the spelling bee.
  8. Must have won your school and regional spelling bee competition in the year previous to the year you are enrolling for the National Spelling Bee competition.  If you’ve won the local spelling bee in 2017 you can’t qualify to participate in 2020.
  9. Must not have any relatives – first, second, or third-degree, employed with The E.W. Scripps Company.
  10.  Will be required, upon qualifying, to submit a completed Champion BioForm, an eligibility form, a duly signed Appearance Consent and Release Form, and a photograph.

If all the information that you have submitted holds true and meets the eligibility criteria of the competition, the sponsors will timely inform you about your confirmed entry.

Puja Shitar wins the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee in front of a live audience

Time to get started with the preparation

The spelling bee is tougher than it seems. The whole nation watches some of the most brilliant brains fight it out for the top spot in a nerve-racking spelling competition. The competition is equally popular on social media as well. The Scripps National Spelling Bee raced ahead of shows such as “Game of Thrones”and “The Bachelorette” as Twitter’s most trending show on May 25, 2015.

It is indeed a very emotional experience for you as a parent, friend, or relative of the participant when you watch them spell out some mind-boggling words. Or, to see them trending on Twitter. You don’t want them to falter. You want them to win, especially when they’ve managed to spell words like Cymotrichous, Succedaneum, and Appoggiatura, each round after another.

So, how do you prepare them for all this excitement, tension, adrenaline surge, and most of all, for winning? Take a deep breath, contain the anxiety, and start with some preparation tips that we’ve shared below.

Help them understand the words

Don’t be in a rush to make your child mug up the most difficult words that you have discovered in the dictionary or on the internet. The right approach would be to help them build a strong foundation.

Rules of English grammar should be your best friend and guide. Understanding these rules will help your child distinguish when an ‘e’ should stay in a word and when it should be dropped.

For example, even though the word ‘define’ ends with an ‘e’ the word ‘definition’ drops the ‘e’ and replaces it with an ‘i’. Half an hour of learning the fundamentals everyday should be good enough to help your child develop a rich vocabulary.

Slowly, introduce them to advanced structures

Once your child has started catching up well with grammar basics you can start introducing some complex words in your preparation plan. For example, you can begin with silent letters.

For children under ten years of age understanding, such words can be confusing in the beginning. They might not be able to grasp why the ‘p’ in ‘psoriasis’ is silent. It is best to help them learn silent words and advanced structures with examples. Help inculcate a habit for reading and writing

Once or twice a week, make your child read out to you a few good works in literature. Pick books that are slightly more advanced for his or her age. There is a range of books available online and you don’t really have to get a lot of them from the library.

An additional good activity would be to ask your child to rephrase the story that you read in his or her own words, using the best possible words and phrases he or she can think of. Not only will your child be able to understand and learn spellings better with this exercise but his/her confidence in conversing in the English language will grow by leaps and bounds.

Have a Spelling Bee word list handy

Schools that participate in the National Spelling Bee competition provide competing students with a curated spelling bee list. This list contains 450 words that you need to prepare when you enroll to participate in the school-level spell bee contest. However, don’t rely solely on this list.

Do your own research and prepare an even more elaborate list that your child can pin on his study desk. Use resources like Spell It!, to create a list of words that you feel should be learned. The internet is also a good source to refer to when you are working on this list. It also helps to add those words to the list that previous spellers were asked to spell in the Scripps National Spelling Bee contest.

Now that you have the list ready you should ask your child to take up at least thirty new words a day and learn their meaning, spelling, and usage. The 2006 spelling bee champion, Kerry Close, suggested that it takes learning nearly fifty new words each day to win the competition.

Remember, the writing exercise we talked about in the previous section? Your child should be able to use words from this list when working on his writing skills.

Reserve weekends for dictionary-based learning

Get your copy of the Merriam Webster Unabridged dictionary. It is the only book that contains the right spelling for any word. Most of the words that are asked in the Scripps National Spelling Bee are from this dictionary. That’s why, it is a must that your child develops a strong friendship with the Merriam Webster dictionary.

Did you know that David Tidmarsh, the 2004 Scripps National Spell Bee winner, read all the 450,000 words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary?

Easier said than done, right?

Dictionary reading can be boring. Having to read words from the dictionary on a Sunday can be even more appalling for eight, ten, or even fifteen-year-olds. Why not make dictionary-based learning a fun activity by gamifying it?

To develop an interest in reading the Marriam Webster uses it when playing games like Scrabble or Boggle. Ask your child to refer to the dictionary when coming up with words for these games. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Once a habit is developed your child will look forward to reading the dictionary on Sundays, or on any day of the week for that matter.

Snigdha Nandipati, the 2012 winner of the championship, was only four years old at the time. She used flashcards to learn some of the toughest and trickiest words for the competition.

Don’t ignore the power of accent and phonetics

An accent isn’t as important while speaking as it is for comprehending and listening. What kind of accent you have doesn’t matter if you can understand a word and be good at spelling it. For spelling a word correctly, however, you should be able to catch it properly from the way it is pronounced in the competition.

Once again, the dictionary will prove to be your best friend. In the dictionary, you’ll find tiny symbols called diacritics, which tell you when and how to put an accent on a word.

Similarly, learning to spell with phonetics is a great technique that can be used for early starters. If you are preparing a child who is in the age bracket three to six, don’t skip the phonetics. The technique will help them read and write with more precision. Of course, you can’t rely completely on accent and phonetics but these work great because largely English is based on the phonetic code.

Simultaneously, you should also acquaint your child with pronunciation rules like even when two alphabets sound the same they are pronounced/spoken differently. For example, when you give him or her a word like ‘Twirl’, help the child understand how ‘w’ in the word is pronounced versus how it would have been pronounced if it were a ‘v’.

View of students cheering on the bleachers.


Listed in detail in this post are tips and tricks that you can use to prepare your child for one of the most sought after spelling competitions in the world. Nonetheless, if you feel you need professional help and guidance to chart out a proper preparation plan we’ll be glad to help you out.



2 thoughts on “Scripps National Spelling Bee”

  1. How much do you think doing really well at the national level at these kinds of middle school competitions such as spelling bee and geography bee helps on college applications?

    1. AdmissionSight

      Certainly, these middle school competitions will prepare students with the right mindset to thrive in competitive academic competitions in high school. While the Scripps National Spelling Bee won’t have as much an impact in college admissions given it’s for middle school, it can still be listed in the college applications.

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