Seismic change is coming in time for the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee - for the first time in the competition's 86-year history, participants will not only have to know how to spell words, they'll also have to know what time of them mean.
Never before have the young competitors in the annual spelling competition been tested on their vocabulary, but this year, the 281 spellers from eight countries will have to identify the definitions of some of those complicated words.
The vocabulary portions of the Spelling Bee, which begins on May 28 and culminates with the championship on May 30, will take place during both the preliminary and semifinal rounds. It will constitute 50 percent of the speller's overall score and qualification for the semifinals will be based on a combination of on-stage spelling, computer-based spelling questions and computer-based vocabulary questions.
Paige Kimble, the executive director of the Bee, said in a statement that the change is both significant and "natural."
"It represents a deepening of the Bee's commitment to its purpose: to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives," Kimble said.
In both the preliminary and semifinal rounds, participants will be given 24 spelling questions and 24 vocabulary questions, 12 of which will be scored from each category.
Vocabulary has been a regular part of the bee during its 87-year history, but it's always been the spellers asking for the definition to help them spell the word. Now the tables will be turned, with the spellers taking a computer test that looks like something from the SAT.
The 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship will be held at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor.
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 Associated Press contributed to this report.