With the regional bees having nearly concluded, most of the 2011 Scripps National Spelling Bee participants have already been determined. Let me start by wishing this year’s participants the very best. For those of you who are first timers to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, you are about to have an experience of a lifetime – at least the way I see it. I was always looking forward to Bee Week and I still do 🙂 . The same thrilling exhilaration that I had when I first participated in 2006 was present even in 2010, when I had the opportunity to return as a spectator to watch my sister participate in the bee. The competition itself was exciting, but it is the entire week that makes the whole experience so fulfilling; the other spellers (seeing friends from previous years and making new friends), the educational tours, the barbeque picnic, and just the feeling of being in the same hotel with about 275 other spelling families added to the thrill. The only dreadful part of Bee Week is the last day when everyone starts heading home.
As most of you may already know, Paige Kimble is the director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, the one who works hard every year to make sure Bee Week continues to be an amazing experience for everyone. However, a less known fact is that Mrs. Kimble herself is National Spelling Bee champion, having won the bee in 1981. I have gotten to know Mrs. Kimble during the past few years, not only through meeting her at the national event, but also through reading many of her interviews. One interview of hers that sticks in my mind is the one with James Maguire, who wrote American Bee, a book about the National Spelling Bee. In his book, James Maguire talks about Mrs. Kimble’s administrative style and describes Mrs. Kimble herself as being “active, and someone who is constantly reviewing the event with an eye to updating it.” The book also includes a quote from Mrs. Kimble: “I can guarantee that as long as I’m here, I’m a proponent of change.”
With that in mind, I am sure that this year’s finalists are bound to see some changes, whether they have been there before or have followed the bee in the recent years. What could be different? One major change is the venue. The bee will now be held at Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center in Maryland. It was held at the Grand Hyatt Washington for as long as I have known, but with the Bee’s recent rise in popularity after being telecast live on ABC since 2006, perhaps the spatial logistics called for a change in venue.
Another key change is in regards to the written round. This written round was originally introduced in 2003, and consisted of a list of 25 words. Word number 1 tended to be a relatively easier word while number 25 was usually perceived as a relatively difficult word. All of these words were pronounced live by Jacques Bailly to all of the spellers seated in the huge ballroom. The format of the test was multiple choice, and the spellers were given 5 answer choices, all of which appeared to seem correct, making the written test tricky. The spellers had to mark the correct answers on a Scantron sheet. However, in 2008, this process was changed. This written round transformed into a computerized test. Round 1 then consisted of a 50 words, although only 25 of them actually counted towards the speller’s score. The 25 words which counted towards the spellers score were predetermined and the test takers were oblivious to which of the 50 counted until the preliminary rounds were completed. Instead of the test being delivered all at once during a one hour span, a whole day was set aside to allow the spellers to complete the written test. Spellers were allowed to take an appointment so they could take the test at any time during the day, and without a set time limit.
This year, the written round is back to just a 25 word test that will be administered all at once for all spellers. I am not quite sure if it will be exactly the same as it was before. Here is the situation I presume the spellers and the parents will face: Mrs. Kimble typically makes an announcement of the numbers of the semifinalists who make the cut only after the Round 3 of the competition. Now, all of the spellers would have taken the written test on Monday May 30th, and the announcement does not come out until approximately 5 PM on Wednesday, June 1st. Trust me, I have been there and waiting for those two days to find out if you have made the cut to become one of the semifinalists is one long time. I am sure the anxiety for the contestants and parents alike grows during this time- it’s human nature. My advice — during this time try NOT to listen to anyone who tries to surmise what the cut-off score will be. No one knows what the cut-off score will be, not even the bee officials until Round 3 is completed. There are so many things that influence that cut-off score. The perceived difficulty of the words in the written round is certainly a major factor (We can talk about what I really mean by perceived difficulty in another post). Since the scores are normalized to identify no more than 50 semi-finalists, the cut-off score really depends on the collective performance of all of the spellers. It is easier said than done – but be patient and give a deaf ear to any conversations regarding the cut-off score. You will also hear this from Mrs. Kimble herself during the assembly that will be held on the Tuesday of that week.
That is it for this blog! Although I would like to add that I definitely want to hear from you readers more often!