Previously, spellers could ask for a word's definition in order to help them spell it. Executive Director Paige Kimble said the changes reinforce the competition's goal of encouraging students to broaden their knowledge of the language, rather than just spelling.
"What we know with the championship-level spellers is that they think of their achievement in terms of spelling and vocabulary being two sides of the same coin," Kimble said. "These spellers will be excited at the opportunity to show off their vocabulary knowledge through competition."
The addition of vocabulary also allows organizers to regulate the number of contestants who advance to the finals, to better fit a fixed broadcast slot, reports CBS News. Spellers will take multiple-choice vocabulary tests and organizers will use a point system to select 9-12 finalists.
The prime time broadcast of the final rounds will not include a vocabulary test. As always, competitors will take turns spelling until all but the winner are eliminated. This year's bee takes place May 28-30 near Washington, D.C.
Kimble said she's open to having the vocabulary test onstage in future bees, but she wants to test the computer format first. The 281 spellers who qualified for this year's bee all qualified in regional bees that focused only on spelling. Now they'll need to study up on the definitions of words like "refulgent."