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Spelling bee whizzes will also be quizzed on definitions

The National Spelling Bee is about to get even harder thanks to new rules requiring that kids provide a definition in later rounds. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

It's no longer good enough to spell six-syllable words — kids who hope to advance to the semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee also must know what the head-scratchers mean.

The organizers of the annual event announced Tuesday that competitors will take multiple-choice definition quizzes that will make up 50 percent of the score that determines who goes to the last rounds.

The bee's executive director, Paige Kimble, doesn’t think the new system is a game-changer, arguing that most good spellers are up on definitions, too.

“My sense is that many of our champions knew exactly what they word meant before they spelled it,” Kimble told NBC News.

“My sense is that it will not make it more challenging for these championship-level spellers because they recognize that spelling and the vocabulary are two sides of the same coin.”

Since 2002, bee contestants have taken a computerized spelling test off-camera during the preliminaries. That helped determine who went on to the televised semifinals, where they were asked only to spell.

Now, the test will include vocabulary and those that make to the semifinals will also take one. The results will be combined with the live-round spelling results.

Kimble said the goal is to underscore the bee’s purpose – improving kids’ language skills. She dismissed speculation that it will also give organizers will get more control over the number of finalists.

The 281 competitors in this year's bee, which takes place May 28-30, will be briefed on the new rules Wednesday, meaning they'll have about six weeks to peruse the dictionary.

"It's a short time, that's for sure," Srinivas Mahankali, whose son, Arvind, is one of the favorites this year, told the Associated Press. "But the thing is everyone knows about it at the same time, so I think it's fair to everyone."

Alex Brandon/AP file

Snigdha Nandipati, 14, of San Diego, Calif., spells a word during the finals of the National Spelling Bee in 2012. This year's competitors will also have to know definitions to advance to the semifinals.








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