How do I get past the National Spelling Bee written round?

How do you study to get past the written part of the National Spelling Bee? 

An announcement stated that the 2016 National Spelling Bee will have only one written round in the beginning followed by an old-fashioned spell-off this has changed over the years to add a tie-breaker and then in 2019, the written tie-breaker was removed (Watch ABC Video). So this change! A list of new words is traditionally provided only to spellers going to the National Spelling Bee. Please login to your spelling account at the official website for details if you are spelling in the 2020 National Spelling Bee.

In 2015, the written rounds were in multiple-choice format using a Scantron. The tests were also very tough in this year and likely because the written rounds are often used to narrow-down the field of spellers. On the bright side, no matter how you do on the written round, every speller gets a chance to spell on stage. Just do your best, read the rules and know your definitions! Also, check periodically for any updates to the rules or format in case the Spelling Bee makes any last minute changes. The written rounds occur in a room (not on stage), and in 2015, computers were not used. Instead, Dr. Bailly pronounced the word information and spellers had about 30 seconds to choose an answer. Try this sample test to understand the anticipated format to be used with a Scantron. 


Up to 2012, the written round at the National Bee graded 25 words (out of 50). A composite score was made with one point for each correct word from the written round plus 3 points for each of the correctly spelled words in the first two oral rounds. The year 2013, however, saw the addition of a vocabulary portion of the National Spelling Bee which was also "written" or rather, "computerized." In 2013 and 2014, a written/computerized test was administered twice (in Round 1 and in Round 4). On these written tests, there were sections marked for Rounds 2, 3, 5, and 6 consisting of one computerized vocab question each; these were multiple-choice vocabulary questions that required spellers to know the meaning of a given word. These vocabulary questions were worth 3 points each, carrying just as much weight as spelling a word correctly on stage.


    Again, 9 of the 25 words in this round were in Verbomania and 7 were in in New Nat’s Notes. This year saw 9 words that have never been used before at a regional or national bee and all of these were difficult, but Blitz List Volume 1 had two of them!  Thus, 72% of the words given in this Written Round were included in the above named Hexco products.
    9 of the 25 words in this round were in Verbomania and 9 were in in New Nat’s Notes for a total of 72% of the word list. Seven words had never appeared in bees before to our knowledge, including fourteen, youthquake, electromagnet, appointee, bonobo, pinealectomy, and monodomous. Only the last three seemed difficult out of these seven words.
    17 of the 25 words in the written round were found in Verbomania, and 7 were in New Nat’s Notes, accounting for all but one word, refuse. Thus 96% of the words were in one volume or another of our primary study products.
    17 of the 25 words in the written round were found in Verbomania, and 6 were in New Nat’s Notes. The other two words were limousine and onychorrhexis. The former is in some of our other products, but the latter has never been in any study list to our knowledge, although it does have good Greek roots.
    15 of the 25 words in the written round were found in Verbomania, and 10 were in New Nat’s Notes.

So, what to study to prepare for the Written Round at the National Spelling Bee? Pretty obvious: VerbomaniaNew Nat’s Notes and Blitz List (Yes, we recommend studying these in that order unless you are a very, very advanced speller!)  Also containing the same words, but with audio, are Verbo eMentor and New Nat's eMentor. However, bear in mind that together, New Nat's Notes and Verbomania contain a total of 31,000+ words. The Blitz List volumes 1, 2, and 3 contain 3,000 words each, so that is another 9,000 words! It is a gargantuan task to master that many words, so we recommend you start with one and then try another! We also have some Blitz List eMentor for help knowing and practicing how these tough words are pronounced!

View all of our eMentor products and try The Collection of words used in past spelling bees.

The History of the Written Round at the National Spelling Bee

The National Spelling Bee written round was established in 2002. For the first few years, Scripps' conducted the written round with a pronouncer speaking each word along with its dictionary information while students were asked to choose the correct spelling from a multiple choice answer sheet. A few years later, each speller took a 50-word test on a computer with the recorded pronunciation given by the computer while the definition, part of speech, sentence, and language of origin were shown on the screen. The speller then entered his/her spelling, and after all the words had been spelled, the student could review spellings and make any changes. In 2011, the written round changed once again, and the National Spelling Bee did not use recorded words, but instead, a total of 25 words were pronounced by Dr. Bailly and he also verbally gave the dictionary information. Students manually wrote each word and the papers were turned in for grading. In 2012, the number of words returned to 50 with 25 being graded once again, but the round was recorded by Dr. Bailly and the test was taken on computers. Since 2013, the written round has included a vocabulary section and was administered in Rounds 1 and 4 with points also counting for rounds 2, 3, 5, and 6. The spelling in 2015 was not recorded, but was announced by Dr. Bailly.