The Scripps National Spelling Bee, a.k.a. “Bee Week,” begins on Sunday! If you qualified for the National Spelling Bee this year, congratulations and good luck! This blog post will let you know what to expect at Bee Week, and I give you my main Bee Week and last-minute study tips.
On Sunday, you will attend an orientation, where the National Spelling Bee (NSB) staff will give you a schedule for the week and some goodies. They will give you a BeeKeeper, which has a page with information about every speller at the Bee. When spellers meet, they will autograph each other’s BeeKeepers, which is one of the coolest traditions at the NSB. Beginning Sunday and throughout the week, ESPN will choose spellers and conduct interviews for them, so you might get a taste of the spotlight before competition even begins.
Get some sleep on Sunday night; the preliminaries test is early Monday morning. Dr. Bailly will pronounce each of the 24 words and read the relevant information. Pay attention while he does this, you will not be able to ask for information after he is done. One of the best tips I can offer for the test is to write down the spelling or definition of the word being asked before even looking at the choices. That way, you avoid becoming confused by the choices and second-guessing yourself. Other general test-taking tips also apply for this test, such as process of elimination and marking questions you are unsure about so you can come back to them.
Tuesday morning brings the first onstage round— all spellers will complete Round 2 of the preliminaries and Group One spellers will complete Round 3 (both rounds will be broadcast on ESPN3 so your family and friends back home can watch). Since there are 565 spellers competing, these rounds are as much a test of patience as they are of spelling skill. Take advantage of breaks to take a walk and/or drink some water, and don’t try to spell everyone else’s word—you may end up stressing yourself out or getting tired. When you are up spelling, it may be nerve-wracking to see all the lights and cameras focused on you, but ignore it all. Just focus on Dr. Bailly are the word you’re being asked to spell, and you will be fine.
On Wednesday, Group Two spellers will finish Round 3 of the preliminaries. At the conclusion of the preliminaries, you will receive an email with your score from the preliminaries test on Monday. The finalists will also be announced around this time. If you don’t qualify as a finalist, you’re definitely allowed to take some time to be sad, but definitely go out and support the finalists on Thursday. Lots of spellers will also attend, so this is a great opportunity to get BeeKeeper signatures and meet new people. If you do qualify as a finalist, enjoy the moment and prepare yourself for a lot of media attention. Make sure to get some rest before Thursday; it will be a very long day.
Thursday is a very big day for all the finalists. The morning finals start at 10 a.m., and they continue until there are 12 or less spellers remaining, who all move on to the evening finals. If you are an evening finalist, you will have a session with ESPN to make a short video about you, and then you will have a few hours to rest. Before the start of the finals, Scripps will provide you dinner, then you will get your hair and makeup done for TV. Enjoy being on ESPN Primetime, because you are (literally) one speller out of a million to get this opportunity. At the end of the night, and after many difficult words, the Scripps National Spelling Bee champion is crowned!
Friday is a great time to relax and do some sightseeing. The NSB offers a Washington, D.C. tour, but you can always stay back at the hotel to hang out with spellers or explore National Harbor (the Ferris wheel is a must-see!). If you are the champion, you will spend all morning doing interviews with news channels all over America. In the evening is the awards banquet, where all spellers who competed are recognized for their accomplishments and Bee Week is officially concluded. Afterwards is the Farewell Party, which is personally my favorite part of the week. You can hang out with your speller friends on the dance floor or take funny pictures at the photo booth. The NSB closes the ballroom around midnight, but spellers will hang out around the hotel until around 2 a.m., and sometimes even after.
Here are my top three tips for making the most of Bee Week:
1. MEET PEOPLE! You are in a hotel with 565 spellers from all over the United States and the world. If you ever have some free time, go explore the hotel—there will always be spellers in the lobby, atrium, or ballroom area. Make sure you have your BeeKeeper with you, since it’s a great icebreaker and helps people identify you as a speller. Whenever you see a speller, ask them to sign your BeeKeeper and start a conversation with them! I’ve met some amazing people this way, and I still keep in touch with them, even 3 years after the Bee.
You can also make friends up on stage. Everyone at the NSB says, “You are competing against the dictionary, not each other,” and this is definitely true. You will be amazed at the camaraderie between all the spellers on stage, and if you feel comfortable, definitely take the opportunity to start a conversation with your neighbors (I actually used this as a way to distract myself from being nervous).
Definitely take the time to meet some NSB alumni as well. We all love Bee Week so much that we come back year after year, even after we have “retired” from the Bee. These NSB alumni have all been in your shoes before and can offer you unique advice during the week. A lot of them are also very successful and they are going to amazing universities like Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Stanford, etc., so you can also ask them about high school and life after the Bee!
2. Take care of yourself at Bee Week. There is so much happening that it’s easy to forget to eat food, drink water, and get sleep. Don’t spend all your time at the bee holed up in your hotel room to cram a lot of new words. You probably won’t remember these words later, and this last-minute cramming will just stress you out more. If you do feel the need to study, stick to reviewing some easier words that you have seen before.
To do your best up on stage, make sure you drink lots of water, and have a snack during the breaks. The lights and cameras on stage can get overwhelming, so don’t forget to leave the stage during the breaks and walk around a little bit.
You have studied many hours for this bee. Be calm and confident, do your best, and everything will work itself out.
3. Enjoy the NSB and National Harbor experience as much as you can! The National Spelling Bee has lots of fun activities throughout the week, which are also great places to meet spellers. Go to as many of these events as possible and don’t forget to bring your BeeKeeper!
National Harbor is a beautiful town with lots of great places to sightsee and some amazing restaurants— take advantage of them when you have time. The Capitol Wheel (a Ferris wheel near the hotel) has a great view of National Harbor and the Potomac River. Former spellers’ favorite restaurants include Fiorella, Nando’s, Redstone, and Cadillac Ranch. You are also very close to Washington, D.C., so you can visit the White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, etc. if you haven’t been there before.
Here are my top last-minute study tips:
1. Try to avoid learning many new words once you’re at Bee Week. This may stress you out, decrease your confidence, and cause you to second-guess yourself once you’re up on stage. Instead, focus on reviewing words that you have already seen at least once. Maybe review words you know but haven’t seen in a while to refresh your memory, or look at words that you’ve previously made a mistake on. It is fine to learn a few new words at a time, just try to avoid cramming a long list of words you’ve never seen before—chances are you won’t remember them when you go on stage.
2. Take frequent breaks. The last thing you want to do is tire yourself out before you compete, so don’t overwork yourself cramming for the bee.
Take a break every two hours or so and do something active such as meeting spellers around the hotel or taking a walk outside the hotel. Spend the hour before you go on stage away from the books and computer screen. The more relaxed and alert you are on stage, the better you will do.
3. Prepare for the preliminaries test. If this is your first time competing at the National Spelling Bee, you probably have never taken a multiple choice spelling and vocabulary test like the preliminaries test. This test is very different from spelling onstage; make sure you spend time learning the format of the test so you know what to expect. SpellPundit’s practice preliminaries test will help you get a feel for the multiple choice format of the test, as well as help you review spelling and vocabulary words.
4. Don’t overlook the “easy” words. Many spellers will spend the last few days before the bee only looking at “hard” words and completely overlooking the “easier” ones. But these seemingly “easy” words can be tricky and trip up even the most experienced spellers. Don’t forget about them, especially when studying for the preliminary rounds!
Bee Week is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so enjoy it as much as possible. If you are still eligible next year, take a break from studying for a while, then start working so you can qualify again!
Once again, good luck to everyone competing and may the best speller win!