NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- If there's one thing spellers returning to the Scripps National Spelling Bee can expect, it's change.Although the venerable competition is in its eighth decade, organizers seem to find new ways to tweak the bee every year.Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee champion Elizabeth Koh took the national bee's round one test Tuesday. She said the experience was much different than her first time around, at last year's competition."You don't know what to expect," said Rosemary Koh, Elizabeth's mother.Rosemary has been to the national bee three times with her children: Elizabeth's big brother Matthew represented the Gazette-Mail in 2008, and Elizabeth also was the 2011 Regional Bee champion.Elizabeth received an all-expenses-paid trip to the national bee; a $2,500 SMART529 college savings plan through a program of the state treasurer's office; the Samuel Louis Sugarman award (a $100 savings bond); a one-year subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica Online; and a Webster's Third New International Dictionary.The March 17 regional bee was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Housing Development Fund and Lumos Networks and televised by WSAZ's sister station, MyZ TV.For the past several years, round one has been a written test that requires contestants to spell 50 words.Each correct spelling is worth one point toward a speller's preliminary score -- which determines if the contestant moves on to the semifinal rounds -- but only 25 of the words on the written test are "score words."Spellers don't know which words count toward their scores.
Last year, all spellers took the round one test together. It was a pen-and-paper affair: Spellers sat at tables while bee pronouncer Jacques Bailey read a list of words."It was classroom spelling test style," Elizabeth said.Bailey read each word and its definition, language of origin, part of speech and an example sentence. Then he read it all again.Elizabeth said spellers had to scramble to write the words before Bailey moved on.This year, however, spellers signed up for time slots on Tuesday to take their round one test. Elizabeth signed up for 11 a.m.
At her appointed time, she was escorted into a room with rows of computers where she logged on to the National Spelling Bee's special testing system. She donned a set of headphones, which allowed her to hear a recording of Bailey reading the words. Other information about the word was on the computer screen.
There were no time limits this year. Spellers had as long as they needed to spell their 50 words. Rosemary said her daughter took about 40 minutes to complete the test.Elizabeth said she preferred the new format."You don't have a time limit, so you weren't rushed to think of the word and write it down. You can replay the words as many times as you need to," she said.Spellers were instructed not to talk about words on the test until the list is released to the public Wednesday afternoon. Generally speaking, Elizabeth said she was not sure how she performed on the test because she didn't know which words would count."There were words I knew and words I didn't, like any other difficult spelling test."
Elizabeth and her family planned to hang out in National Harbor, on the shores of the Potomac River in Prince Georges County, Md., just south of Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening.The bee is being held in the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor.The bee's first oral rounds begin early Wednesday."I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited to get on the stage," Elizabeth said.Round two begins at 8 a.m., giving spellers their first turn on the national stage. Contestants will spell one word each but won't be eliminated if they misspell. Spellers earn three points for each correct spelling.Round three begins at 1:15 p.m. and will work the same as round two.Following those rounds, judges will add up scores from the first three rounds and announce which spellers advance to Thursday's semifinal rounds.The semifinal rounds begin at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN2. The bee's championship finals begin at 8 p.m. Thursday evening and also will be broadcast on ESPN2.The national champion will win a $30,000 cash prize, an engraved trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a complete reference library from Merriam-Webster, a $5,000 scholarship from the Sigma Phi Epsilon Educational Foundation, $2,600 worth of reference materials from Encyclopaedia Britannica and an online language course and Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader from Middlebury Interactive Languages.The Gazette-Mail will cover Elizabeth's journey throughout Bee Week. Stories will appear in both The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail, with updates at www.wvgazette.com
throughout the week.Follow @ZackHarold on Twitter or visit http://blogs.dailymail.com/reporterspad for live coverage of the event.