Photo credit: Mark Bowen

The 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee is quickly approaching for nearly 600 spellers. If you are one of these spellers, my highest congratulations to you! I hope you have celebrated your success appropriately…because a very daunting task looms ahead.

Each year, every qualifying bee champion receives the Round 2 List: a list of 600 words to learn. One of these words will be your first oral round word (in Round 2), and another will be used as a vocabulary word in your written test (in Round 1). Both will be crucial to your chance to continue in the competition.

Which brings up a huge question, dear speller: how do you try to conquer each of these 600 words AND their definitions, given less than two months?

Here would be my strategy:

  • Eliminate the chaff. In this list will – hopefully – be a number of words whose spelling you already know, and perhaps whose definition you also know. The first task should be a cursory glance at the words to establish these words, and to eliminate them from consideration. Any more time spent on these words (aside from a quick review shortly before the bee itself) will be a waste.
  • Study consistently. Spend some time with this list every day. As anyone who has studied for a major test can tell you, preparing a little every day is always more effective than cramming at the last minute. It also takes less effort!
  • Use every tool given to you by Scripps to aid in learning these words. This should be a no-brainer; after all, Scripps compiled this list, and Scripps offers you many online and downloadable resources to conquer it. Besides, you’ll get to hear Dr. Bailly pronounce each word exactly as you will hear him pronounce it at the bee itself!
  • Memorize effectively. By now, you should be a whiz at memorizing words! If not, though, check out this handy memorization technique…it has the seal of approval of at least three past national champions.
  • Simplify definitions. You are not expected to know the exact dictionary definition of each word on this list. Your task during the written test is to be able to pick out the correct answer from a group of several choices. So keep this simple! For each word you don’t know right off, your aim should be to define the word in five words or less. (There will always be some words you can’t define so succinctly but try your best!)
  • Look for roots. Also by now, you should be familiar with at least a smattering of roots. Look for words with these roots to become more comfortable with them. It is quite possible that you may find a particular root in more than one word in this list! You may even consider making a list of these roots and representative words in the list for your own benefit.
  • Look for words that represent language patterns and rules you know. So you know the connecting vowels used most often in Greek and Latin? The many ways the long o can be spelled in French? How about the sound \k\ in Italian? Great! Cement these rules and patterns down in your brain more by identifying examples of them, and group them together.
  • Review, review, review. I cannot emphasize this enough. Simply because you have conquered a word in the recent past does not mean you will be able to remember it three weeks from now – and under a fair bit of tension. Review regularly (i.e., weekly) to keep difficult words and troublesome definitions at bay.

There is one strategy I have seen used by spellers in the past that I do NOT recommend, and it is this: do NOT use Quizlet (or a similar website) at this time to create a set of study materials. Although Quizlet can be an invaluable resource to anyone preparing for a spelling bee (particularly if given an appropriate amount of time to prepare), creating your own Quizlet of 600 words in less than 2 months is just a terrible idea. You will end up spending more time creating than actually learning. Scripps has already created study materials for you, as mentioned above. There is no need to reinvent the wheel – particularly under such a time crunch. So don’t just study hard – study smart, too!

See you in DC!