Spelling Bee Qualifications

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A speller qualifying for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, must meet these requirements:

  • The speller must not have won a Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in Washington, DC.
  • The speller must not have passed beyond the eighth grade on or before February 1, 2016.
  • The speller must not have repeated any grade for the purpose of extending spelling bee eligibility. If the speller has repeated any grade, the speller must notify the Scripps National Spelling Bee of the circumstances of grade repetition by March 31, 2016; and the Scripps National Spelling Bee will, at its sole discretion, determine the speller’s eligibility status on or before April 30, 2016.
  • The speller – or the speller’s parent, legal guardian, or school official acting on the speller’s behalf – must not have declared to another entity an academic classification higher than eighth grade for any purpose, including high school graduation equivalency or proficiency examinations and/or examinations such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT.
  • The speller must not have earned the legal equivalent of a high school diploma.
  • The speller must not have completed or have been enrolled in more than six high school-level courses or two college-level courses on or before April 30, 2016.
  • The speller must not bypass or circumvent normal school activity to study for spelling bees. The Scripps National Spelling Bee defines normal school activity as adherence to at least four courses of study other than language arts, spelling, Latin, Greek, vocabulary, and etymology for at least four hours per weekday for 34 of the 38 weeks between August 25, 2015 and May 16, 2016.
  • The speller must not have reached his/her 15th birthday on or before August 31, 2015.
  • The speller must have been declared a champion of a final, local spelling bee on or after February 1, 2016.
  • Once having been disqualified at any level of the Howard County Library System Spelling Bee between July 2015 and April 2016, the speller remains disqualified for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee and may not seek advancement in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee program through another sponsor and/or enrollment in another school.
  • The speller, upon qualifying for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, must submit a completed Champion Bio Form, a Certification of Eligibility Form, a signed Appearance Consent and Release Form, and a hard copy photo to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The speller will notify the Bee – at least 24 hours prior to the first day of competition in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC – if any of the statements made on the Certification of Eligibility Form are no longer true or require updating. Howard County Library System will provide access to the necessary forms.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee may disqualify prior to or during competition any speller who is not in compliance with any of its eligibility requirements; and it may – at any time between the conclusion of the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee and April 30, 2017 – require any speller who is found to have not been in compliance with any of the eligibility requirements to forfeit the prizes, rank, and other benefits accorded to the speller as a result of participation in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Howard County Library System (HCLS) does not make participation in its local spelling bee program contingent upon any of the following: race, religion, creed, gender, the type of school one attends, membership in an organization, or subscription to a publication.

Home schools: 

Home school students are eligible under the same requirements that apply to students attending public, private, or parochial schools. Home school students who are not part of an association must participate in an association bee. Individual families cannot host their own bees and send their winner to the HCLS Spelling Bee.

HCLS has complete autonomy to determine how home schools participate in its spelling bee program. Students who do not participate within HCLS’ designated qualification structure are not eligible.


The spelling bee is conducted in rounds. Each speller remaining in the spelling bee at the start of a round spells one word in each round – except in the case of a written, multiple choice, or online test. The spelling bee may be conducted orally or in writing or in a manner that is a combination of the two; however, if the spelling bee officials specify an oral format, the speller may not demand a written format except under the conditions of Rule 9.

Word list: 

Local spelling bee officials are responsible for selecting the word lists for use at each local spelling bee. Many local spelling bee officials use word lists generated by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. These lists include many words that appear in the current online edition of Spell It! as well as some “end-of-bee” words. All words on Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists are entries in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster, the official dictionary of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Special needs:

Spelling bee officials will strive to provide accommodation for spellers who have physical challenges. All requests for spelling bee officials to accommodate special needs involving sight, hearing, speech, or movement should be directed to spelling bee officials well in advance of the spelling bee date. The judges have discretionary power to amend oral and/or written spelling requirements on a case-by-case basis for spellers with diagnosed medical conditions involving sight, hearing, speech, or movement.

Pronouncer’s role: 

The pronouncer strives to pronounce words according to the diacritical markings in Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster.

  • Homonyms: If a word has one or more homonyms, the pronouncer indicates which word is to be spelled by defining the word.
  • Speller’s requests: The pronouncer responds to the speller’s requests for a definition, sentence, part of speech, language(s) of origin, and alternate pronunciation(s). When presented with requests for alternate pronunciations, the pronouncer or an aide to the pronouncer checks for alternate pronunciations in either Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition. The pronouncer does not entertain root word questions or requests for alternate definitions.
  • Pronouncer’s sense of helpfulness: The pronouncer may offer word information – without the speller having requested the information – if the pronouncer senses that the information is helpful and the information is presented in the entry for the word in a 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee word list or Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its addenda section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster.

Judges’ role:

The judges uphold the rules and determine whether words are spelled correctly. They also render final decisions on appeals in accordance with Rule 16. They are in complete control of the competition, and their decision is final on all questions.

  • Interaction with the speller: Because seeing the speller’s lip movements may be critical in detecting misunderstandings or misspellings, the judges encourage spellers to face them when pronouncing and spelling the word.
  • Notice of rules: The judges ensure that all spellers and audience members are given an opportunity to receive a complete copy of the rules prior to the start of the spelling bee.
  • Misunderstandings: The judges participate in the exchange of information between the speller and pronouncer if they feel that clarification is needed. Also, the judges listen carefully to the speller’s pronunciation of the word; and, if they sense that the speller has misunderstood the word, the judges work with the speller and pronouncer until they are satisfied that reasonable attempts have been made to assist the speller in understanding the word. While the judges are responsible for attempting to detect a speller’s misunderstanding, it is sometimes impossible to detect a misunderstanding until a spelling error has been made. The judges are not responsible for the speller’s misunderstanding.
  • Pronouncer errors: The judges compare the pronouncer’s pronunciation with the diacritical markings in the word list. If the judges determine that the pronouncer’s pronunciation does not match the pronunciation specified in the diacritical markings, the judges direct the pronouncer to correct the error as soon as it is detected.
  • Disqualifications for reasons other than clear misspelling: The judges will disqualify a speller (1) who refuses a request to start spelling; (2) who does not approach the microphone when it is time to receive the word; (3) who does not comply with the eligibility requirements; (4) who engages in unsportsmanlike conduct; (5) who, in the process of retracing a spelling, alters the letters or sequence of letters from those first uttered; or (6) who, in the process of spelling, utters unintelligible or nonsense sounds.
  • Speller activities that do not merit disqualification: The judges may not disqualify a speller (1) for failing to pronounce the word either before or after spelling it, (2) for asking a question, or (3) for noting or failing to note the capitalization of a word, the presence of a diacritical mark, the presence of a hyphen or other form of punctuation, or spacing between words in an open compound.

Speller’s role:

The speller makes an effort to face the judges and pronounce the word for the judges before spelling it and after spelling it. The speller, while facing the judges, makes an effort to utter each letter distinctly and with sufficient volume to be understood by the judges. The speller may ask the pronouncer to say the word again, define it, use it in a sentence, provide the part of speech, provide the language(s) of origin, and/or provide an alternate pronunciation or pronunciations.


The speller is responsible for any misunderstanding of the word unless (1) the pronouncer never provided a correct pronunciation; (2) the pronouncer provided incorrect information regarding the definition, part of speech, or language of origin; or (3) the speller correctly spelled a homonym of the word and the pronouncer failed to either offer a definition or distinguish the homonyms. Correction of a misspelling: The pronouncer and judges will not ask the speller to correct another speller’s misspelling, except at the end of the bee. Misspelling:Upon incorrectly spelling a word, the speller immediately drops out of the competition, except as provided in Rule 15.

End-of-bee procedure:

  • When the number of spellers is reduced to two, the elimination procedure changes. At that point, when one speller misspells a word, the other speller shall be given an opportunity to spell that same word. If the second speller spells that word correctly, plus the next word on the pronouncer’s list, then the second speller shall be declared the champion.
  • If one of the last two spellers misspells a word and the other speller, after correcting the error, misspells the new word, then the misspelled new word shall be referred to the other speller. If this other speller then succeeds in correcting the error and spells the next word on the list, then he or she shall be declared the champion.
  • If both spellers misspell the same word, both shall continue in the competition, and the one who first misspelled the word shall be given a new word to spell.

Spelling Authority:

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and its Addenda Section, copyright 2002, Merriam-Webster, shall serve as the final authority for the spelling of words. If more than one spelling is listed for a word that the pronouncer has provided for the speller to spell, any of these spellings shall be accepted as correct if all of the following three criteria are met: (1) the pronunciations of the words are identical, (2) the definitions of the words are identical, and (3) the words are clearly identified as being standard variants of each other. Spellings at other locations having temporal labels (such as archaic, obsolete), stylistic labels (such as substand, nonstand), or regional labels (such as North, Midland, Irish) which differ from main entry spellings not having these status labels shall not be accepted as correct.

Any question relating to the spelling of a word should be referred to the designated official immediately in writing on the official appeal form. The official appeal form should contain space for the following: the word in question, the name of the speller, and the reason for the appeal.


Appeals may be filed by a parent, legal guardian, or teacher of the speller who is seeking reinstatement in the contest. The judges will not entertain appeals from individuals seeking to dislodge another speller from the competition. The deadline for filing an appeal is before the speller affected would have received his/her next word had s/he stayed in the competition. No appeal will be entertained after that word has been given to another speller. When only two spellers remain, an oral appeal must be made immediately, that is, before the speller affected would have received his/her next word had s/he stayed in the competition.

The judges are in complete control of the competition. Their decision shall be final on all questions.