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.