By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Young contestants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee will face a new challenge this year - not only having to spell obscure words, but also to know what they mean.
For the first time since it started in 1927, the contest will require contestants in preliminary and semifinal rounds to take a vocabulary test.
"This is a significant change in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but also a natural one," Paige Kimble, the contest's director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"It represents a deepening of the Bee's commitment to its purpose: to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives."
The Scripps National Spelling Bee will take place May 28-30 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside Washington.
Since 2002, a written or computer spelling test has been a component that, along with onstage spelling, factored in determining which spellers advanced to the semifinals.
This year, competitors will qualify to advance to the semifinals and finals based on their onstage spelling, as well as computer-based spelling and vocabulary questions.
Vocabulary evaluation will count for half of a speller's overall score, Scripps said.
A sample vocabulary question was: "What is the purpose of defibrillation?" The potential answers were a) removing fibrous matter from vegetables, b) removing bodily hair, c) restoring the rhythm of the heart and d) reducing a fever using medication.
The correct answer was "c."
This year's Bee will draw 281 spellers from eight countries and Department of Defense Schools in Europe and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The contest is limited to students younger than 16 and who have not passed beyond eighth grade.
Last year's winner was Snigdha Nandipati, a San Diego eighth-grader who won by correctly spelling "guetapens," a French-derived word for ambush or trap.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Maureen Bavdek)