The 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee is under way, with 281 youngsters taking the first vocabulary test in the history of the competition. Eighteen students from Texas will be competing.
Spellers arrived Tuesday morning to take a 45-minute computer test that probes their knowledge of both spelling and vocabulary. The results will be combined with Wednesday's on-stage round to determine which spellers will advance to the semifinals Thursday.
Two students from the Houston area are vying to be the nation's top speller. Shobha Dasari, 12, is a sixth grader representing Pearland’s Leon Sablatura Middle School. Syamantak Payra, 12, is a seventh grader from Westbrook Intermediate School in Friendswood.
The finals take place Thursday night, with the winner taking home more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.
Organizers announced the addition of the vocabulary test last month, saying it reinforces the bee's mission to encourage students to improve their spelling and broaden their knowledge of the English language.
Spellers have mostly supported the change, although some say they wish they had learned about it sooner.