Spelling bees have a long history of fostering healthy competition and academic excellence. If you have ever dreamed of competing in a spelling bee, watched one on television, or simply wanted to become better at spelling and memorization, then it’s probably time to start studying. Spelling bees are offered through school, regional, and national organizations—studying for them should be taken seriously because competition can be fierce!
- Get the word list for your spelling bee. This list will reflect the difficulty level of the types of words you will be tested with. It will be the base for your own personal list of words to study. Keep in mind, however, that the list will not necessarily contain the exact words you will be tested with.
- Your school or the spelling bee organization (Scripps, for example) should provide you with this.
- Simply memorizing this list will not be sufficient studying because it is meant to be used as a guide, rather than quiz material. It’s best to also cover difficult words from anywhere, as spelling bees will turn to secret “off-list” words later in the competition.
- Isolate words you don’t know on the list. Keeping these words separate from the ones that you do know will give you an idea of how much studying you need to do. If you know the majority of the words on your list, consider trying the next level up of spelling bee.
- Buy a Merriam Webster Unabridged, Eleventh Edition dictionary. This is the official dictionary used by the Scripps National Spelling Bee Association. Reading the dictionary, looking words up, and memorizing official pronunciations will comprise the bulk of your studying habits.
- If you don’t want to purchase a dictionary, you can borrow one from your local library (although it may not be the current edition), or visit the Merriam Webster website.
EditPracticing on Your Own
- Pretend to write words into the palm of your hand. This technique will create a muscle memory for words that are more difficult to memorize. Just as you write words on paper, writing them in your hand can be a useful trigger to recall spelling when you are confronted them with during a competition.
- This technique is especially useful because you are allowed to spell words into your hand while onstage at an actual spelling bee.
- Learn root words. Etymology is incredibly important to understanding how words work in the English language. If you don’t know a word, you can often make an educated guess about its spelling depending on what root word(s) it may contain.
- If you don’t know the word “antebellum,” for instance, you might be able to recognize the common root of “ante,” in the beginning of the word, and guess the rest. “Ante” means “before,” and “bellum” means war. So, while you may not have known “bellum,” you could piece together that antebellum mean pre-something—pre-war, in this case.
- Asking the origin of a word here is important. It can give you a clue to what root the word is derived from – unless it’s an eponym.
- Read the dictionary. This may sound daunting, but reading the dictionary as if it were a novel is useful for recognizing how root words transform as you progress alphabetically. You will also have maximum exposure to unknown words by reading the dictionary.
- Pick one, five-page section at a time to read, at random. Watch as words build off of words that have come before them, and notice how spelling is comprised of a connection of words, and their roots.
- Pick three words from a random page and try using them in a sentence, after spelling them. This will make those words memorable to you. This exercise can also be done with the words on your word list.
- Reading the dictionary can be more useful than pleasure reading because your brain will be focused solely on learning words and their definitions, rather than complex or literary concepts.
- Learn diacritics for pronunciation. Diacritics are the small symbols above words in the dictionary. Learning these will help you hear how a word should be officially pronounced. In the English language, words are often pronounced differently than they look on the page. So, you may have the spelling of a word memorized, but if the bee announcer pronounces it differently than you would, you may not think you know that word.
- ”Diacritic,” for example, will be written two other ways in the dictionary. The first shows its syllables: di·a·crit·ic. The second shows its pronunciation: /dīəˈkridik/. These symbols tell you to emphasize the first three letters, with the most emphasis going on the “i” that has a small, horizontal line above it. The written “a” in diacritic will sound more like an “ie,” according to this chart.
- Read, recite, and write alone. Read the dictionary, recite words aloud to yourself, and write words out on your own. This way, you’ll foster your own learning experience unfettered by other people’s ideas and associations. Ultimately, you will be on the spelling bee stage by yourself, so it’s a good idea to practice techniques that will best serve you when gearing up for the big day.
- Look up words you don’t know when you read for pleasure. You can still read for pleasure as you study for a spelling bee, but it must be an active reading practice. That means looking up the pronunciation, context, and definition of words you don’t know, even if they aren’t on your spelling list.
- Keep your word list up to date. Once a week, remove words that you have successfully learned from your word list. This will allow you to add new words to your list, and avoid wasting study time on those words that are already safely in your mind.
- Post notes with difficult words written on them throughout your house. The more you see a word, the more it will stick in your brain. Change Post-It notes out once you have had them up for a week. Practice spelling the word out loud whenever you look at the note.
EditRecruiting Friends to Help You
- Practice spelling in front of a friend or family member. This will prepare you for the performance oriented nature of spelling bees. It can be easy to lose your train of thought when you are nervous, so if you have trouble speaking in public this tactic is especially important.
- Speaking out loud, even if someone is not present, is important as well. Learn the sound of your own voice as spell, and you will become more confident in your abilities.
- Have a friend try out unfamiliar words. Have a friend or family member quiz you on words they think of themselves, every so often. This will keep your mind alert and test your ability to use root-identification and pronunciation to spell words you may not already know.
- Attend a spelling bee with someone. This will help you know what to expect at your own spelling bee. Friends and family members may notice things that you won’t, so bringing an extra set of eyes and ears with you can be a boon to observing the bee in action. 
- If you cannot attend a bee, there are plenty of videos of them on the internet.
- Take a break every 30 minutes. When you study too hard, you will find yourself drifting off to sleep or getting bored. Be sure to stretch, talk to friends, or go for a quick walk in between long bouts of studying.
- Use everything you’re allowed to ask on a bee. You can ask for alternate pronunciations (if any), definition, origin, to use the word in a sentence, and for the speaker to repeat the word again.
- If you’re in a bee and hear a homophone, ask for the definition. You will get it wrong if you choose the wrong word.
- When studying, put on citrus scented lotion. On the day of the bee, put on that same lotion. It will work as a memory trigger and help you to recall words you have studied with more ease.
- Don’t try learning every word in the dictionary, because there will always be at least one you’ll have missed. It’s a lot easier if you know a lot of basic words and word-roots, and let context and pronunciation guide you.
EditThings You’ll Need
- The Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged International Dictionary (if you’re competing in the USA Scripps National Spelling Bee)
- A lot of sticky notes and paper (for writing words down)
- Win a Spelling Bee
- Spell a Difficult Word
- Avoid Common Spelling Mistakes when Writing a wikiHow Article
- Study for a Spelling Test
- Get a Child Ready for a Spelling Bee