National Spelling Bee Kicks Off With Unusual Twist Up first: first-ever vocab test By Newser Editors and Wire Services Posted May 28, 2013 9:36 AM CDT 8 comments Comments In this May 29, 2012 file photo, contestants in the National Spelling Bee take the written exam on computers in Oxon Hill, Md., before the oral competition began. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) (Newser) – Simply knowing how to spell words won't be enough to win the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee; for once, competitors will actually have to know what some words mean, too. The event kicked off today, with, for the first time in its history, a vocabulary test. Some 281 spellers arrived this morning to take a 45-minute computer test that probes their knowledge of both spelling and definitions. The results will be combined with tomorrow's on-stage round to determine which spellers will advance to the semifinals. 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, though some say they wish they had learned about it sooner. The finals take place Thursday night, with the winner taking home more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.