Alex Brandon/AP file
Snigdha Nandipati, 14, of San Diego, Calif., spells a word during the finals of the National Spelling Bee in 2012. This year's competitors will also have to know definitions to advance to the semifinals.
By Tracy Connor, Staff Writer, NBC News
It's no longer good enough to spell six-syllable words ? kids who hope to advance to the semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee also have to know what the head-scratchers mean.
The organizers of the annual event announced Tuesday that competitors will take multiple-choice definition quizzes that will account for 50 percent of the score that determines who makes it to the last rounds.
The bee's executive director, Paige Kimble, said she thinks the spellers will embrace the big change.
"What we know with the championship-level spellers is that they think of their achievement in terms of spelling and vocabulary being two sides of the same coin," Kimble told the Associated Press. "These spellers will be excited at the opportunity to show off their vocabulary knowledge through competition."
Since 2002, bee contestants have taken a computerized spelling test off-camera during the preliminaries that helped determine who went to the televised semifinals, but they were asked only to spell words.
Now, that test will include vocabulary and those that make to the semifinals will also take it. The results will be combined with the live-round spelling results.
Among the benefits: the organizers will get more control over how many finalists they have.
The 281 competitors in this year's bee, which takes place May 28-30, will be briefed on the new rules Wednesday, meaning they'll have about six weeks to peruse the dictionary.
"It's a short time, that's for sure,"?Srinivas Mahankali, whose son, Arvind, is one of the favorites this year, told the AP. "But the thing is everyone knows about it at the same time, so I think it's fair to everyone."
The Associated Press contributed to this story