Death, taxes, and annual major changes to the Scripps National Spelling Bee format – these are the only things truly certain in life. Chances are, in about nine months time this post will have to be taken down and replaced with new content. But for now, this is the current format of the bee that you should expect and prepare for:
Round 1: This is the Preliminaries Test – you will be given 12 spelling words and 12 multiple-choice vocabulary words, each worth 1 point. You will also be given your Rounds 2 & 3 Vocabulary words. These will count for 3 points.
Round 2: The first onstage round, broadcast on ESPN3. Words from here will be provided in a 400-word study guide provided by Scripps a few months before the bee.
Round 3: The final preliminary round, broadcast on ESPN3. These words will not be from a specific study list, but will stray away from exceptionally esoteric words. However, some of them can still be very tricky.
Rounds 4 through ~7: This is the first stage of the Finals, broadcast on ESPN2. The 50 highest scorers (maximum) on the Preliminaries Test (spellers must also have spelled their words correctly in Rounds 2 & 3) advance to this stage. Spellers will also take the Tiebreaker Test (12 spelling 12 multiple-choice vocabulary) in the case of a tie at the end of the bee. The bee will then whittle down the number of spellers to a maximum of 12.
Rounds 8 through 8+x: This is the Championship Finals, broadcast on ESPN. Once the field decreases to 3 or less, the bee will move on to “the Championship Rounds,” in which there will be 25 rounds of onstage spelling to determine a winner. If no winner is determined, the results of the Tiebreaker Test will be used.
Here are the official rules: 2017 Contest Rules