I offer a highly-specialized coaching program!

About Me

I am Cole Shafer-Ray, a 19 year-old from Norman, Oklahoma. I am a coach for some of the world’s most elite spellers, and my program is open for anyone whose goal it is to be among the best. Most of my students reach the Finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Some traits that could describe me: enthusiastic, perfectionist, thorough, competitive, driven, and focused on excellence.  I’m very devoted to being the best.

I am extremely passionate about spelling.  I was a three-time participant in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, written test perfect-score recipient, and runner-up in 2015.

In June 2015, I created and later founded The Spelling Champ, LLC.

I’ve been involved with spelling bees for the past eleven years, so I am about as knowledgeable as one could be about anything and everything spelling-related. I’ve been around long enough to know how the whole spelling bee system works, down to the finest detail.

I’ve also performed hours of thorough analysis of past competitions to know exactly which lists to prioritize (or disregard), as well as the Do’s and Don’ts of spelling study.  I know exactly what it takes to win at the highest level.

I am extremely committed in taking my students to the next level.  If you’re a speller looking to advance past your regional bee and into the later stages of the National Spelling Bee, consider having me as your coach!

Here’s me and featured in a commercial for WordPress!

Personalized Tutoring

I offer an hour-long diagnostic session (free of charge) before beginning to conduct lessons.  This way, I can analyze your strengths and weaknesses and develop a personalized plan for you, and you have the opportunity to decide if you want to proceed with lessons.  During this diagnostic, I will quiz a little more and teach a little less than in an average lesson so I can be more efficient and have a better idea of your level by the end of the hour.  If you decide you want to continue with lessons, here is how it will work:

  • Lessons will be held over Skype and are conducted whenever both the student and I can.  During lessons, the student will be quizzed over the information from the past week’s assignment as well as new information related to the assignment.
  • Frequency of lessons is up to the student and their family.  In general, most students have about one or two lessons per week.
  • Lessons will almost always stress language patterns, rules, and roots more than rote list memorization.  Any incorrect answers given by the student will be thoroughly explained and bad habits will be corrected.
  • There will be assignments to complete in between every lesson.  The assignments are based on the curriculum determined by the personalized plan.  They usually include (but aren’t limited to) at least one each of the following: a spelling list to master, a vocabulary quiz, an exercise that stresses root knowledge, and the student’s misspelled/incorrectly defined words and roots from the last lesson.
  • Once a personalized plan is determined, the majority of my students use an organized computer program to study their assigned list(s).  This is the preferred method of study, but every student is different.  The assignments are structured so that the student will complete the curriculum outlined by their plan by the time the bee comes.
  • For vocabulary and root study, most students use  They use my lists primarily, but they’ll also construct their own.
  • I analyze my students’ missed words to reveal the student’s weak spots in spelling, vocabulary, and root knowledge.  This allows me to gear my assignments toward strengthening them specifically and efficiently.
  • I have my students complete questionnaires and/or evaluations every couple months to get a detailed and current picture of their mentality, study methods, learning styles, time management strategies, daily habits, personal concerns, what they enjoy about spelling, and what makes them click.  I analyze this in order to nurture their good habits and diagnose and fix the bad ones.  This helps them tackle one of the hardest parts of becoming an elite speller: gaining control over their will—staying focused, disciplined, and consistent at all times, good ones and bad ones alike.

The ultimate goal of my students should be to advance into the final rounds of the national competition, but I accept students of any level.  You will not find a more effective tutor!


I believe in complete comprehensiveness as well as efficiency to maximize the chance of success.  I have been around the spelling scene long enough to know exactly what and what not to study.  I’ve done enough research and analysis to know what they’re going to ask for at the national competition.  Consequently, I have a vast collection of painstakingly-constructed, exhaustive lists which cover everything you need to know in order to succeed at the highest level.  I encourage you to take a look at my Numbers Never Lie page to get a taste of this.

Let me introduce you to something I’ve tirelessly put my blood, sweat, and tears into over the past six years: something I call the Master List.  I compiled the most bee-likely words from dozens of lists and handpicked thousands more straight from the dictionary, creating a ~90,000 word list to end all other lists.  Here are some facts:

  • In the ‘modern era’ of the Bee (2009-2017), the Master List has contained 97.18% percent of the Surprise Words asked at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Of the 2.82% not in the Master List, 71% are words that are one or more of the following:

  • Exceedingly basic words.  Examples: twinge (2013 Preliminaries Test), normalize (2011 Preliminaries Test)
  • Words with extremely close relatives on the Master List.  Examples: commorients (commorient), congeners (congener), kleptocrat (kleptocracy)
  • Words with extremely common roots that are easily broken down.  Examples: plutonomy (pluto- meaning wealth + -nomy meaning government), osteochondrous (osteo- meaning bone + chondr- meaning cartilage + -ous, adjectival suffix)

With the 0.81% of words that remain, about 13% are words from written tests, or “non-elimination” words.  You can miss a point on a test and still move on to the next round – very few get perfect scores.  After factoring out written test words, we’re left with about 0.70% of the Surprise Words since 2009.  In other words, knowing this list would get you 99.3% of the onstage Surprise Words.  Let’s do a little more statistics, shall we?

  • The average Scripps National Spelling Bee since 2009 has had about 18 onstage Surprise Word rounds.
  • Based on past bees, there is a 88.12% chance that every single word you get in an onstage surprise word round through 18 rounds is in the Master List or falls under the aforementioned criteria.

Only one of the twelve champions since 2009 has had to spell a word not on the Master List on their way to victory.  If you have the list down, you have a great shot.  Of course, there is no 100% guarantee that future bees are always going to reflect past bees, but these numbers are still pretty astonishing.  There is no other list out there that comes close to rivaling this.

But how am I supposed to learn 90,000 words?

90,000 words is less than it may seem at first, especially when compared to the workload of spellers who go through the entire dictionary (490,000+ words).  The list is split up into five main groups – Basic (early Preliminaries Test type words), Intermediate (late Regional & early Semifinal level words), Advanced (late Semifinals & early Finals), Esoteric (late Finals), and Root Words (words easily discernible with root knowledge).  Each of these groups are further organized by language.  Many students don’t have to bother studying the Basic group, as their skill level is too advanced for it to be worth the time.  The Root Words group could be bypassed by a student who is proficient enough with etymological knowledge.  The separation of each group into individual languages enforces recognition of rules, patterns, and relationships between words in a given language.  With a little organization, the Master List is very doable.

The Master List is exclusive to students and is not available for purchase.


2009-2017 is considered the ‘modern era’ of the bee because 2009 was the first year formatted with a Preliminaries Test, two preliminary oral rounds, and a maximum of fifty semifinalists.  Words have become much more challenging and esoteric in this ‘era’.

“Surprise Words” signify words that were not on any list provided to the contestants by Scripps.  Note that in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2016, and 2017 there was a preliminary round which used Surprise Words, but because the words were overly simple and didn’t match the other Surprise Words in terms of difficulty, I excluded them.

I did NOT consult past bees when synthesizing the Master List as it would skew these statistics.

Master List Word Count: ~90,000, 97.18% of words in National Bee since 2009

Word Count of other lists:

  • New Nat’s Notes (18,000)
  • The Blitz Lists (9,000)
  • The Consolidated Word List (23,500)
  • Paideia 2004-2006 (5,200)
  • Words of Wisdom (15,400)
  • Words from the Champs (10,000)
  • Rebecca’s List (7,000)
  • SAT Words (5,000)
  • Etyma (7,000)
  • Verbomania (13,600)
  • Words of Champions (5,700)

= A grand total of about 119,400 words.  These lists put together account for about 89% of the words since 2009.

The Master List offers a much better likelihood for success, and is a singular organized, conveniently formatted list.

All of my tutees get complimentary and exclusive access to this list and the other invaluable resources and data I have built and collected over years of hard work.  There is no other coach who rivals my quality of resources and expertise!


For the 2018-2019 bee season, I had ten full-time students in my coaching program.  All ten were new to the program last year; most had never competed in the Bee, and none had ever come close to the top 100.

Regardless, all ten of my students qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, beating out an estimated 12,000,000 students competing in qualifying bees around the U.S. and other participating countries to join 555 of the best spellers in the world in Washington D.C. (putting them in the top 0.0047% of all contestants).

There, all ten were named amongst the top 117 spellers as a result of their exceptional performance in the Preliminaries, which includes the Preliminaries Test and Rounds 2 & 3 (moving them up to the top 0.000975%).

Seven of the ten qualified as top 50 finalists (3 missed out by one point), and five of those seven of those placed in the top 30 (now in the top 0.00025%).

Two students, Aritra Banerjee and Nathan Ostermann, tied for 17th (top 0.00014%) and were just nine spots away from the octo-champs.

The previous year, before joining my program, Nathan Ostermann tied for 324th (along with 129 other spellers). This 307-spot jump is the biggest improvement in placement by any speller in any Scripps National Spelling Bee, ever, and it happened in just over eight months of training.

Screen Shot 2020-03-21 at 11.13.10 PM.jpg

I react as my student, Nathan Ostermann, spells yperite correctly in the Finals of the 2019 Scripps National Spelling Bee live on ESPN. Before joining my program, Nathan placed 324th in the 2018 competition.

Now that I have experience helping spellers become globally elite in less than a year, I’ve been able to see clearly what works and doesn’t with respect to maximizing my students’ level of motivation, efficiency of time spent, and efficiency of resources used.  Along with putting these observations to use, I’m increasing my effort to establish a culture of consistency, work ethic, discipline, positivity, and love for the art of spelling among my students in the program this year.  I believe that the process of becoming one of the world’s best in spelling (or any other field, for that matter) teaches a great deal about life and allows one to develop tremendously as a person.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve worked tirelessly to make improvements to the program to help them get even better and which further encourage a love for the art of spelling. I’m confident that these improvements will help the program attain even more successful results at the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee than it did in 2019—my ultimate goal is to have coached the champion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and several of its top finishers year in, year out, and leave a long-lasting legacy of coaching success.

Due to limitations on the number of students I can thoroughly focus on, I usually do not accept more than ~7 students in the program.

If your child is passionate about spelling, email me to be considered for a spot! If you are not immediately offered a spot, you will be put on the wait list. Please include the speller’s name, the speller’s bee experience, and the name of a parent.


To schedule a diagnostic, please send me an email at drcolesr (at)  Looking forward to hearing from you!