Stems Quizzes

Here are 60 challenging quizzes containing many words that have shown up at regional and national bees in recent years. The main purpose of these quizzes is to harness your ability to recognize stems within words.

This stem-recognition skill is absolutely crucial if you want to do well in your regional bee or at the national bee.

On one hand, it’s a tool you’ll need to apply to vocabulary to score well on the Scripps Preliminaries Test. Since vocabulary was introduced in 2013, nearly half (44.4%) of the points on the vocabulary section were earned by words entirely made up of stems. A speller could earn all of these points very easily by applying these stems to discern a word’s definition.

Take the word hypercryalgesia, which was used in the 2015 Preliminaries Test. This was the last vocabulary word in Round One, and it was answered incorrectly by most contestants.


At first glance, this word is daunting. The word is obscure, long, and doesn’t show up on any major vocabulary study resources, so even a prepared speller may not have studied its definition before.

Even so, defining hypercryalgesia is honestly a breeze for any prepared speller. Instantly upon seeing the word, they recognize the following Greek stems:

hyper- = above

cry- = cold

alg- = pain

-esi(s) = process

-ia = condition

So the actual translation of hypercryalgesia would be “above cold pain process condition.” This is clunky wording, but if you look at the answer choices, it’s super easy to tell which one’s correct.

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Words ailurophile, tritaph, dianoia, exculpatory, mano a mano, insuperable, pyrosis, lalopathy, and dromomania have all been used as vocabulary words in the last couple of years and are instances of the same kind of thing. If you don’t know your stems, or if you know your stems but haven’t practiced applying your knowledge using actual words, you won’t get any of those all-important points on the Preliminaries Test.

On another hand, stem-recognition is equally important for the spelling side of the spelling bee. Words such as autotopagnosia, campylobacter, gravitas, ischiocerite, sphaeriid, anthocyanin, Sinogram, odograph, gastrolith, transpontine, and glycogen were used as spelling words at the national bee or in regional competitions in 2019. Every single one of these go from being very hard to very easy once you’ve mastered stem-recognition. Say you get schistosomiasis, like Alice Liu of St. Louis, Missouri did in 2017 Round 7. If you’re well-prepared, you’ll break it down into its Greek stems

schisto- = split

som- = body

-iasis = disease (technically -ia (condition) + -sis (process))

and breeze through effortlessly it to the oohs and aahs of everyone in the ballroom audience and watching at home (just like Alice did).

Of course, getting to this level takes a ton of practice and won’t happen overnight. If you complete all these quizzes and take care to learn every stem in every word, you’ll likely be well-prepared to tackle the majority of words consisting of stems in the English language.

When you come across stems you don’t recognize, record them somewhere and find other words that have them. Keep reviewing your list of stems so they’re always strongly ingrained into your memory. If you’re taking the right approach, you won’t need to memorize any of these words—you should be able to reason your way to the correct spelling or definition based on their stems.

If you want to do well in your regional bee and/or the Scripps National Spelling Bee, I promise you it’s 100% imperative to be able to spot stems in any word which has them.

Start by looking at the Stems Quiz Example to see how the quizzes work, then take the Diagnostic Test to determine your approximate skill level, then start the quizzes. Feel free to print!

Last year, I assigned these quizzes to the 12 students I coached. All 12 students qualified for Scripps, all 12 scored high enough on the Preliminaries Test to make the Top 100, and 9 made the Top 50. Since I’ve already used them, I’ve decided to publish them here for free.

Make sure you record your score on each quiz and track your progress. Your score should generally improve as you take more quizzes. The Challenge Word is worth one bonus point.

No duplicates appear in these quizzes, meaning no word is repeated from an earlier quiz.

Good luck and have fun!!

Stems Quiz Example

Stems Diagnostic Test

Stems Quiz 1

Stems Quiz 2

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