Spelling Bee 2010 semifinalists: number crunching edition

The Scripps National Spelling Bee semifinalists have been announced. All the semifinalists worked extremely hard to get that far and absolutely deserve to be there, so congratulations to them and to all the spellers for giving it their best.

I wanted to see what the semifinalist pool looked like compared to the overall speller pool, so I crunched some numbers and went to town.

First, remember that the bee began with 275 spellers who sat through a written test yesterday (Round One) followed by two oral rounds today consisting of one word per speller per round. No one gets eliminated until the end of the first three rounds and the points from these rounds get added up. There’s a cutoff of fifty spellers who go on to the semifinals. This year 41 spellers move on (14.9% or just over 1/7 of the 275 spellers), and everyone else is eliminated with the same rank. The exact rank will be determined later.

The number of boys and girls in the semifinals closely mirrors that of the overall pool with 19 girls and 22 boys.

Here’s how the geography breaks down.

California 1, Canada 2, Colorado 2, Florida 3, Illinois 1, Indiana 1, Jamaica 1, Kentucky 1, Maine 1, Maryland 2, Massachusetts 1, Michigan 1, Minnesota 2, Nebraska 1, Nevada 1, New Jersey 1, New York 3, North Carolina 1, Ohio 3, Oklahoma 1, Oregon 1, Pennsylvania 4, Texas 3, Utah 1, Virginia 1, Wisconsin 1

A few things that I found interesting, especially the states that sent a lot of spellers. Two of the three spellers from Canada are moving on, both of them three-timers. California sent fifteen spellers to the bee, but only one is advancing to the semifinals. Illinois sent eighteen spellers, and only one is advancing, and the same with only one of Indiana and North Carolina’s thirteen spellers each. Meanwhile, we have Pennsylvania with four of twelve spellers advancing and Florida with three of thirteen spellers advancing. These specific states’ cases don’t say much except that if your state contains a lot of spellers, chances are good at least one of them will be a semifinalist.

Now let’s look at the spellers from outside the fifty states and D.C. Fifteen spellers came from outside the U.S., and mathematically about 2.2 of them should qualify for the semifinals. Three international spellers are in the semifinals, so we have a mathematically pleasing international representation because a fifth of a person can’t spell.

The age and grade factors are related but are still worth looking at separately. For age we have:

1 ten-year-old (2.4%)
4 eleven-year-olds (9.8%)
8 twelve-year-olds (19.5%)
16 thirteen-year-olds (39.0%)
11 fourteen-year-olds (26.8%)
1 fifteen-year-old (2.4%)

This is surprisingly in line with the overall speller pool. The spellers have gone from thirteen ten-year-olds to one, some of whom have at least a couple of more years to come back and try again. Only one fifteen-year-old got eliminated, and it’s probably that fifteen-year-old’s last year. Twenty-seven eleven-year-olds got eliminated, leaving the four remaining.

While age and grade are related, they’re not related in a neat way. Most of the seventh graders are twelve or thirteen, but you could have one who’s eleven or fourteen. Let’s take a look at the grade chart.

2 fifth graders (4.9%)
6 sixth graders (14.6%)
13 seventh graders (31.7%)
20 eighth graders (48.8%)

While the eighth grade percentage is slightly higher than the overall percentage, just as the percentage of 13-year-olds in the semifinals is a little higher than that of the overall pool, it’s not big enough of a difference to notice anything really interesting. What we’ve gathered so far is that being older definitely doesn’t hurt.

As it turns out, being a repeat speller doesn’t hurt. Let’s examine the spellers by number of years in the bee.

16 first-timers (39.0%)
14 second-timers (34.1%)
10 third-timers (24.4%)
1 fourth-timer (2.4%)

While 39% of the semifinalists are first-timers, 74.2% of the spellers who competed from the beginning were first-timers. Experience is definitely your friend in the bee. For comparison purposes, 18.5% of all the spellers are second-timers, 6.2% are third-timers, and 1.1% (three spellers) are fourth-timers.

To show you that experience isn’t everything, only one of those fourth-timers, Nicholas Rushlow, is in the semi-finals. Joanna Ye, a second-timer and a finalist from last year, is in the semifinals again this year, along with her fellow returning 2010 finalist, three-timer Laura Newcombe.

One more fun fact: four of the semifinalists (9.8%) have at least one relative who participated in a past bee. This is in line with the percentage for the overall spellers.

Unfortunately I have to miss most of the semifinals tomorrow for a job interview, and saying “The National Spelling Bee comes on only once a year” isn’t a good excuse for moving it back. I should be back for the finals tomorrow night, so good luck, spellers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.