Big turn out of 132 pupils for zonal rounds of The Big Spell

Overcoming a spelling list that included words like "macchiato", "stymie" and "emissary", was what pupils at this year's RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship needed to do for a spot in the grand final.

The zonal round on Saturday was a test of stamina as much as skill, especially in the south, where spellers had to go through a record 11 gruelling rounds before the finalists from the zone emerged.

The highest number of rounds in the zonal stage last year was eight and that was in the west.

There were 132 participants, out of some 1,400 that registered for the contest, who made it to the zonal rounds. Only 108 of last year's 1,200 hopefuls made it this far.

The Big Spell, as the event is more commonly known, is co-organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Mrs Soo Kim Bee, a senior specialist from the Education Ministry's Gifted Education Branch, said she was pleased with the calibre of the pupils this year. "They have obviously worked very hard," said Mrs Soo.

Saturday's four-zone fight was simultaneously held at the Woodlands Regional Library in the north, Nanyang Polytechnic's Theatre for the Arts in the south, Tampines Regional Library in the east and the MOE Edutorium in the west.

Koh Qin Ruo, 12, from Rosyth School, Kua Le Yi, 10, from Catholic High School (Primary), Samuel Foo, 11, from St Hilda's Primary School and Unity Primary School's Ng Jun-Kai, 12, won in their respective zones.