Record 1,654 turnout at RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship

SINGAPORE - A record 1,654 pupils turned up to tackle the preliminary round of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship on Saturday.

Pupils started arriving as early as 7am to register at Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre - a new venue this year - and filled two exhibition halls to capacity.

In this round, pupils had to spell 50 words which were read out to them.

Words such as "biscuit" and "crimson" brought smiles to many faces as the pupils spelt them easily, while "dearth", "tulle" and "bergamot" brought frowns and deep sighs.

Valerie Chong, 10, a Primary 4 pupil from Casuarina Primary School, said her technique was to study all night "and go to sleep hugging the dictionary".

"It doesn't matter if I get in or not, I'm just here to try for the experience," said Xavier Chua, 10, a Primary 4 pupil from Maris Stella High School (Primary).

Ms Serene Goh, editor of IN and Little Red Dot, the two weekly student publications of The Straits Times, said: "A lot of competitions focus on the winners, the champions that finish on the podium, but I think ours is different. It distinguishes itself because it's about how many people turn up...there is no other mind sport like this."

Mr Jason Wong, country head of RHB Bank Berhad Singapore, said: "I can feel the energy... the kids say they are excited and nervous, they see this competition as the mind sport to join in Singapore."

The championship is organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times for the fourth year, in partnership with the Ministry of Education.

It is supported by the Institute of Technical Education College Central and the National Library Board; Sports Hub Library and Suntec Singapore are the venue partners.