Though Singapore's signature spelling event is in its sixth year, some spellers were new to the game.
They were among the pupils of 12 new participating schools, including Palm View Primary School, Frontier Primary School and Northoaks Primary School, at the preliminary round of the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship yesterday.
Some 1,000 pupils from 99 registered schools, accompanied by parents and teachers, turned up at ITE College Central as early as 7am, even though registration would start only an hour later.
First-time participant Verlyn Tan was one of them. The Primary 6 pupil from CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School said she pored over spelling lists to prepare herself."I read the lists and got my mother to test me."
The 11-year-old said she tried to keep calm by "just telling myself that I can do it".
SEMI-FINAL ROUND: April 1
FINAL: April 22
Follow all the action and find out who qualifies for the next round at www.straitstimes.com/big-spell-2017
Many of the pupils and their schools were seasoned competitors, and the atmosphere was generally light and relaxed.
In this first round of The Big Spell, as the event is fondly called, all participants had to spell 50 words that were read out to them, such as "catamaran", "bamboozle" and "iconoclast".
The annual competition is co-organised by RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times, in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MOE). It is supported by the National Library Board; ITE College Central is the technology partner.
Mr Mike Chan, chief executive officer and country head of RHB Singapore, hopes the event becomes "an additional support system for youth to enhance their capabilities and harness the English language".
He said: "It is delightful to see many high-spirited pupils who are passionate and eager to develop their spelling skills at today's preliminary round."
Ms Fiona Chan, ST's managing editor and head of ST Schools, said The Straits Times takes great pride in hosting the event as it encourages young people to take good English seriously. "In an age of spell-checking and auto-complete software, it is all the more essential to learn good spelling from a young age, as a crucial foundation for building mastery of the English language."
The gameplay as well as the numbers of competitors were tightened this year to raise the overall quality of the event. In the upcoming intermediate round, 15 participants from each zone will qualify to participate in two semi-finals, instead of the previous four zonal rounds, which will intensify the level of competition.
For the first time too, participating schools will receive a report analysing how their pupils fared during this round. This will help teachers glean insights into the most common errors made by the pupils and the reasons for them so they can help their charges improve.
ST Schools editor Serene Luo said: "We want to keep The Big Spell as the gold standard in mind sports and spelling competitions. And with the changes this year, schools have been more stringent in selecting their best spellers. "
The event culminates in a showstopping final on April 22.