A record number of spellers have signed up for The Big Spell.
Close to 1,400 pupils from 120 primary schools have registered for the RHB-The Straits Times National Spelling Championship, an increase of nearly 200 from last year's number.
The competition for Primary 4 to 6 pupils enrolled in a school in the Ministry of Education (MOE) system is organised in partnership with the ministry. It will kick off with a written preliminary at the Raffles City Convention Centre on Saturday, the first of its three rounds.
Among the hopefuls are newcomers as young as nine, as well as repeat competitors who are trying to better their previous showing last year.
Shaughn Chan, 12, a Primary 6 pupil from Anglo-Chinese School (Primary), finished second last year, behind his then schoolmate Jordan Foo, who is now in Secondary 1.
"I want to try to be first this year. I feel I have the ability to be first," he said.
First, he has to contend with his classmate Ashvin Sivakumar, 11, who last year was a finalist and one of four zonal-round winners. To Shaughn, Ashvin said half-jokingly: "I will fight with you for the last word."
Indeed, both have been learning new words, with family members helping to compile lists or test them. They also have a secret weapon: a word list from Jordan, the champ himself.
But while they might eye the top prize of $5,000, the school's principal Richard Lim said the competition experience would prove more important.
"It's about character development and values such as perseverance and hard work. It's about always wanting to learn something new."
Other returnees include Michelle Laang, 11, a Primary 6 pupil from Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School. Her strategy for Saturday's round, when pupils will listen to a voice recording of 50 words and write their spellings in answer scripts, is to listen carefully.
She said: "I will listen to the word first and wait for it to be repeated to confirm what word it is."
Taking no chances, ACS (Primary) Primary 5 pupil Jonathan Lim, 10, another returnee, said he would take along more pens - in case they run out of ink or drop on the floor.
This is the second time Malaysia's RHB Banking Group and The Straits Times are presenting the competition, which this year includes digital spelling games, iSpell iGNITE, run by e-learning sponsor iQ-hub, available through the Big Spell website and also as a mobile app on Android platforms.
A leader board, which is available for Primary 4 to Primary 6 pupils, allows them to track their scores against other players'.
Top scorers from the preliminary will advance to the second round, which will be held in four zones simultaneously on April 13. Winners from that round will face off in the grand final on April 27.
Keep up with The Big Spell at www.straitstimes.com/bigspell