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We Gave You A Spelling Quiz, And It Didn’t Go Great

Thousands of you took a shot at seven tricky spelling bee words. Most of you failed.

The test was part of “What Makes The Spelling Bee So Hard,” an article that we published this week exploring why some words at the Scripps National Spelling Bee stump contestants. This year’s competition concludes tonight.

collyrium 87.8% 0.7% 11.5%
hechsher 85.2 3.0 11.8
pejerrey 84.5 0.6 14.9
opificer 80.6 1.1 18.4
triskaidekaphobia 79.5 8.1 12.4
beurre 69.7 19.9 10.4
analemma 59.0 28.3 12.7
Which words in our spelling quiz were hardest for readers?

Here’s how the test worked: For each of the words, we gave you the definition, the language of origin and an audio recording of the word being pronounced. You could either guess the spelling or give up and go straight to the answer. Like the spellers in the actual bee, when readers submitted a wrong answer, they heard a “ding!”

Ninety percent of all the guesses1 were wrong — the quiz was hard by design, highlighting potential spelling pitfalls using words from past national bees. But some of the words we tested proved more challenging than others. The share of responses that were right answers ranged from 28.3 percent for analemma to just 0.6 percent for pejerrey.

The second-most-misspelled word in our quiz, hechsher, comes from Hebrew. Almost 10 percent of incorrect guesses for hechsher were “kosher.” Perhaps readers leaned on the definition we supplied (“a rabbinical endorsement of food products”) or didn’t listen to the audio prompt?

triskaidekaphobia trischidecaphobia 9.4%
triskaidecaphobia 4.9
triskidecaphobia 4.9
hechsher hekshur 10.4
heksher 10.4
kosher 9.6
opificer epiphiser 6.4
apiphiser 4.1
epiphicer 3.1
analemma analema 23.1
anallema 12.1
annalema 8.8
collyrium cholerium 27.0
chalerium 13.0
cholereum 5.6
beurre burr 20.5
burre 14.1
buerre 10.4
pejerrey payaray 6.5
payray 3.2
paerae 2.6
Most common misspellings for each quiz word

Analemma, the quiz word in our “double letters can mean trouble” section, was the easiest for readers. The challenge: figuring out which consonants appear twice. Thirty-two percent of guesses were correct, with only the “m” doubled. Among incorrect guesses, 16 percent included the double “m” but had a mistake elsewhere, while 20 percent and 15 percent had a double “n” or double “l” — as in balloon — respectively. The most common misspelling, “analema,” contained no double letters at all!

Readers missed the most on collyrium, which means eyewash. The corresponding section of the article warned readers to beware the “ch” that’s actually a hard k, as in cholera. Some readers seemed to take the bait: “Cholerium” accounted for 27 percent of incorrect guesses, our most common misspelling across the whole quiz.

While most readers tendered reasonably close guesses for the quiz words, there were some great half-court shots. I’m talking about “ghekzur” for hechsher, “pfizer” for opificer, or the four people who proffered “purr” for beurre. And then there was the reader who made it to the final word, pejerrey, and submitted “payasdfaasdfasdf.” We feel you, but …


FiveThirtyEight at 5:38: Previewing the National Spelling Bee


  1. We stopped recording quiz responses at 11:30 a.m. on March 31.

Gus Wezerek was a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.