UPDATE: Little Rock 7th grader falls short after round 3 in national spelling bee

© Mark Bowen, official Scripps National Spelling Bee photographer

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - A Little Rock middle school student made her national spelling bee debut Tuesday in Maryland.

"It's a good sensation when you step up to the microphone and you know that you're representing Arkansas," said 12-year-old Chythanya Murali.{}

Chythanya, a 7th grader at Lisa Academy, finds at least an hour every day to practice and that's in between playing tennis and having completed a second degree black belt in karate. She's also fluent Malayalam, a language spoken mainly in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

To stay focused when she's spelling, Chythanya says she tries to visualize the word before she spells it and tries not to worry about the competition.

"I'm trying not to think about it," she said. "But the more I think about it, I become nervous. My leg starts jumping up and down."

But she has reason to be nervous because there's a new twist to the spelling bee this year. The 281 contestants will not only need to know how to spell a word, but they must also know what the word means.

It's the first time in the 86 years of the Scripps National Spelling Bee that there will be a new vocabulary component. The new rules are expected to rattle some nerves of participants because they were announced less than two months before the competition.

"I was actually kind of studying the meanings but I wasn't looked at them as detailed," said Chythanya. "I had to review more. It also cut time. It took longer. The process became a bit more tedious, but it also became a bit more fun."

A word's definition will count for 50 percent of the speller's overall score. It will also determine which contestants move onto the semi-final and championship rounds. Spelling bee organizers hope the change will help students increase their vocabulary.

The whole experience, while thrilling, is also exhausting.

"I kind of want to come back home cause I'm already really, super tired," she laughed.

Chythanya advanced to rounds two and three Wednesday by correctly spelling "perestroika" (defined as the policy of economic and governmental reform instituted by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union) and "senary" (of, based on, or characterized by six).

But even with spelling those words right, it wasn't enough to send her to the semifinals. When they factored in her computer test, she did not make the cut from 239 spellers down to just 42.

ESPN will air the finals Thursday night beginning at 7 PM. Click here for a complete program schedule.

Think you have what it takes to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee? Click here to try a test and see if you would make the cut.