Character-based representations in neural models have been claimed to be a tool to overcome spelling variation in in word token-based input. We examine this claim in neural models for content scoring. We formulate precise hypotheses about the possible effects of adding character representations to word-based models and test these hypotheses on large-scale real world content scoring datasets. We find that, while character representations may provide small performance gains in general, their effectiveness in accounting for spelling variation may be limited. We show that spelling correction can provide larger gains than character representations, and that spelling correction improves the performance of models with character representations. With these insights, we report a new state of the art on the ASAP-SAS content scoring dataset.