If you’re reading this post, you’re probably considering taking the WSET Level 3 Exam (Wine & Spirit Education Trust), or preparing to do so. The in-person exam consists of multiple choice, written theory, and blind-tasting. As I prepared for my exam, I surfed the internet for any and every tip I could find! And now I’m here to share my own.
Commit to passing
Let’s cut to the chase. The WSET Level 3 exam has around a 50% global pass rate. This means that nearly half of the people taking the exam are unprepared and not quite ready to demonstrate mastery of the information. So before you make the attempt, be honest with yourself about where you stand on the commitment spectrum. If you’re not ready, don’t make the jump. If you’re all in, do whatever it takes to master the material.
Please understand that you cannot pass WSET Level 3 knowing “a lot about a little,” or “a little about a lot.” Nope, you must know A LOT ABOUT A LOT!
Find the time
If you go through a program like Napa Valley Wine Academy, the WSET Level 3 course has 30 hours of live or recorded classroom trainings and recommends about 84 hours of total study time. (Note: personally, I’d bump that up to about 100+ hours of study time if you want to pass with distinction.) This means the bulk of your studying is independent and self-guided.
I studied 4-6 hours most days over the course of 5 months. The information that has to be mastered cannot be quickly consumed- it takes a loooong time to deeply understand and apply the theory concepts. DO NOT cram at the last minute because you’ll be frustrated and panicky at the realization you’ve run out of time and your brain can’t work that fast. Being naturally smart and intelligent doesn’t work, studying does.
Do not attempt to simply “squeeze” WSET Level 3 into your life; it won’t fit if you don’t have a plan.
Memorize the book
In my first WSET 3 live class, a student asked what would be on the exam. The instructor truthfully responded “anything in the book.” I suppose that answer wasn’t informative enough so students kept asking more specific questions, only to be met with the same response over and over. In that moment, I knew there was only one strategy I could impose. I looked down at my 200 page book and thought to myself, “we are going to know each other very intimately.” LOL. I had no further questions and begrudgingly committed to memorizing the book. (For reference, today my book is completely missing both covers and looks like it fought a tornado. Needless to say, we were very intimate.)
Picking and choosing what to study is a gamble I couldn’t afford because the odds were stacked against me. And you. The theory questions are set up so that you may have to write an entire page on something a bit obscure. If you skipped this obscure lesson because you chose not to focus on it, you’ll be up a creek. Adding unnecessary fluff gets you zero marks and shows you probably don’t know the answer. (The graders know you’re fluffing, so don’t be that person). So I repeat: memorize the book. It’s doable.
Trying to figure out what is most likely to be on the exam is a waste of time, because you cannot possibly know.
Create a Study System
After I stopped hyperventilating over the notion of memorizing a textbook, I took about a week to ponder over the best way to achieve such a daunting task. At this point, most WSET Level 3 students break away and build individualized learning systems that work for them. I’ve seen some people post huge wine maps with tons of notes on the walls of their home. Others journal in a notebook. Most people incorporate some sort of flashcard system at some point. For WSET 2, I stored my notes in Excel (which I knew wouldn’t work this time because I needed to add graphics). I had to figure out something.
I decided to house my system of notes in a very long PowerPoint deck. I knew I needed to organize the book’s contents and incorporate a combination of text and graphics (I’m a visual learner), so PowerPoint gave me both the structure and flexibility I needed for my learning style. Over the course of 4 months, I converted the book into a long presentation full of summaries, tables, and even review questions at the end of each subject matter. (Another structural benefit is that PowerPoint allows you to organize your pages into sections, or chapters for easy reference.)
After 4 months, my PowerPoint had exactly 260 slides. But don’t cringe just yet. When I got to the end, I realized I had memorized most of the content already, JUST from doing that exercise. At this point my confidence shot way up! The next step was reviewing my pages one by one and committing them to final memory. This phase took about a month once I added in the flashcards and practice exams.
In summary, know thyself. Understand how you learn and choose a study method in accordance with how you grasp/memorize material.
Prepare to be obsessed for a while
You’re going to be obsessed and possibly annoying to everyone around you! During the 5 months I studied, I talked to any and everyone about the unending information crammed into my head. You’ll dream about theory questions. You’ll wash clothes why simultaneously recalling the red wine appellations of Burgundy. You’ll be driving and listing all the reasons why Priorat wine is expensive.
It will become you until you master the information! So be ready for it to take over your mind!
Study your tasting notes
The blind-tasting seemed scary to me and I knew this would be my Achilles heel. I’m not an exemplary taster by any means and knew mastering this would be an uphill battle. There was only one way for me to get it: practice. Study your tasting notes over and over. Look for common trends and explanations. Speak with your instructors about your notes, tasting tips, or what you may have missed. Memorize the primary, secondary, and tertiary study guides. FULLY immerse yourself in tasting and be 100% present as you’re doing so. Your brain will learn and remember what to look for if you practice consistently.
Again, you CANNOT learn to do this quickly. It takes a while to train your palate so relax and settle in for the ride.
Reschedule your exam if you aren’t ready
I hate to sound harsh but if you’re reading this you probably really need to know this part. If you’re not ready, don’t think you’ll be the one person to make it on a wing and prayer. You won’t. It’s not in the cards. The information is not common sense, and you cannot bluff and fluff your way through it. Commit to the process fully, or don’t do it at all. It may cost to reschedule your exam, but you’ll be glad you did.
Good luck! Feel free to reach out for more tips or questions.
WSET Level 3 Certified With Distinction
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