Q&A: HOW TO STUDY FOR LEVEL 3 WSET EXAM?

WSET Level 3 Review

Q: Hi Rachel, I've got my Level 3 WSET exam coming up in three weeks and don't feel ready for the theory portion. We tasted a lot in class and I feel good about my tasting ability. After procrastinating for so long on theory maybe I should just reschedule the exam. What do you think, can I still pass?

A: Thanks for your question! I can definitely relate to your situation. When I was studying for Level 3, it was while I was on a summer contract as a yacht chef. I stayed up late to get an hour or two of reading and flashcards each night, but the exam was coming up fast. 

If you can devote a solid block of time each day to your studies, and even more for the week prior to the exam, here's an intensive, fast track plan for your studies.

The #1 challenge here will be to maintain a consistent study practice. This schedule is rigorous but doable, if you are doing a bit each day. If you miss a few days, it will be very difficult to catch up without losing sleep. 


Reading & Note Schedule (WSET Understanding Wines textbook)

Below is the full schedule, but before you jump in, I wanted to share a sample of my notes from the latest WSET textbook for Level 3. I allow myself 5 minutes per page, and that means writing fast! I jot down only the key information from each page.

For this note on Beaujolais, I spent less than 5 minutes for the two pages. Yes, that's really quick but you'll need to be going at a pace like this to get through the ~200 pages of material. 

Title your sheet with the region name, and reference the page numbers.

Give your notes headings so you can easily review later on. Also, draw graphics, such as the hierarchy for Beaujolais. Making sketches like this help you to retain the information.

 Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information

Drawings and sketches in your notes help you to retain the information


Week 1 - Read Section 3: Still Wines of the World & Take Notes

This week, you'll cover the still wines of the world from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 77-89 (Introduction to France, Bordeaux, Dordogne & SW France, Burgundy)

Day 2: pg 90-107 (Beaujolais, Alsace, Loire, Rhône, Southern France)

Day 3: pg 108-119 (Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece)

Day 4: pg 120-138 (Italy, Spain)

Day 5: pg 139-155 (Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile)

Day 6: pg 156-172 (Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand)

Day 7: Flex Day - Take a break or review your notes!


Week 2 - Read Sections: 4, 5, 1, 2 & Take NOTES

This week, you'll work through the remaining sections from Understanding Wines.

Day 1: pg 173-183 (Sparkling Wine)

Day 2: pg 184-195 (Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats)

Day 3: pg 1-18 (Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine, Wine with Food, Storage & Service of Wine)

Day 4: pg 19-32 (Vine, Growing Environment)

Day 5: pg 33-54 (Vineyard Management, Common Elements in Winemaking & Maturation)

Day 6: pg 55-70 (White & Sweet Winemaking, Red & Rosé Winemaking)

Day 7: pg 71-76 (Factors that Affect the Price of Wine, Wine & the Law)


Week 3 - ReVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW

Devote as much time as possible to your review this week. Remember to get up from your chair each hour to stretch and drink water. Most importantly, get proper sleep each night to be in your best form for exam day.

Below is a sample of how I review before an exam. Taking the WSET Level 3 Specification, open it to the topic you are reviewing. Take a blank page of paper and brainstorm what you can remember for the given subject. Check against your syllabus, and review your notes from weeks 1 & 2 to refresh your memory.

 Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Refer to the Level 3 Specification as you review

Day 1: Review Section 3 - France, Germany, Austria, Tokaj, Greece

Day 2: Review Section 3 - Italy, Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand

Day 3: Review Sections 4, 5, 1 - Sparkling, Sherry, Port, Fortified Muscats, Wine & the Consumer

Day 4: Review Section 2 - Factors Affecting the Style, Quality & Price of Wine

Day 5: Review Sections 3 & 2

Day 6: Review Sections 3 & 2

Day 7: Exam Day

EXAM WEIGHTING BY LEARNING OUTCOME

Some of the WSET material reads like a stereo manual, so I've parsed through it to decipher what exactly they'll be focusing on in the exam. The five major topics (aka 'Learning Outcomes') are:

Learning Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} ID the principal natural and human factors in the vineyard and winery that are involved in the production of still wines of the world, and explain how they can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} ID & describe the characteristics of the still wines produced in the principal wine producing regions of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal sparkling wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery, law and commerce can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} ID & describe the characteristics of the principal fortified wines of the world and explain how the key natural and human factors in the vineyard, winery and law can influence the style, quality and price of these wines.

Learning Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} Demonstrate the ability to provide information and advice to customers and staff about wines.

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS

There are four short answer questions on the exam, at 25 marks a piece. Below, you'll see the possible topics.

Takeaways:

-Short answer questions relating to Sparkling and Fortified can appear on only one of the four questions (Weighting 20%)

-Vineyard/Winemaking topics will come up on all four questions (Weighting not specified, assume 100%)

-Still Wines of the World topics can come up on three of the questions (Weighting 70%)

-Wine Recommendations/Wine Faults/Food & Wine Pairing/Social & Health Issues can come up on two of the questions (Weighting 10%)

 These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the materials being tested for the short paragraph questions in WSET LEVEL 3 exams

MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS

Remember, you only need 55% to pass, and a third of your theory mark will be made up of multiple choice questions. This means that if you have a familiarity with the textbook, this section should be straightforward (and yes, you should go with your first instinct for multiple choice, unless you are sure you should not change your answer). 

There are 50 multiple choice questions on the exam. Below you'll see WSET's breakdown of the exam topics.

Takeaways:

Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} 16% or 8/50 questions

Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD} 56% or 28/50 questions

Outcome 3: {SPARKLING WINES} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 4: {PORT/SHERRY/MUSCATS} 10% or 5/50 questions

Outcome 5: {WINE RECOMMENDATIONS/WINE FAULTS/FOOD & WINE PAIRING/SOCIAL & HEALTH ISSUES} 8% or 4/50 questions

 These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

These are the weightings for the multiple choice questions in the WSET LEVEL 3 exams

The lesson here if you are very short on study time, is to cover everything, but in particular give focus to Outcome 1: {VINEYARD/WINEMAKING} & Outcome 2: {STILL WINES OF THE WORLD}.

If you would like more help with your studies, be sure to check out my Level 3 Theory Prep course, which is chock full of flashcards and review quizzes for the curriculum.

Best of luck with your studies and let me know how it goes!

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

CHANGES TO WSET: LEVEL 2 WINE, LEVEL 3 SPIRITS, & LEVEL 4 (DIPLOMA) WINE IN 2019

changes to wset diploma 2019

WSET have announced substantial changes to their Level 2, Level 3, and Level 4 programs. 

They're separating courses into three different streams: Wine, Spirits, and Sake. Here's a summary of what will be changing and when.

Changes to the WSET Diploma:

-The new Diploma program starts as of August 2019, focuses exclusively on wines, and includes 5 units. They are: D1, D2, D3, D4, & D5.

-Students currently in the Diploma have until the June 2019 exams to finish using the existing program structure. Those who have already passed Unit 4 and are transferred into the new program will still receive a Diploma in Wines & Spirits, as opposed to a Diploma in Wines. The June 2019 exams will be the last using the existing curriculum (for the Diploma Spirits unit, there will be a resit exam in March 2020 for those who failed in June 2018 to still achieve the Diploma of Wines & Spirits, see the notes at the bottom of this section). Those who are part way through the Diploma program after the June 2019 exams will be automatically transferred over to the new program, and will have credit for their units applied to the new curriculum units which launch in August 2019.

-Spirits is being carved out of the new Diploma, which will focus solely on wines (Level 3 Spirits will be a new, separate program, echoing the removal of spirits content from the Level 3 in Wine).

-Unit 3 Light Wines of the World will be of longer duration. I had asked WSET last year about whether they would split the curriculum into two shorter units, based on the low passing rates for Unit 3 Theory. They said it was a challenge in deciding how such a split would be organized, and have opted to keep the curriculum together but give students more time to study. The new unit will be called D3 Wines of the World. There will continue to be both a Theory and a Tasting exam, but these will be held over two consecutive days instead of on the same day. Students will now be given more time to complete the exams.

-Unit 5 Sparkling (new name D4) & Unit 6 Fortifieds (new name D5) unit exams will continue to have both a Theory (short answer open response) and a Tasting portion of exams. Students will be given more time to complete the exams than under current rules.

-A new 3,000 word research paper will be added, called the D6 Research Assignment, with subjects relating to current wine trends. Students mid-way through the Diploma who have passed their Unit 1 Coursework Assignment will receive credit for D6.

-The way the exam is structured will change for the Unit 2 Wine Production & Unit 1 Business of Alcohol units. These will become: D1 Wine Production, and D2 Wine Business. Both will have final exams based on short answer, open response questions. Students who are partway through the Diploma and have passed their Case Study will receive credit for D2, (as mentioned above, those who have passed their Coursework Assignment will get credit for D6).

-Students who completed the Diploma in Wines & Spirits will continue to use the nominal DipWSET, which will also be used by graduates of the new curriculum.

-From WSET's website: "The WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits will be permanently withdrawn on 31 July 2019, with the launch of the new WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines on 1 August 2019.  All students enrolled on the current Diploma will be automatically transferred to the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines in September 2019. 

Spirits will not be part of the new Diploma, but there will be one final Unit 4 Spirits examination for resit-only candidates in March 2020.  All students transferring with a pass in Unit 4 or who gain a pass in March 2020 will graduate with the WSET Diploma in Wines and Spirits upon completion of all Units."  

See WSET's video on the new program and transition information for current Diploma students here.

Changes to WSET Spirits Programs:

-New is a WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits - launching Aug 1 2019. The new curriculum will include Asian spirits: Baijiu, Soju and Shochu. The final exam will include both a blind tasting of two spirits, and a written paper (which will include multiple-choice questions, plus a short answer section). The pre-req to get into Level 3 Spirits is the Level 2 Spirits course.

Changes to WSET Level 2:

-As of Aug 1 2019, WSET Level 2 will focus solely on wines; spirits content will have been separated out to a Level 2 Spirits course.

How will this effect Wine Prep Courses?

I love working with WSET students, and will continue to support you as you study for your WSET Level 4 Diploma exams, using the current curriculum until the June 2019 exams (and until March 2020 for the Unit 4 Spirits exam). Students who are freshly embarking on the Diploma and those who are already studying Level 4 are welcome to enroll in the Prep Courses for each unit, and will continue to have access to the updated Prep Course for their applicable unit as the materials are updated after the August 2019 relaunch at no additional cost (aka enroll in Fortifieds Unit 6 Prep and continue with Fortifieds D5 Prep after Aug 2019).

Wine Prep Students in Level 3 Wines can continue to study via the current Level 3 Wine Prep course which was recently created for those in the new WSET curriculum.

Cheers & Cin Cin,

Rachel

STUDENT Q&A: FROM ADVANCED TO DIPLOMA, TASTING GROUPS, & PASS RATES

WSET Advanced to Diploma

Q: Dear Rachel, I am a very keen amateur. I love wine, I read Decanter and others, subscribe to Jancis, and just passed Level 3 with Distinction. But the more I learn the more I realise what I don’t know…

Would you recommend that one has read all of the source material you mention prior to the course starting? 

Is it OK to launch straight in to Level 4 or should I do something like a French Wine Scholar and/or Italian Wine Scholar and/or Spanish Wine Scholar first to deepen my knowledge of those regions and improve my tasting; or is the structure of the Level 4 course such that it’s perfectly OK to jump straight in?

Do you think I will need to organise/join a tasting group outside of the classes?

Do you have any sense of what the success rate is typically at Level 4, and should I take the January or June exam?

A: Great questions here! I’ll do my best to answer.

I felt the same way as you after completing level 3. Fascinated, wanting to learn more, but questioning whether the expense and time commitment would be worth the investment. It’s all about learning what you don’t know that you don’t yet know!

For source material, I re-read my level 3 textbook before starting, and did a leisurely read through of the Wine Atlas & Oxford Companion to Wine. I didn’t take any notes at this point, just a read-through to refresh my memory, and also to get a lay of the land before starting the Diploma classes.

I went straight from Level 3 into the Diploma. My instructor always said about the difficulty and amount of knowledge we would acquire moving through WSET: Level 1 is like jumping onto a phonebook, level 2 up onto the countertop, level 3 is the rooftop of a house, and level 4 is a rocket into space!

The leap between Advanced and Diploma was a bit startling at first, but I adjusted to the new workload quickly. 

The level of detail and command of facts at level 4 is a big jump from 3. That being said, I do not believe it is necessary to take additional courses before entering the Diploma (although I’ve heard positive feedback about the FWS/IWS and wouldn’t dissuade you if you’re interested in a particular field). My thinking was to get through the Diploma right away, learn as broadly as possible, then continue to learn about the areas I found particularly fascinating. Now that the Diploma is completed, my eyes have been opened to the regions and wines I find most interesting, and I feel I can make well informed decisions about investing in more education.

In terms of tasting, the changes in abilities at beginning and by the end of level 4 were huge. On day 1, our instructor poured us several flights of two wines. In each flight, one wine was high quality, and one was basic quality. By a show of hands, our class was to show which we thought was the premium wine. There was no consensus, and I remember feeling concerned that I couldn’t identify quality. Within a couple of months, and with more practice, this exercise became much more successful.

I strongly recommend a tasting group outside of classes. The students whose tasting skills progress the fastest and became strongest are those who are blind tasting in a regular group outside of class (either weekly or every two weeks). I think trying to taste on your own, or solely in the classes will put a damper on your progress, and in the case of tasting solo, can greatly add to the program’s expense.

I have looked at the individual unit pass rates for Level 4. In my Diploma class, which is admittedly a rather small sample, about half the students who started together passed together (about one third quit the program or paused their studies). The toughest unit is #3 (theory), with the lowest pass rate, and the easiest to prepare for, in my opinion, is unit #2, which is a good unit to start with (partially due to the material, and partially due to being multiple choice). For Unit 3, I recommend writing the June exam sitting rather than in January (the pass rate is higher for this month, I believe in part because it is hard to study through December holidays!).

Here is an approximate average of pass rates for each of the units for the results of years 2010-2015:

  • Unit 1 CWA 88%
  • Unit 1 Case Study 75%
  • Unit 2 91%
  • Unit 3 Tasting 70%
  • Unit 3 Theory 42%
  • Unit 4 59%
  • Unit 5 73%
  • Unit 6 65%

Cheers & Cin Cin, Rachel

PS: do you have feedback on the FWS program? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!