In this new series, Wine Prep Courses student John will be sharing his thoughts on pursuing the WSET Level 3 Award in Wine
I’m not in the wine trade but I’ve developed a fair interest in wine. Mainly by exposure from wine loving friends who’ve generously shared good bottles and by travels abroad. A trip through the Rhône opened my eyes to wine and made me curious to know more. Then a good friend who happens to work in wine took his WSET 3. Although it sounded pretty tough I thought ‘why not go for it too?’.
Deciding where to start - WSET 1, WSET 2, or WSET 3
Having had no professional exposure to wine I wasn’t sure whether I should just start with Level 1. My friend said it would be too easy (and that seemed to be the consensus in online forums too).
After I mentioned I was thinking of enrolling in WSET 1 he asked me ‘Do you know what Chardonnay tastes like?’ and then ‘What country is Burgundy in?’. When I answered correctly -yes - and -France- he told me to skip Level 1 and think about Level 2. I did some online research and saw I could start directly in Level 3 if I could pass an online quiz. Being someone who enjoys a challenge I figured I’d give it a go.
Challenging the online entrance test for WSET 3
I got a copy of the WSET Level 2 textbook (Wines and Spirits Looking Behind the Label) and read it a couple of times. It’s about 80 pages long and can be read in a few hours. It covers information on the different main grapes such as Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and how wine is made step-by-step. If I’m honest it had me consider that starting with Level 2 may not be a bad idea (especially the section on Germany). You know, just in case the online test didn’t pan out.
It cost 25GBP to write the challenge test but if you pass you can apply this amount as credit towards the course fee. After I signed up WSET sent over a link to a timed online test platform. The test is multiple choice. Each question has four possible answers.
I found that many of the questions were pulled directly from highlighted sections in the book. I had 45 minutes to answer 50 questions. Some were super easy and others I had to read through a few times. I won’t write any of the questions here verbatim as WSET may reuse them but just know that if you have read the text they will not seem too hard or unfair. At least one and sometimes two of the possible answers could be rejected almost right away.
But you do have to get a whopping 90% of the questions correct in order to pass. WSET do tell you right away after the test is completed whether you passed or failed.
I started getting test anxiety as I worked through the quiz and my heart was really pumping at the end. I’d forgotten how stressful exams can be. Especially when I hit the ‘done’ button and my results were being calculated.
After what felt like ages but I’m sure was only a few seconds my results flashed up onscreen. A pass! What a relief but also a bit nerve wracking as now I was in for some serious study.
Course supplies arrive
My WSET kit arrived a couple weeks after registering for the course. It was a bit like Christmas opening everything up to see just what I’d embarked on. The first thing I noticed was that the WSET Level 3 text book was substantially thicker than the Level 2 one. The pack also contained a laminated sheet on how I was to taste wine called the ‘Level 3 Systematic approach to Tasting Wine’ and a Study Guide with sample test questions and lots of maps. There was also a Specification which summarized the many different wine regions we’d be covering.
It’s been a long time since I’ve needed to study for a test so right now I feel a mixture of excitement (about tasting some really good wine) and a bit of dread (about just how I’m going to pass this exam and whether I am in too deep)!
First thing first I think will be to read through the new text to get my bearings on the material. I’ve also enrolled in Rachel’s Level 3 Prep course which I think will be a big help in tackling the content. There are 200 pages in the text book and I figure I can fit in an hour of reading each morning on the ride to work. Hopefully that’s enough to get through it in the next week. There’s a lot of geography in there so the online quizzes will hopefully help with memorization. I’m also looking forward to tasting some wine next week. Wish me luck!