Five steps to ace your Diploma exams
I’ve got five great study tips (and a cheeky sixth suggestion) for anyone working towards the WSET Diploma. Be a good friend and forward these to anyone you know who is currently studying for it.
I’m using Fortified wines as the example here, but this is how I would approach any of the Diploma units.
Following this template takes work, but it makes sure that you cover the whole topic and enjoy it at the same time. The key is to get on with it and use your time effectively.
One - Start now!
Refer to the course materials always.
The examiners are using only the Diploma materials and specification to write the questions you will be answering in your exams. So those should be your main study guide. There’s no need to worry about other sources at this point!
Don’t read the materials aimlessly, set yourself start and end points so you have a sense of accomplishment.
Two - Keep calm!
Don’t freak out at the thought of all the wines there are in the world. Have a look at how many are covered by the unit - it might not be as many as you think.
The Fortified unit, for example, looks at:
France: Vins Doux Naturels (fortified Grenache, fortified Muscat)
Portugal: Madeira, Port
Now jump to the specification for the course to see what you are expected to achieve in the exam. For the unit we are taking as the example, D5, Fortified wines, this is:
Understand how grape growing,winemaking, maturation, wine law and wine business influence the style, quality and price of the fortified wines listed above.
Three - Structure your notes
Now you know what materials to use and where to look it is time to be systematic and start building your study notes.
Here is a ready-made structure for your learning and revision work. I am using Fino Sherry as an example – the points I have set out in the template below are based on the Diploma assessment criteria. In other words these are what the examiners can ask questions on!
It’s best to build your notes in an electronic format as you will need to go back and forward adding to each section as you expand on the topic.
Describe the style, quality and price of Fino Sherry
Describe the natural factors, grape growing options for growing grapes made for Fino Sherry.
Describe the winemaking and post-fermentation options involved in the production of Fino.
Once you have described the options – go back and then explain what the impact of each of the production stages is. Write this down then try to explain it to a willing victim!
Now go back and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each stage of the grape growing and wine making process.
Look back through your wines and see if you can compare and contrast them. Alcohol or fortification level, sweetness and oxidation are a few examples of characteristics you might focus on in relation to fortified wines.
Take the list of industry associations and labelling terms from the course specification (link above) and use a flashcard app (CRAM or Quizlet) to learn them off by heart and be able explain what each of them means and their importance. You could also follow the companies and associations on Facebook and see what they have to tell you.
Finally look at the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of getting the principal fortified wines to the point of sale. E.g. retail v. on-trade by the glass. Also think about the current versus potential target markets.
Four - Time to reflect
Go for a walk, listen to a podcast or look at some other materials to give yourself a rounded perspective. Sometimes just reading the same information presented slightly differently can help retention of information
Here are some useful sources of information on fortified wines.
Five - Teach each other
Get together in your study group and teach each other a tricky part of the syllabus. I found this incredibly useful with my own study group. Industry Associations, Banyuls, Maury, Madeira are often the sections skipped by students so tackle them head on.
Six - Masterclasses
To really maximise your chances, join a Global Wine Academy Masterclass!
There are still spaces available for our Fortified Tasting Masterclass on the 17th of October 2019 where we will pick apart how to taste effectively, improve your exam technique and expose you to 15 different Fortified wines so you get the chance to compare a broad range of wines in one day.
You will also sit a mock exam and I will send you your marks and feedback after the class. Masterclasses have a maximum of 10 people so we really have time and space to work on your particular needs. .
See what students have said about my Masterclasses, course click here
Next: More tasting and research
To succeed, you must taste widely and frequently, so immerse yourself from now on!
There are always lots of large wine fairs across Europe in the Spring. They are a great opportunity to test your palate. Make sure you go with a friend who can pour you samples or at least grab two glasses on entering so you can compare and contrast similar styles.
Comparison and challenge build skill. Tasting 100 wines one wine after another alone just makes you drunk!
Can you get out into a vineyard? Sometimes speaking to a someone who works directly with vines or wine can help fill in some of the inevitable blanks, it is also a fun thing to do and so will keep that passion going.