Here are some of the things I did to prepare for my Diploma exams
Step 1 - Flash those cards!
Start with Level 3 - Take your Level 3 Award in Wines textbook and use it in conjunction with your Level 4 Specification - write a very simple flashcard (using Quizlet or CRAM) on each of the entries. Don’t go in to Diploma detail straight away otherwise you may run out of steam. First focus on climate, varietal characteristics, wine style, winemaking, any other points of interest. It will take you about two weeks to create all the basic cards but you need to do this NOW!
Once you have them sorted then you can start revision, you will need to do at least an hour a day on flashcard revision. I would do 20 minutes in the morning, at lunch and in the evening (a commute is perfect). This will mean you are constantly revising and becoming familiar with the regions and varieties that you may have forgotten.
Step 2 - Add detail
One full day a weekend or two half days you need to reserve for flashcard updates - keep adding geeky facts relating to size, yield, AC requirements, notable producers and trends that can maximise your marks in the exam.
Step 3 - Tackle the real questions
Add in explanatory/analysis questions e.g. Why is Carbonic maceration used in Beaujolais? What are the main human and natural factors in the Loire and South Africa that produce different styles of Chenin Blanc?
This is the final step and these are the sorts of questions you really need to to grips with. You cannot take the time here unless you have done the previous two steps well. At this point your one hour a day revision is going to be much more in-depth and you will retain the information much more easily than diving straight in with too much detail from the start.
Step 4 - Make your house a revision post-it note palace
Think about the regions/countries that you are less familiar with. Take dark coloured post-it notes for red wine areas and yellow for white and get posting. It is a different approach and will stop you from getting bored with revision.
Italy, Chile and Greece were my weak points when I was studying the Diploma, I made the outside of my wardrobe Chile and the inside Italy, my kettle, tea caddy etc became Greece. I made wine associations on my notes. So, for example, under the heading Assyrtiko I wrote ‘a higher alcohol fruity Chablis’. Mendoza Chardonnay had ‘Similar to Pouilly Fuisse but a bit brighter in terms of the fruit character’. So take what you do know and extend it. These simple connections won’t be sufficient for the Diploma but they are a good starting point.
Step 5 - Social media can help you revise!
Turn your procrastination in to study time. Get a list of the top wine brands in the major areas (Barefoot, Concha Y Toro, Jacob’s Creek etc) and ‘like’ them on Social Media, do the same with the Generic Bodies or events e.g. Wines of South Africa or RAW. They will be delighted to promote to you the current trends in their specific areas over the next twelve weeks.
Step 6 - Subscribe
Get a subscription to the trade press, simple as that. Well researched and well-written articles that you will find in The Drinks Business Reports or Decanter Magazine are invaluable for a different perspective on the regions.
Step 7 - Taste, taste, taste!
Taste the main wine styles frequently and consistently. It is a mistake to walk around a wine festival all day, try 200 wines and think that will improve your tasting. You might feel like you are doing a good job but you are at risk of overload.
You need to get your hands on the main styles and re-taste them consistently. Use either a coravin or a vacuvin vacuum system. Try the same wines in the morning and evening and get someone to pour them for you, even though you will know what wines you have purchased it is essential that you strengthen your muscle memory so that the aromas and flavours are more easy to identify and you can work quickly under exam pressure.