Updated: Mar 19
In December of 2019, I wrote a guide on how to pass the WSET 3 and to this day it is my highest viewed blog post of all time. I've received countless messages and emails from people all over the world letting me know how much my guide has helped them with their review, and my goal with this post is to do the same.
The French Wine Scholar certification through Wine Scholar Guild is an in-depth course touching on all the major wine regions in France. You'll learn everything from regional history, French wine law, geography, and more. It's important to know that Wine Scholar Guild also offers this course for Spanish and Italian wine, so my first advice is to choose a country that pulls at your heartstrings the hardest. You'll be spending A LOT of time there, theoretically speaking, so find the place that makes you daydream.
The next hurdle to overcome is choosing the class format that fits your lifestyle best. Wine Scholar Guild offers these classes in-person at approved partner schools, but considering the times, the online options are the most realistic. It's at this point where you'll have to decide if you're going to do an independent study or pay a little extra to do the instructor-led online study. My advice? Pay a little more and go for the instructor-led! If you're like me, life can get in the way and FAST. The instructor-led course is designed to keep you on track with your reading/studies. At the time I signed up, they were offering a 5-week advanced format which in my opinion, was TOO fast. The 10-week option would be perfect. If you stay with the syllabus, 10 weeks would be plenty of time.
Once you enroll, you'll automatically have access to the member portal. This is where you'll find all your e-modules, class recordings, flashcards, and more. You will live in this portal.
1. Immerse yourself in the book one chapter at a time
This is different from my advice for WSET 3. For WSET 3 I said to read the entire book ASAP. With French Wine Scholar, I don't recommend this strategy. Why? Because with this course it's imperative you understand each region and its laws before moving onto the next. There are a lot more specific details you need to know, so just keep with the syllabus and take it one region at a time. Since there is no tasting for this exam, everything you will be tested on will come directly from the book.
2. Watch the corresponding E-learning Module after you finish a chapter
One of my favorite tools that comes with this program is the e-learning module. The e-learning module is an interactive presentation that sums up each chapter in the book with visuals and quizzes. It helps to reinforce the information you've just read and can be revisited anytime.
3. Print out the blank maps
Within the portal, you'll find a folder for blank maps. Print these out and fill them in. On the exam, you'll need to know which AOCs are right or left bank, river names, and mountain ranges.
4. Utilize the flashcards
The digital flashcards provided to you by WSG are GREAT indicators of what's important for the exam. If you can answer all 450+ correctly, you're in really good shape.
5. Taste the recommended wines from regions you struggle with
If you already drink a ton of Beaujolais, chances are you're already comfortable with the regional grapes, wine styles, etc. It's the regions and wines we DON'T drink leisurely that seem to be the ones we struggle with in our studies. Buy the Arbois. Buy the VDN.
6. Take the final evaluation quizzes...over and over again
Within the portal, you'll find final evaluation quizzes at the end of each chapter. I highly recommend you take these after you study each chapter, and then again at the end for review. Sometimes I would even study a new region and then go back to a previous region just to quiz myself on what I remembered. Every time you start the quiz, although the same questions, they scramble the order of the multiple-choice answers to choose from.
7. Use Brainscape
Again, I can't recommend Brainscape enough. It was my savior for WSET 3, and then again for FWS. The deck I found the most helpful was by Bill Donahue, but make sure double-check a few of the flashcards as French wine law is always changing/updating and a few cards were out of date. If you can get through his decks, you will pass the exam.
8. Join the Wine Scholar Guild study group on Facebook
You'll need to be invited in as it's a private group, but I found being a part of the group to be very helpful. People are constantly sharing their unique experiences, study tips, and insights. It's also great to connect with a like-minded community...especially when you're wrapped up in a course.
9. Create mnemonics to help you remember things
There is A LOT of information to remember so think of funny or inappropriate mnemonics to help you. A few of my favorites were: A Lyon Sits on his Throne (Anjou, Layon, Saumur, Touraine) for Middle Loire from West to East. Some Japanese Canadians Marry French Canadians Making Really Beautiful Children for the 10 Crus of Beaujolais from North to South.
10. Push your exam if needed
You have one full year to complete the exam from the date you sign up, so if you need more time, TAKE IT! I pushed both my WSET and FWS exams, and it was the best decision I could've made. If you're paying all this money to take the course, you may as well learn it all and learn it well. Mental health is important too...don't put too much stress on yourself.
11. Breathe, relax, enjoy the journey
Wine is supposed to be fun! Enjoy all of the new information you're obtaining, and watch how it changes the way you sip. Remember that studying wine is a journey...a very personal one. Take your time, soak it in, and enjoy the growth.