Updated: Dec 5, 2019
As 2019 winds down and we start to look ahead at new goals and fresh starts, the idea of signing up for the WSET 3 has probably gone through your mind. Along with those ambitions, however, probably lingers some doubt. How can I pull this off with a full-time job? What if the jump from level 2 to level 3 is beyond what I can handle? How am I going to find the time to taste all these wines? Believe me, I was there and have felt all of the above. But the truth is, you CAN do it, and it will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your personal wine journey. Today I’m sharing everything you need to know (from my personal experience) to pass the WSET Level 3.
The first thing you should understand is how the exam is graded. It is split into 3 parts - the blind tasting (1 white and 1 red wine), 50 multiple choice questions, and 4 short answer questions (weighing 25 pts each). For the blind tasting, you don’t need to call the wine, but you do need to write the correct notes from top to bottom according to the SAT (Systematic Approach to Tasting). You only need a 55% to pass, but don’t let that fool you. You need a 55% minimum in all 3 areas individually, so don’t think just because you’re an excellent taster it will make up for some of the theory…it won’t.
1. Read the Book ASAP!
Sign up early and get that book as soon as you can! Everything you’re going to be tested on (theory-wise) is going to come from the book. Now, unlike level 2, you can’t just memorize it all and call it a day. You’re going to need to make connections between the first chapters and the regional chapters. Because of this, it’s a good idea to get the book as early as possible and read it once through before classes start.
2. Understand the Specification Booklet
With your materials, you’ll see a Specification booklet. This is your guide on what EXACTLY you’ll be tested on. After I read through the book the first time, I referenced the Specification before reading through a second time. This helped me focus on what I needed to know (which is basically everything). The most important takeaway is being able to identify the natural and human factors in the vineyard and winemaking that affect the cost and quality of a wine.
3. Start a Tasting Group
If you aren’t already a part of a tasting group, start your own! It’s important to taste wine exactly per the SAT, and with level 3 there are some additional things you’ll need to call out (ex: quality, development, aging potential etc.). Everyone in my class shared their email addresses so we could get together and practice.
4. Do Practice Tests on the Weekends
There are only a few short answer practice questions in the given materials, so it was essential for me to find additional practice tests. ThirtyFifty is a UK based website that offers SEVERAL short answer questions (with acceptable answers), along with loads of multiple-choice questions. It cost me about $23 and my credentials were valid for 6 months. Fine Vintage LTD. also has a great practice exam via PDF and it’s completely free. Download it here.
5. Download Brainscape
Brainscape was my favorite tool to help me study while commuting. Brainscape is an app full of digital flash cards that you can browse on the go right on your phone. They require a monthly subscription fee of about $6 to have full access, but you can cancel at any time. By the end of my studies, I had viewed over 2500 flash cards! I honestly don’t think I would’ve passed without this tool.
6. Push Your Exam if Needed
For those asking how to cope when working full time and having a million other things on your plate, my answer is push your exam a few additional months. There is no penalty to change the date of your exam if it’s within the given boundaries. When I was feeling overwhelmed with life, I decided it would be in my best interest to hold off for a bit. This gave me extra time to go back into the book and re-read (for the 3rd or 4th time) the regions that I was least familiar with. You’ll want to go into the exam feeling as relaxed as possible, so take care of your mental health!
7. Buddy Up!
Once a week I found it extremely helpful to buddy up for study time. This was either with a classmate, or making my poor husband be my student. There’s something about discussing the text out loud that helps it stick. Take turns giving each other a lesson, or if your significant other is willing, make them sit and listen!
8. Know the Difference Between “Identify,” “Explain,” and “Describe”
One of the trickiest aspects of the short answer questions are the way they are asked and worded. Understanding the verb in the question will make or break you answering correctly. I found an amazing blog piece via Napa Valley Wine Academy that breaks down a short answer question by verb, noun, adjective etc. This will help you understand how to give the answer they’re looking for.
9. Strategize & Prioritize
1 of the 4 short answer questions will ALWAYS be on sparkling and/or fortified wines. I used to tell myself, "if I can get 25/25 on the sparkling/fortified question, I'll almost be halfway to passing all of theory." Getting a perfect score on any one of the questions would be tough, but that thought really got me through it. There will also always be something on the exam about service and storage as well.
10. Breathe, Relax, Enjoy the Journey
Although passing the exam was a huge weight off my shoulders, I don't really know what to do with myself now! I miss that feeling of constant growth the WSET supplied me. The journey will definitely be stressful at times, but you'll come out of it with a new found confidence not only in wine...but in life!