This is not the usual weekly financial related article. I have recently received the results of my WSET Level 3 exam and like to share my experiences on how to pass the exam on the first try as there is almost zero article on this topic in Singapore.
Wine has always been something interesting to me. It's the liquid confluence of history, geography, chemistry, and even finance which you can sip and savour. When you study wine, you don't just understand the taste elements of it. You understand how the grape is grown, why it is grown in this way, how winemakers make this particular style, and also why the wines are priced this way. My initial motivation behind studying wine has been more of understanding the investment aspects of it (wine can be a terrific investment vehicle). As I learn more about the wine, I discover the other aspects of wine equally fascinating.
I decided early this year that I wanted to get a formal education in wine. I started off with enrolling directly into WSET Level 2 in April. I passed the exams and began WSET Level 3 almost immediately. By September this year, I had already sat for my WSET Level 3 exams. I just received my results and I got a Pass in Merit for overall grading. (For the uninitiated, WSET represents Wine & Spirit Education Trust. They are one of the world's leading providers of wine education and their certificates are well-recognised in the world of wine)
There are four progressive levels for WSET (Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4). Level 4 is where you do a full diploma. Unfortunately, there isn't any course provider in Singapore for WSET Level 4. Unless you are willing to fly to Hong Kong for your exams, Level 3 is the highest level you can get in Singapore. For those who have lofty dreams of becoming a Master of Wine (MW) one day, getting the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines is a prerequisite for enrolling into the prestigious MW program.
WSET Level 3 has been known to be a challenging examination. If you google the statistics of passing WSET Level 3, you get a figure of around 50%. For every two persons who took the exam, it is likely that one failed.
There are two units of assessments in WSET Level 3 examinations- a closed-book exam of 50 multiple-choice questions and a short-written answer paper, and a blind tasting of two wines. For most people, the most challenging part of the examinations is the short-written answer paper. It consists of four questions each carrying 25 marks. This is where your wine knowledge is really well-tested. If you think that memory work is all you need to do well in the short-written answers, you are definitely wrong. Those questions are meant to really test you on how well you could understand the impact individual elements (viniculture, viticulture etc) affect the final style of wine. It's a test of understanding and not just memory work.
If you have been reading till this point, I assume that you have great interest in wine and are looking to take the WSET Level 3 exams.
Here are a few pointers which I can share to help you get a pass in your WSET Level 3 exams.
1) Read the book way in advance before the course begins
It's usually possible to get the study book before you begin your classes. It is very important to begin understanding what's in the study book right at the beginning. The study book consists of 300+ pages and anything from this 300+ pages can be tested. If you have studied wine before, you will know that really anything from the books can be tested. The initial reading before the course begins can help you better contextualise what you will be learning throughout the course. It's also strongly recommended to read the book in advance before every lesson so that you are fully aware of what your trainer is teaching during the lessons. I know that there is an estimated private studying duration of 51.5 hours. But trust me, you need way more than that.
2) You will not pass the exams just by reading the book
When I was doing WSET Level 2, I could just rely on reading the book to pass the examinations. It's entirely not possible to do so for WSET Level 3. Reading the book is not even the bare minimum. Reading the book, highlighting the notes and rewriting them into your own summary/notes is the bare minimum. If you think that you can just pass the exams by reading the book regularly, you are so terribly wrong. It's the best if you have a digital copy of the book. That allows you to do keyword search and hence easier organisation of information. I strongly encourage you to also refer to these study resources from Vinspiration. They contain great summaries of each of the chapters and can help you in absorbing the information really fast! I swear by them!
3) You need to spend effort into understanding how to answer the short-written questions
Like mentioned earlier, the short-written questions are the part where most students stumble. You must understand that knowing "why" is very important to pass WSET Level 3. Why are Priorat wines expensive? Why do Pinot Noir not grow well in warm areas? Why is large diurnal range usually a favourable condition for the growing of grapes? Why do you take WSET Level 3? (Maybe ignore the last question). You get the drift. Understanding why is very important here. There is an excellent article here which explains this in greater details. I personally also think that it's worthwhile to invest in the paid resources of Wine with Jimmy. He has excellent material in the form of videos, sample questions, suggested answers etc for the paid section of his e-learning website. You may find some of them free on YouTube but the full catalogue of it is only available on his site and they are definitely worthwhile investments.
4) Learn to calibrate your tastings
During your lessons, you will be exposed to tons of tasting opportunities. It's important to learn to calibrate your tastings based on the feedback given by your trainer. At Level 3, you can have up to 5 options to describe some of the tasting elements. Eg. you can choose low, medium (-), medium, medium (+), high, for acidity. It is not usually very straightforward to know which is the correct option. Hence, knowing how to calibrate your tastings based on your trainer's feedback is very important. You need to really pay attention during all the tasting sessions.
5) Form a study group or rather tasting group
Sometimes, it might not be sufficient to just rely on the lessons to calibrate your tastings. It will be ideal or probably also economical if you can find a few people in your class to do some blind tastings together and guide each other. Beside that, I also think that it's worthwhile to do a bit of networking and get to know more people in your class. Taking WSET Level 3 classes is like doing a mini MBA sometimes. During my class, half of the students are from the F&B industry which I am not in and that expands my horizons into the works of the F&B industry. There are a few more who are also from Tech and I get to learn from them too. Who knows? The person sitting next to you might be part of your future wine clique, or be bringing your opportunities beyond just passing WSET Level 3?
6) Work smart during the written exams
I did my written exam by first attempting the short written questions instead of the MCQs. The reason behind it is because I want to ensure that I allocate sufficient time to answer the short written questions fully. Some candidates spend too much time on the MCQs and do not have sufficient time to answer all the short written questions. This should definitely be avoided. You should aim to finish the 50 MCQs in half an hour if possible. Just remember that it's a better situation to be left with only MCQs to do in the last 10 minutes of the examination instead of being left with a full short-written question.
All in all, I really enjoy my wine education journey. It really do solidifies my understanding of wines, and it's likely going to be a life-long benefit to me. I hope to be able to learn more about wine investing in the near future, and hopefully write some articles on it next time. Even if that didn't happen, I'm sure I can appreciate my next glass of wine even more with my current knowledge.
WSET Level 3 is definitely not an easy exam. It is one of the toughest exams that I ever took. You really need to be dedicated in your learning journey to pass the exams. If you go for the course with the expectations to do minimal studying over the weekends, this is clearly not the course for you.
Good luck if you are taking the exam! For those wine hobbyists who are sitting on the fence about whether you should get a formal wine education, I strongly suggest you do. You will definitely not regret the journey!
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