Brace yourself for more sighs.
Module 6 of the WSET Diploma is a 3000 word (3300 max) Research Assignment. There was much hype and fanfare when we found out that the January 2022 topic was South Africa - with the insinuation that living in Cape Town would give us a huge advantage. Insert the first sigh because I instantly knew this would not be the case. But I forged ahead - focussing on completing the Diploma as quickly as possible...and ignoring everything that screamed that the July 2022 topic, Sustainability, was far more suited to me.
On the day that the results were released I was sitting on my favourite stoep at my favourite winery with my absolute favourite people. The only reason I checked my phone was because I started receiving WhatsApp messages with shocked and disappointed results. South Africans had failed. South Africans who know these regions far better than the rest of the global students could dream of knowing them. Far better than WSET could possibly know them...because we live the history, we're friends with the winemakers, we understand the culture in both areas. Yet, some of us failed.
I passed. Just a pass. Sigh. And 'just a pass' made me feel relief and another burden of guilt in light of the WhatsApp group's feedback.
Part of the problem was that we were far too familiar with the regions. We viewed the regions in a different light, and these rays of truths were not aligned with WSET expectations.
So how do you pass this thing (before you've learned your lessons in D3)?
The other reason that people failed was that, in my opinion, this is not a research assignment. It's a glorified essay. This dawned on me later rather than sooner...but early enough to save myself from myself.. Some of my friends did not see the light of this day. People with multiple doctorates failed. Winemakers and wine marketing professionals failed. And that's because they continued to believe that it was a research assignment. You're not looking for groundbreaking research. Salaciously tasty insider treats from your MW friend aren't going to cut it.
- Realise that this is an essay and not a chance to reveal groundbreaking research in an attempt to be published.
- Realise that essays are subjective. The person reading your work may or may not love your style of writing. We don't all love the same books or authors. This was a biggie for me - realising that I had no control over the reader gave me the peace of mind to just let it go.
- If you're equally rambly and wordy, heed my advice: a 10,000 word first draft (sigh) does not bode well! It's only 3000 words - be concise! Research (in terms of reading and interviews), state the facts, give examples, call it a day.
- Use your specification guide. I know we all roll our eyes at the 'command verbs' (until we get to D3 and realise that WSET are serious about these). Describe, Explain, Compare, Evaluate - follow the rules set out by the people who are marking your assignment. I believe the guide uses the verbs 'Demonstrate, Evaluate, Produce'. In our SA assignment, the bulk of the marks came from Question 2 that asked to 'Discuss, Compare, and Reference'. Not gonna lie - compare was probably my downfall...I neglected to use sufficient linking words and, instead, treated each region as their own until I answered the last question.
- So...'answer the fucking question'. Also, do this before you add frills.
- The last question is usually where you have a chance to express your opinions - please do have an opinion.
- Find a friend with a solid command of the English language and who can proofread your spelling and grammar. Find another friend with common sense and an academic background to proofread the delivery of your information. Find (and fail) to find one more friend to give it a light 'once over'. Pay someone to read it! Maybe don't ask the MW who'll just add to your word count 😀 .
- Researching can take time. Give yourself 1-2 months to read, to conduct interviews, and to absorb the information. Writing 3000 words can take as little as a few hours. But leave room to take a break and reassess what you've written after a few days. Take another break to reassess and edit. The point is that you might write your assignment in half a day, but you'll need to leave time to reassess, edit yourself, get feedback, and re-edit.
- If you're running out of space, Google how to reduce your word count (e.g. https://www.redwoodink.com/resources/10-tricks-to-reduce-your-word-count-in-academic-writing ). Hyphenating words, as well as setting up abbreviations are great.
- I'm a graphic designer - creating an aesthetically pleasing document is something I can do in my sleep. However, even if aesthetics aren't your concern, make sure you format your document neatly: headers, footers, footnotes, page numbering, bullet pointing - make sure the reader is able to absorb the information in the most comfortable way possible. I shudder to think about what would have happened if I hadn't made the extra effort to 'design' my essay...I'm sure I would have failed (without paying for a percentage, we'll never know). 15% is a healthy amount.
- Bonus facts: I cheated and used illustrated timelines to relay more information that wouldn't add to my wordcount (be smart...don't push this too far); I read some distinctions that added the entire interview transcript in the bibliography...it's human nature to read more. Just saying.
At the end of the day...
Was I disappointed to have spent 2 months thinking about the topic, 2 more months gathering phenomenal insights through interviews with incredible people, and reading beyond the obvious scope to gain greater insight on the topic...only to spend 1 month editing 10,000 words down to 3,295 words? Definitely. Was I annoyed at my pass mark? Absolutely. Did I care? Essays are subjective...so no, I did not care.
I don't think enough people talk about the option to request feedback and a remark from WSET. As mentioned, I settled on the realisation that essays are subjective. The entire academic world knows this. Should I have asked for a remark? Possibly...but I knew that D3 would exhaust my budget. If you believe you deserve higher marks - please do have your APP or a knowledgeable friend read your essay immediately after you receive your results. If they agree, lodge a query!
There's also a part of me that knows I would have done better if I'd attacked D6 after D3. I'd have felt calmer, I'd have better understood the specification guide and what WSET expected, and this is an easy module that allows for personality. C'est la vie?