WSET Level 3: How I died and survived! Part 2

If you haven't read the sorry tales in Part 1, do yourself a favour and just focus on the following 9 tips that our lecturer gave us. Finally the pearls of wisdom that I’d hoped for were shared with us:

1. She reminded us again about the Specification Guide (read it, understand it, use it!)

2. Think about: CLIMATE + WEATHER + GRAPES + TYPOGRAPHY + VITI + VINI + WINE LAW. Know them all!

3. While studying, write 'dry' tasting notes for each of the grapes in the textbook to prepare yourself for the exam.

4. She told us to watch our time - make sure you know how much time to spend on each section (20 minutes per written section, leaving the rest for multiple choice) - look at the wording of the question to understand how much writing is required

5. We were told that all the random and odd facts would more than likely be in the multiple choice section. Eg What is VQA?

6. We were given a heads-up that Sparkling wines and Fortified Wines are almost guaranteed in the exam. So if you panic (which I did) just make sure you know EVERYTHING about sparklings and fortifieds inside out. If you nail this section, you should be able to cobble together enough marks to pass. She warned us that Asti often comes up.

7. She hinted that (2019) Cava and Rioja probably wouldn’t come up because the law was changing.

8. Don’t forget the last chapter - fortified Muscats have caught quite a few people out as it’s a short chapter right at the end. It was in my exam. I’m pretty sure I killed it!

9. In the tasting, you MAY be given a sweet wine. Don't let that throw you off.

And then we were sent on our way to study our course material for 2 weeks before writing the exam .

WSET Level 3 course materials

Week 6:

I used the second week before the exam to recap everything. Despite choosing the modern woman’s choice of typing, I spent that first week scribbling essays on each chapter. Writing really is superior to typing when it comes to learning. I’d highlight anything that I missed (this actually helped immensely having them highlighted in brighter colours). My hand was dead. I considered, not for the first time, rescheduling my exam for October. Instead. I persevered. If I really needed a break, I'd do a random online wine quiz just to boost my confidence. And I'd reward myself with a Guild Somm video about one of the regions I'd been cramming.

WSET Level 3 - my process by the time panic took over and I'd long ditched the wine!

Week 7:

In the last week before the exam, I chose to highlight and underline my original notes. Followed by quizzing myself on the questions I’d written from the very start. No more writing...because my hand was dead...and because I feared the callouses on my middle finger might become permanent.

The night before the exam:

At 10pm on the night before the exam I broke down in tears. I couldn’t remember anything. ANYTHING! I officially died. Perhaps it sounds overly dramatic. I know it sounds overly dramatic. But I was well and truly overwhelmed with anxiety.

I don’t know where the little voice inside of me came from, or how she was heard over all the panicked anxiety...but she said ‘just go over Sparklings and Fortifieds and forget about the rest. Worst case, you rewrite the exam’.

So I listened to her. I focused only on sparklings and fortifieds. Worst case, I’d rewrite come October. I still don’t know who she is, or where she comes from. I know that I’ve not often needed her...but she’s always been there when I’m hanging by a tether.

I went to bed at 12am. Calm.

Exam day:

The next morning I woke up. Calm. I took along only my notes for Sparklings and Fortifieds. On the way to Stellenbosch I held the notes but wasn’t really reading them. I gazed out of the window at the breathtaking vineyard landscape and noticed that the vines had started their early budding - hey, at least I'd learned something. I told my friend who was driving that I wish I’d written the exam two weeks prior. I felt like I’d known so much more 2 weeks before. I told him that I felt like I could remember nothing. He said ‘if you knew it 2 weeks ago, you know it now. It’s just nerves’. Wise words.

We gathered in the exam room, some of us looking more fragile than others. There were quite a few new faces, people who were rewriting. That gave me hope...worst case, I’d just rewrite. I noticed a familiar face from Level 2 who hadn’t done the Level 3 lectures with us. He’d done the online version (more on that later).

The tasting exam:

And then we sat down for our Tasting Exam. 1 white. 1 red. I noticed the Level 2 guy covering his red with his phone while he assessed the white wine. I did the same. It was straight forward. Everything we’d done for the past 5 weeks. One last time. After the tasting, most people were super keen to discuss the wines. I went to the bathroom instead.

The written exam:

We sat down one last time for the Written Exam. I ignored the Multiple Choice and went straight to the back. Sparklings and Fortified Muscats. Fuck yes! I wrote down everything! I even took time to erase and ‘restructure’ my sentences?!?

22 minutes in, I was done and turned back a page. Things weren’t looking so great anymore. I couldn’t remember the hot region in Australia. Why was there so much Chile and Argentina that I chose not to recap because I thought I knew it? Just write down what you know. Have I written enough for 2 marks? Keep writing. Time! Shit! Get the Multiple Choice done, woman!

And I did...I got that Multiple Choice DONE! It was the most enjoyable part for me as I'd spent so much (perhaps too much) time learning the randomest of facts that the textbook offered. And that renewed my confidence enough to attack the questions that I’d felt lost on.

Except...I kind of needed to wee.

Someone raised their hand - they were done - they handed in their paper and left. But I put my head down for the second attack. I remember there was a strange column where I wasn’t sure where we were supposed to write - I’m a designer, so this really confused me and I wasted a few minutes bewildered by the terrible layout - but I refocused, doubled down and wrote everything twice.

I remember just writing and writing and not really knowing what I was writing. Then Level 2 got up and handed in his paper. That was my cue. It was time to  call it a day. I mean, how much more could I invent. The lovely ladies who had been a support system throughout the course were still furiously writing. But I couldn’t sit there and make up more stuff. Also, I needed to wee really badly. So I raised my hand, handed in my paper, and left.

The aftermath:

I got home, opened a bottle of Rupert & Rothschild Classique 2016 (it was highly unsatisfying now that my educated palate was familiar with Rioja Gran Reserva) and, in an attempt not to open the textbook and double check my answers, I started cleaning. I scrubbed the bathroom until beads of sweat appeared...and I'd take a break for a sip of wine...and then find a new corner to scrub.

When people asked me how the exam went I’d say ‘I hope I scraped by and don’t have to rewrite, because I do NOT want to have to study all of that again’. I just assumed that if I failed, I'd have bombed the entire exam and would be relearning from scratch. I half heartedly glanced at my notes in an attempt to try and stay informed should I need to rewrite. But that only lasted for 2 weeks. I caved and read up on Hunter Valley being the hot region in Australia. And finally, I just put my hands in the air. C’est la vie. I was done - and I needed to drink a wine just for the sheer joy of enjoying the wine.

My results:

2 months later - yup, it’s a 2 month wait because the written tests are marked in London (by the Queen, herself?) - I received an email from the WSET school. My tummy flipped and I held my breath as I looked at the email preview.

‘Dear Cape of Good Wine, CONGRATULATIONS are in order, as we’ve just received your WSET Level 3 wine exam results and… you've passed!’.

WHAT? Relief! I could now proceed with clicking to open the full email.

‘You’ve been awarded a DISTINCTION grade in the Theory paper and a MERIT grade in the Tasting paper, giving you a MERIT grade overall.’.

Fuck the Merit overall, I got a DISTINCTION for theory? Say what now? How?

WSET Level 3 Results...minus my name because I'm shy!

As I type this, I’ve yet to receive the official certificate and pin. So, being me, I’m still braced for there being some sort of mistake. It should arrive shortly. The  question is: will I open the courier bag to revel in the certification, or will it be filed next to the unopened Level 2 courier bag...ready for Level 4?

Would I recommend?

If you’ve read all of this - what’s wrong with you! Ha ha ha. But the big question (other than will I be doing Level 4) is: Was Level 3 worth it? 

If you want to drink good wines from across the globe. Yes.

If you need structured pressure to grow your wine knowledge. Yes.

If you’re wanting to do the Level 4 Diploma Course. Yes.

If you’re a masochist who wants to punish your writing hand. Yes.

If you want an excuse to buy glitter smelly pens...erm, sorry, nevermind. 

For me, I would have preferred to spend my Tuesdays studying by myself. I got to chat to Level 2 and learn more about his online experience. He had one in-person tasting calibration session, but the rest was online learning (he still had to show up and do the exam in person).

Our extended tasting practice was very valuable...but I didn’t need 5 whole days of fatiguing my baby palate. Ultimately, I only scored a Merit for Tasting.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d lost the marks on structure. If there was a way to get a few tutored tastings without the long day-lectures, I’d choose that option. In fact, over and above the intense tasting days, I could still have used more precise, guided tasting instruction. With my Merit for tasting, I still think of myself as a pretty crap those long days didn’t really help.

I will forever be grateful for the wisdom of that last day of lectures. No online lectures would give you the advice we received on that day. But there is so much that I would change about the way this course is structured overall.

To be fair, it is a brand new curriculum (it focuses solely on wine - the spirits are now a separate course) and there will be a transition period. So ultimately, my (overly?) dramatic study experience taught me a lesson on how to attack Level 4 (if I choose to sign up for more punishment) and continue with this amazing journey.

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