This past Monday I (finally!!) took my first of two exams in pursuit of the Italian Wine Scholar certification. This first exam focused on the wine regions of Northern Italy, as well as general information about the entire country (history, geography, soils, viticulture, etc.). The second exam will be focused solely on Central and Southern Italy. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m tackling the IWS primarily because Italian wines are my Achilles heel and I’m going to need to know this country inside and out for my WSET Diploma studies.
Since I opted for self study as opposed to an instructor led course, I was scheduled to take the exam online where a proctor takes over my computer remotely (to ensure there aren’t any hidden notes to cheat with) and watches me via camera the entire exam. While learning the names of dozens of grapes I’d never heard of like Timorasso and Marzemino, and memorizing a myriad of DOCGs, DOCs and IGTs, might sound challenging – I think the most stressful part of the whole experience for me was setting myself up on Skype and Adobe Connect the day prior to the actual exam.
First, I accidentally called the proctor on Skype while sitting in front of my screen in . . . well, let’s just say I was wearing something that I wouldn’t wear out in public as I had just gotten up from a nap. Thankfully, she didn’t pick up – so I dodged that bullet. But then I DID somehow leave a recorded message where you can hear Hubs in the background yelling “[insert my very private petname here] what’re you doing?” and me responding dopily “oh, just trying not to make a complete ass of myself in front of my examiner! Tee-Hee!” (Yes, I actually did say TEE-HEE). I’m not sure if this message was deleted despite my best efforts. But at least my proctor was classy enough not to say anything to me about it the next day. (I think she was British, and thankfully they’re into etiquette and manners.)
Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect on my whole exam experience, besides not leaving the technical setup to the last minute, I’ve realized there are several things that I wish I would’ve done differently for my first exam. At least I’ve got a “second chance” (so to speak) with my second exam, which I’ll be tackling early next year. So I plan to follow these helpful tips:
1. 10 Months is Waaaaay Too Long to Spend Studying for this Exam! I started my Italian Wine Scholar self-study course back in January – TEN MONTHS AGO. While I’m not making excuses, I did get derailed by some pretty big life events since then: moving from my beloved Washington state to Southern California, starting my WSET Diploma classes, and learning that the upcoming season of The Walking Dead will be Rick Grimes’ last. However, even after taking all these factors in account, I still should have completed my IWS exam sooner. For the second IWS exam – I’m giving myself three months of study time: November through January. Take the exam in early February, and move on!
2. No Multi-Tasking! One Exam at a Time. I love multi-tasking – I get half as much done in twice as much time. And that was definitely the case here. I tried to study for the IWS and my WSET Unit 2 Diploma exam at the same time. That didn’t work overly well for my brain, so I thought I’d try it again (what’s the definition of insanity?) and study for the IWS and my WSET Unit 5 Diploma exam. Surprisingly, this wasn’t optimal either. I’ve learned my lesson: for the next month, I’m focusing solely on my Unit 5 studies until exam day (November 7th). After that, I’ll jump into IWS Central/Southern Edition.
3. Use the Wine Scholar Guild Online Materials. The Wine Scholar Guild online resources are a wealth of information that I just did not take enough advantage of for my first exam. There are practice quizzes, flashcards, maps and short overviews of each wine region – a wine geek’s dream! During the last week of my studies, I tried to frantically make my way through some of these – and I’m glad I at least did this as some of the questions from the practice quizzes were quite similar to those on my exam. (Those of you planning to take the IWS exams – make a mental note of this!)
4. Don’t Focus So Much on %s. I spent a lot of time and brain space memorizing the various %s of permissible grapes in certain blends. Now, I’m not going to say that there weren’t any questions on this, but certainly not as many as my studies would have warranted. I would have been better off focusing on major bodies of water and synonyms for Nebbiolo instead (another mental note!)
5. More drinking!! This one should be easy enough to do. During my studies, I did manage to go through several bottles of Italian wine – but there’s always room for improvement! When there was a question about these grapes or appellations on the exam, and I was confident of my answers – in part due to the fact that I’d previously sat down with a glass (or two, or three) of the wine.
So, now I’m going to put my IWS to rest for awhile. I’m heading off with Hubs to our first ever Wine Bloggers Conference this weekend! Stay tuned!
Editors Note: as I was putting the final touches on this post, I received this email from the Wine Scholar Guild with my exam results. Now I’m thinking I should just do everything the exact same way for my second exam!