TAMS, PAMS & RAMS – Oh My! (MW Marathon Lap 6)

Part of being a student is having assignments to complete – even when you’re in a relatively “unstructured” program like the Masters of Wine. For Stage 1 this homework is “optional”, but as I mentioned in a previous post – the MW course fees cover these assignments.  Plus, students receive written feedback from MWs which, ideally, will help with preparation for the S1 Assessment. So, even though they aren’t mandatory, if you’re serious about the program – why wouldn’t you complete at least some of these?

Stage 2 students are required to complete at least 3 TAMS, 1 PAMS and 1 RAMS assignment in order to sit for the MW exam at the end of the academic year.  Since I’m aiming to sit in June 2023, that means I have a fair share of homework to finish in the upcoming months.

Having recently completed my first TAMS and PAMS for Stage 2, I thought I’d give a brief breakdown of these three assignment types and my experience (good & bad!) with each so far:

TAMS (Theory Assignment Marking Scheme)

What these are: actual theory questions from past MW exams. The TAMS questions are released after the beginning of the academic year and students can choose which one(s) they submit answers to on three deadlines. For Stage 1, questions come from Papers 1-4 only (since Paper 5 questions will not be on the S1A).  For Stage 2, the TAMS questions come from all 5 papers.

How many I’ve done: 2 during Stage 1 and 1 so far in Stage 2. Topics have ranged from vineyard labor shortage to bulk shipping to why the fuck aren’t consumers buying more fortified wine (ok, that last one isn’t exactly verbatim . . . but that’s the heart of the question IMO).

Experience/Feedback received: Several weeks after submitting their TAMS, students receive feedback along with one of the following hypothetical grades: Very high pass / High pass / MW pass / Just below threshold / Below threshold. While it’s easy to focus on that hypothetical grade, based on my personal experience and what I’ve seen from other students, I wouldn’t read TOO much into this being a definitive indicator of your likelihood of passing Stage 1. Some students who received high passes didn’t do so well on the S1 exam. Others who didn’t do great on the TAMS assignment ended up kicking total ass on the exam. Bottom line is to pay attention to the feedback and focus on your weak spots

My Gen X Gals will recognize this! Collecting stickers was probably a lot more fun than collecting MW examples . . .

Honestly, my TAMS feedback hasn’t been anything I don’t already know: sound structure, easy to read and succinct – but need more global examples. So, this is where I’m focusing a lot of my Stage 2 energy – collecting examples. Kinda like I did with stickers back in elementary school. It remains to be seen if trading will occur or if, like stickers, some individuals will refuse to let go of that sparkly, scratch n’ sniff unicorn. 😉

Per TAMS instructions, students are to aim to complete their essays “under exam conditions” and write answers within 60-75 minutes. Between you and me, I have not done this. In fact, every single student that I’ve spoken with has not completed their TAMS under true exam conditions (which IMO would include being unaware of the actual question asked until the clock starts ticking). Some students do hours of research and then try and write their essay under timed conditions. Others ignore the clock entirely and take their time both researching and writing. Perhaps some more experienced Stage 2 students are banging these essays out under true exam conditions, but I have yet to meet these individuals.

I haven’t completed my TAMS under exam conditions because right now I want to know if my “best efforts” would be passing answers on an MW exam. After researching and reviewing a topic, can I put together a coherent essay – including practical knowledge and examples – to achieve a Pass? I want to receive feedback on TAMS that I’ve taken my time with and feel at least somewhat confident about. And I fully acknowledge that I could not produce an essay of this caliber under true exam conditions . . . yet.

PAMS (Practical Assignment Marking Scheme)

What these are: essentially dry note exercises to help with preparation for the Practical (Tasting) part of the exam. A few weeks prior to the deadline, students are told what the wines are as well as the specific questions to address (i.e. identify the origin, discuss winemaking techniques, comment on style & commercial positioning, etc.)

How many I’ve done: 3 during Stage 1 and 1 so far in Stage 2.

Experience/Feedback received: While students receive feedback on their PAMS submissions, unlike TAMS, we don’t get an assigned grade. So, it’s usually unclear whether our answers would have been “passing” on an actual exam. After we receive our feedback, there is an online “recap session” with a couple of MWs who go over the questions and dissect a student’s answer (anonymously thankfully!) – and give suggestions as to what would make it a better answer.  During one of these sessions last year, a student asked why we didn’t receive an assigned grade on our PAMS. One of the MWs hosting replied that it’s probably because many (read: most) submissions would not be passing answers on an MW exam. So, to avoid completely gutting us, they only give feedback. Yikes.

This is where the thick skin comes in (see this video with Amber where I mention this is a necessity for being an MW student!) Last year upon receiving each round of PAMS feedback, I felt discouraged. I am someone who tends to overly focus on negative comments. So at the time, that was all that jumped out at me. But having a clearer head now, when I go back and review my S1 feedback, the majority of comments were constructive and things I needed to learn! Using evidence from the glass to make my arguments. Being more succinct in my answers. Using style to help justify origin.

PAMS are tough until you get comfortable writing dry notes. It’s confusing because you know what the wines are, yet you’re being asked “What’s the variety and origin?”  Dry notes also require moving away from the SAT that many of us learned in WSET and all that medium-minus and medium-plus terminology. Getting into the mindset of “how would I justify this was Syrah on an exam? What evidence would I use?” is challenging and it took several months of practice for this to click for me last year.  It requires consistent practice – and learning from feedback.

RAMS (Research Paper Assignment Marking Scheme)

What these are: a brief (1200 word) research paper proposal. RAMS are for Stage 2 students only.

How many I’ve done: ZERO to date

Experience/Feedback received: well, none because I haven’t submitted any!  But I’ll give you my thoughts anyways:

During Stage 1, I tuned out a lot of what was said about the research paper. Not because I was sticking my head in the sand about it, but because I was all about focusing on the next step in front of me (the S1 Assessment) – not the one that was several miles ahead of me. Students need to pass both sections of the MW exam before they write their research paper. But obviously this does not mean that’s when you first start thinking about it! For me, the timing needed to be a balance . . . and thinking about the research paper when I was stressing over the S1A was too early.

My plan is to complete my first RAMS after the S2 seminar in February. I’m still all over the place as far as potential research paper topics. I’d love to do something on my beloved Washington state. But am also very interested in wine education/certifications (how much do these help with future careers/advancement?) Or the role of social media/influencers in the wine industry (is it as impactful as we think?)

I’ll keep you posted! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think would make an interesting research paper!

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