My First At Bat – Stage 2 MW Exam (MW Marathon Lap 7)

Tomorrow I will sit the first of four days of the Masters of Wine exam.  This will be my “first at bat” – MW candidates have three attempts in which we must pass at least the Theory OR Practical section. If I pass both, I move onto the research paper.  If I pass one, but not the other, I’ll have (maximum) four additional tries for that failed section. And if I don’t pass either section within three tries – I’m out of the MW program.

An incredibly small percentage of individuals have managed to pass both Theory and Practical on their first attempt. Based on past MW Examiners Reports, it appears that around 25-30% of candidates pass Theory each year. However, this figure consists of individuals sitting for their first time (like me) as well as resits . . . so it’s impossible to tell how many actually pass on their first go.  As for Practical, this has a much lower pass rate – ranging from 8-15% the past few years.

Since receiving the news that I passed the S1A, my mind has been set on sitting the MW exam this first year. Stage 2 students have the option of deferring a year, and many of my peers have chosen this route.  But for me, I knew that if I didn’t have the “pressure” of the exam I wouldn’t be as motivated to study. I’ve discovered that the MW program is about knowing yourself just as much as it is about knowing wine . . . what works for others, may very well not work for you.

For several months, I told myself that I was sitting the exam with the aim of just gaining the experience. I wanted to be realistic and not put too much pressure on myself.  Four days, 36 wines and 13 essays over 20+ exam hours requires a lot of stamina and keeping nerves in check. Having this initial experience behind me would put me in a stronger position next year for a resit of the exam . . .

I studied a lot for those several months, but I wasn’t studying smart.  I took too long in certain areas, spending a week on a topic when a couple of days would have sufficed. Going too far into the weeds instead of cultivating a breadth of knowledge.  Reading news articles without thinking critically about what I was reading – and WHY it mattered. Tuning in to podcasts and webinars passively without actively paying attention, taking detailed notes, and figuring out where this information could be relevant on an exam.

BUT . . . that was ok, because I was “just sitting for the exam experience.” I kept telling myself: I have at least three attempts at this, and I don’t think I’ll be able to pass either section on my first at bat.  I don’t know enough yet, I haven’t studied enough yet and I’m not ready – yet.

In mid-March (about 12 weeks before the exam), my wonderful mentor recommended this book to me. (Sidenote: Despite my MW marathon references, baseball analogies AND this book being written by a sports psychologist – I am honestly NOT a sports gal!) She knew that I lacked confidence in my abilities and told me that this book helped her during the MW program when she was dealing with similar feelings.  I’m all about putting myself in the right mindset – so I Amazoned it immediately.

Day one of reading, this quote jumped out at me:

“It would indeed be illogical to persist if you thought you didn’t have a chance to succeed.”

Now, I consider myself a very logical person. I often make decisions based on evidence and facts instead of feelings. I approach projects methodically and tend to look at most situations objectively and rationally. So . . . why was I spending all these hours persisting in my pursuit of the MW – studying, tasting, reading, researching – if I didn’t think I had a chance to succeed on my first at bat?!

This book was a wakeup call – my mindset and studies changed almost instantly.

I started putting myself on the clock for focused study time. One solid hour with no distractions for me equals at least three half-assed hours where multi-tasking is involved. I aimed for 3 solid focused hours a day and as a result, had a much better understanding and retention of information. Shit Was Clicking! I moved more efficiently through topics – bringing myself out of rabbit holes when I knew I’d burrowed too deep. AND I tackled those topics that I’d constantly put on the back burner because they scared the crap out of me (I’m looking at you P3!) And wouldn’t you know, after I’d spent time on QA/QC, HACCP plans, stabilization and bulk shipping – They Weren’t As Scary!

I cranked out outlines on major theory topics: Vineyard Hazards, Oak, Closures & Packaging, Consumer Trends. Even going back to those outlines that I’d sketched out when I was applying for the entrance exam and filling in the gaps with examples and details. I wish I could give my past self a huge hug for going through all that effort just to get into the MW program . . . that prep work and those outlines were NOT a waste of time!

If I had studied like this all year, I would feel in a much better position for the exam. Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about that now and kicking myself over what I should have done isn’t helpful or healthy.  I can only give this first at bat my best shot and focus on what I HAVE done and what I DO know.

So, I will try do my best and give it my all.

To quote one of my favorite wise old men:

“Welcome to the Program!” (MW Marathon Lap 1)

I got the news last week that I was admitted into the MW program! So (whew!) all that effort I put into my application and the entrance exam was worth it. 🙂

Since receiving this email, my feelings have been a blend of excited with a sense of accomplishment and a dash of nervousness. There’s a well-known saying amongst first year law students: “Look to your left, look to your right, because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.”  And while this wasn’t an accurate statement about my law school experience, I suspect it might be about my MW experience.  More people have gone into space than have successfully passed the MW exam.  Although that exam is a couple years away, that’s still a rather daunting statistic for us Stage 1 MW students. 

When I started law school, I knew the bar exam was looming after graduation and that I would need to pass it in order to become an actual lawyer. Likewise, I know that there’s a Stage 1 Assessment exam (probably in June 2022), then the Stage 2 MW exam, and finally a 10,000-word research paper to complete in order for me to become an actual Master of Wine.

However, I’m not going to worry about all that right now.  I’m going to approach the MW program like I’m training for a race: I’ll keep the end goal in sight – but I’m going to focus my attention on the next step in front of me. 

Truth be told, I have never particularly enjoyed running.  However, there were a few years in my life when I was a runner.  It was good for blowing off steam and stress and many a flashcard was reviewed while putting one foot painfully in front of the other.  But I didn’t start off running a marathon – I started with a program called Couch to 5k.

The Couch to 5K program (or C25K) basically takes a non-runner from sitting on their ass to running a 5k (3.1 miles) in 9ish weeks.  The program starts off VERY slowly – something like 20 minutes total with alternating running one minute and walking for 90 seconds.  But by easing into it – you’re better able to avoid shin splints, burnout and aching knees.  And by breaking down the larger goal of 5K into smaller, manageable sized steps it made the whole process a lot less painful – mentally and physically.

So I’ll take the MW program one step at a time.  Sometimes I’ll be running fast, pain free and (hopefully) with that elusive runner’s high. But other times I’ll be walking . . . or even limping along.  And there will be times when I stop moving altogether so I can catch my breath.

But for right now, I’m going to treat these next couple of weeks as doing some really enjoyable stretching before my first laps.  I want to enjoy this moment – because I know I’ve got a long run ahead of me.

Me after finishing my first 5K – The Polar Bear Plunge in Seattle, WA