I was recently contacted by Kathleen Lisson, a fellow Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and Wine Century Club member. Kathleen has started a blog post about tips and approaches for studying for the challenging CSW exam, and asked me to participate by adding my studying tips.
I’ve written about the CSW and other wine certifications before, but had not really detailed my CSW experience. I nearly botched the approach to the CSW exam completely, so I thought I’d write a post in response to Kathleen’s request, so that any readers out there who are contemplating sitting the CSW exam have an idea of what not to do to pass it…
First, a bit of background: I put off the CSW exam for nearly a year. I had intended to sit the exam in Philadelphia in April, and life “got in the way” as they say. Because the Society of Wine Educators (who oversee the exam and certification) administer the exams throughout the U.S., I needed to wait until they sat another CSW exam close to home. That meant waiting until October to take the exam in D.C.
I never ordered the CSW study materials from the SWE. October was fast approaching, and I’d not studied consistently since April. I was definately setting the stage for being totally screwed on this exam.
At the 11th hour, I got a bit smarter about my approach: as a paid member in good standing of the SWE, I had access to their on-line wine academy, which has excellent information and practice exams for the CSW. I crammed, hitting the on-line wine academy hard, taking every pre- and post-test and the CSW practice exam. I took notes along the way and highlighted the areas that gave me trouble during the practice tests, and revisited those to make sure I was more comfortable with that material prior to the exam.
I had one other decent idea before the big exam day arrived: the weather forecast for D.C. was excellent, so I treated my wife to a stay in D.C. (using hotel points). We had dinner at the same restaurant where the CSW (and the more difficult Certified Wine Educator exam) was being held the next day, so I could get familiar with the exam area. So we were able to take a potentially stressful situation and have some fun with it, which dialed down the stress considerably for me.
Come exam day, I felt great, well-fed, and well-rested (being able to sleep just a block or two away at a nice hotel). Unfortunately, the exam started late due to a fire at the SWE building location, but thanks to my low stress level that didn’t phase me too much. When I received my exam results a few weeks later, I was flabbergasted – I did not just pass, but did really well.
I suppose the moral of this story is, if you’re going to sit the CSW:
- Join the SWE (professional membership will run you about $125 per year) and take advantage of the on-line CSW prep. materials – they’re excellent and some of the exam questions were very, very close to the practice exam questions offered on the SWE on-line academy.
- Those without any prior wine certifications should consider ordering the CSW study materials. Because the CSW exam questions are of similar difficulty to the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Advanced exam questions, I had a leg up having already sat the WSET exam. But if I’d not had that prior exam experience, I might not have passed the CSW.
- Just as you would for any difficult test, prepare beforehand and relax the night before. Get a good night’s sleep, and you just might end up looking forward to the test (sort of) the next day!