Was having a few sips with a wine group recently when someone there said that he intends to take the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) exam soon. Not having much time for studies, he plans to attempt the exam with current knowledge gained by pursuing other wine related courses (WSET courses) and his work experience as a wine sales representative.
Though most in the group encouraged his attempt, those who have attempted this certification before questioned his strategy. It looks simple, tackle a 100 multiple choice questions and you are done (no short questions, essays or tastings for this exam). However the level of difficulty at which these questions are set is slightly different from other wine courses. My suggestions for passing this exam are:
a. Don't just rely on knowledge gained by attending courses under WSET or Court of Master Sommeliers. These are great and well recognized courses (and will obviously give you a good foundation), but the CSW exam test you on material based on its own syllabus. Unfortunately the CSW syllabus does differ from WSET and Court of Master Sommelier wine courses. Its emphasis on history, geography (wine regions, esp that of US, Austria, Central and Eastern Europe) and wine chemistry is different. Though knowledge from other wine courses and work experience in the wine industry will greatly help to understand CSW's syllabus (and even answer some of the exam questions), the challenge will be to get sufficient questions right to pass the exam the first round.
b. Sign up as a professional member of the Society of Wine Educators (SWE) and you will gain access to on-line study materials. It will cost you, but it will be worth the dollars and cents if you are serious about passing this exam (preferably in the first attempt). The on-line materials will give you an idea on the depth you will need to study and the key areas to concentrate on for each unit.
c. Get the most recent CSW study guide. (Yup, its gets updated.) Its heavy reading with lots of facts to remember but at least you can rest assured that you are reading the appropriate materials for the upcoming exam.
d. Attempt all on-line multiple choice questions (this really helps!). (You will be able to do this if you signed with the Society as a professional member.) It will give you an idea on the type of questions which can be asked for each unit and the level of difficulty the examiners are looking at when designing with multiple choice questions. I would advise you to attempt these questions again and again until you get all of them right. It will condition your mind to look out for relevant points to remember when reading the guide. You may also just find a few of these questions being asked during the actual exam.
e. When attempting multiple choice questions, as important it is in knowing the right answer, at times it is just as important in identifying what is obviously the 'incorrect answers' among the choices given. But to gain this knowledge one has to be very familiar with the study guide. Going through the study guide as a 'light read' a few times helps one's mind 'figure out' the 'likely wrong options' when looking at a multiple choice question.
Hope the tips help!