How did you tackle the Master of Wine and other wine exams? People ask me that question again and again. My short answer: I did it with passion, persistence, discipline and the right preparation. But how do you prepare, how do you train for such exams? We can write books about this. However, some very fundamental things were decisive for me. It’s no rocket science, but seven straightforward rules. And they apply not only to the MW examination but to all the major exams as well.
Rule 1: RTFM – Read the f**** manual
My first and foremost advice is to read the manual. This advice applies both before the installation of the new kitchen and before any major test. Prepare yourself precisely as the syllabus, the examination regulations demand. And ask if anything is unclear. It may sound trivial, but it’s not.
If your first date is expecting you to dress in a tuxedo, even your most expensive sneakers and jeans won’t do you any good that evening. Full stop. It’s the same with every exam: it’s vital for your success that you know what your counterpart requires from you. Otherwise, in the best case, you will waste time, money and energy. In the worst case, you fail the test for nothing. In the context of my Master of Wine examination, for example, it was vital for me with my German study background to understand how I have to plan essays and to structure arguments according to the Anglo-Saxon educational system. When I realized this, I passed the theory.
Rule 2: Make a solid plan
From the very beginning, be aware that you have to master any complex project in a marathon but not in a sprint. No shortcut will lead you to the championship. On the contrary, you will have to master the one or another extra mile. You need the necessary resources – money, time and a stable environment. Discuss with your family, calculate your time and finances and make a plan to reach your goal.
Rule 3: Stick to your plan
If you have your plan, that’s great. Just make sure you stick to it, which requires discipline but also realistic planning. If you attempt to lose 15 kilos in four weeks, you will most likely fail. The plan is simply unrealistic. Anyone who works in the service department in the evening, for example, cannot schedule this time as learning time. The planning must also be flexible. Life will bring changes in the future that we cannot foresee today. On my way to Master of Wine, I have repeatedly adapted my plan to my life with two job changes and a discovered tumour during this time. I managed to do this without losing sight of the goal. I set myself a daily learning minimum of at least one hour. I got up an hour earlier every day to write essays. I arranged tastings on the weekends and in the evenings. I used the time spent on planes, taxis and trains for repetitions or essay plans.
Rule 4: Study in a diverse way
Let diversity rule your day. Routine dulls. That includes studying. I didn’t spend days cramming a topic but varied my topics again and again. It keeps the mind awake and helps you to stay focused. Make sure you take breaks and get enough sleep to allow your body and mind to recover. Studies have shown that sport improves mental performance. Take advantage of this. Binaural beats have also helped me to concentrate and relax better. These are tones and frequencies synchronized with the respective brain waves. Sounds esoteric, but it worked great for me.
Rule 5: Be honest with yourself
To tackle your weaknesses, you need the right mindset. Respect the task, but do not be afraid of it. Be confident that you can do it, but beware of any hubris. Be honest with yourself where you are standing. What you know and don’t know. Ask others, too, because your self-image may differ from their perception. Accept constructive criticism and learn from your failings. Failure is part of the game. Sometimes I have been more wrong than right at the tasting. But I never quit and worked continuously on improving myself. I took Michael Jordan as my role model. He has missed over 9000 throws and lost almost 300 games in his career. And because he stood up and improved every time he failed, he became the greatest basketball player of all time.
Rule 6: Work on your weaknesses, not on your strengths
You fall over your weaker rather than your strongest discipline. An anchor chain always breaks at its weakest link. Train your weak points more than your strengths. I could have spent hours tasting Rieslings and Pinot Noirs as my favourite grape varieties. But I focused on what was most difficult for me. Such as identifying some Italian and Spanish wine styles in a blind tasting. After having practised it over and over again for more than three months, it suddenly worked. Since then, I have never mixed up these styles again.
Rule 7: Have fun
Pleasure instead of frustration is another crucial factor. Enjoy what you are doing; it makes studying easier. You don’t study for the exam, but yourself. You are expanding your knowledge. That’s great. Studying for a wine exam, that’s even more so. You taste exciting wines and get to understand them even better. Imagine what a privilege that means in our world, in which many people do not yet have clean drinking water.