doubt, Flannery O'Connor, God, Mandela, perseverance, Pink, wine, WSET
My last post – kind of blue – came on the heels of my WSET Diploma exams for Unit 4 (Spirits) and Unit 6 (Fortified Wines). I referenced Miles Davis’ song So What as it related to my feelings of freedom following the exam. Well, recently I got the call with my results – I passed both exams with great success! What a relief. (This wine study thing is getting all the more fun.) I reveled in the news briefly then got back to business. The business of study, that is.
Last night I was reminded of Pink’s same-titled platinum hit from 2008 – So What. Hmmmm…there seems to be a theme here. Her catchy chorus goes:
So, so what?
I’m still a rock star,
I got my rock moves
And I don’t need you.
I understand why Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly praised it as a great anthem of “bluffing and bravado”. That’s how I feel right now. I’m so excited about my results, but I have this sense of needing to convince myself I’m going to be all right. The fact is, I’ve got to work my tail off to finish what I started. I’ve got my rock moves, and what I don’t need is this bad guy called Doubt.
Welcome to Unit 3, probably the most dreaded and doubt-filled part of getting the Diploma. This is my current undertaking. Most people find Unit 3 as the most difficult, based on the pass rate. The test includes blind tasting 12 wines; yes 12, out of countless possibilities covered in our syllabus. Further, there is a theory paper to write over three hours comprised of five surprise questions, designed as essays, paragraph-style, or structured responses. The pass rate is low, particularly on theory. How low? It varies of course, but here’s the average pass rate for the last three exams offered:
Tasting – 73% (okay, not bad)
Theory – 43% (ugh)
These are the kind of numbers that cause Doubt. But rather than focus on the statistics, I think about a simple quote by the late Nelson Mandela:
It always seems impossible until it’s done.
So, I keep moving. My very deliberate study plan takes 25-30 hours weekly (plus 2 hours of class each week), over roughly 24 weeks, until the exam in June. I recall the advice given to those of us signing up for Unit 3: Quit your jobs if you can. I know why they said it. The studying undeniably takes a boatload of time.
Right now I’m knee-deep in wine books and maps and charts and corks and tasting notes. Chaos, it seems. But I rest in knowing my chaos is organized. I trust the trail I’m on and I keep moving forward. One chapter, one wine, one day at a time. Before I know it, it will be June and what seemed impossible will be done.
This morning I read an excerpt from Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. As she wrote about her desire to be a fine writer, her personal journal said:
Start with the soul and perhaps
the temporal gifts I want to exercise
will have their chance;
and if they do not,
I have the best in my hands already,
the only thing really needed.
God must be in all my work.
Yes. In all my work. Including and especially my study of wine. I keep moving, I work hard, I feed my soul and trust God on this path. And so what if the pass rate seems daunting? Hey, I’m still a rock star and I don’t need you Doubt!
Kate Powell said:
thank you so much for your posts about the WSET Diploma, it is great to see that you are enjoying the course, although we appreciate it can be a challenge!
I just wanted to make a small clarification regarding a point in your post; “The test includes blind tasting 12 wines; yes 12, out of 128 possibilities.” This seems to imply that there is a list of 128 wines from which the blind wine samples would be selected, I just wanted to make it clear that this is not the case.
The specification for the WSET Level 4 does include a list of recommended tasting samples, however as stated in the Candidate Assessment Guide, the wines used in the exam can come from anywhere within the Unit 3 syllabus, and are not limited to the ‘recommended tasting samples’ listed in the specification. This is an important distinction and I just wanted to be sure that any other students (or prospective students) reading your posts don’t get the wrong impression.
Very best of luck in your studies, I look forward to reading more of your posts!
Online Communications Manager, WSET®
Wine & Spirit Education Trust
Hi Kate and thank you for the clarification.
Although I had read the Candidate Assessment Guide, including the section you mentioned, in my mind I equated it with the recommended wines for tasting. I greatly appreciate your contribution to my post! And now I see the field of wines is more sizable than I thought – great! 🙂 So, theoretically I might be poured a Vin de Corse although it’s not a recommended tasting, correct?
I will edit my post to say, “…yes, 12, out of countless possibilities covered in our syllabus.” Cheers and thank you, again.
Kate Powell said:
Thank you for making the amend. Regarding the Vin de Corse, since it is covered in Unit 3 then yes, although it does not feature in the “recommended tasting list”, theoretically it could appear as a blind tasting sample. All questions and samples however are checked by a review board to ensure that they are fair – we are never going to try and trick candidates! Therefore a Vin de Corse is less likely to turn up than a more ubiquitous wine type. Samples are generally chosen for their recognisable characteristics and may also be picked due to trends in the trade.
I hope that this helps, happy tasting!
Very helpful, Kate. Thanks again!
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