Advice for Stage 1 Students
The MW Stage One starts now. Tips to get you going on your MW journey if you've just been accepted and you don't know where to start.
I wrote a quick thread on Twitter with a few quick hints, broadly along the topic of of “things to get you started”, which I quite liked.
Here are some broader tips on getting started with S1, and what you can do straight away, before your study days and seminars.
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Learn How to Write an Essay
If I can give any new MW Students one MASSIVE piece of advice to get you started, it’s: Learn how to write an essay.
Write 1000 words, in 45 mins, on any subject once a week or more. Practice handwriting, or typing, you’ll be quicker at one or the other.
Don’t worry about what you’re writing, it could be a review of a busy weekend away for all I care, but just get used to writing.
Top Tip: If you’re practicing writing on your laptop, use Notepad.
Notepad mimics the software you’ll be using in the exam, no wysiwyg editor, no speel chek, no bold or italics. Nothing.
Just the simplest text editor you can imagine. Get used to typing in there.
Copy & paste your essay into a more powerful document editor for grammar and spelling once your hour is up.
I also used a really ‘modular’ essay format, so that I knew exactly how many words I needed to hit in each section: Intro > Paragraph 1/2/3 > Conclusion. I also created template type sentence structures for each section.
Getting really confident with writing, paragraphs, structure and more importantly, editing as you go to get to 1000 words in the time is a massive help. You definitely don’t want to be figuring that sort of stuff out just before the exam*.
Devise a Tasting System
On your 2nd day in Rust, for most students it’s your first exam conditions 12-wine tasting exam. If you go into that with a system, you’ll feel much more comfortable.
There are 25 marks available per wine. There are 10-12 structural markers** for each wine. Use all the relevant structural markers in each answer, with context or justification.
Don’t worry about repeating yourself for different sections of the same question and don’t forget to include the obvious***.
I now use a very logical based 12 x 12 grid****. You’re allowed to take in a pencil and a ruler, practice drawing it in advance.
I taste all the wines, filling in every box on the grid in 25 minutes.
I try not to taste the wines again, writing the answers from the notes, ticking them off as I go. If you can’t do that, take better notes. It will save time.
Read the Diploma / L4 Textbooks
Honestly, my word. If you can get a copy of the WSET Diploma L4 textbooks, do.
They’ll see you through the tasting paper.
Structural Components + Production Methods = Easier Identification
Different winemaking techniques for sparkling, rosé or fortified styles? They’re all in there. You won’t make those silly assumptions or errors if you’ve got a good grip on the L4.
Dry Tasting Notes
Every student you speak to will wish they’d have done more of these, but I’d probably forget doing dry notes until you’ve mastered writing theory essays.
If I’m honest, you get loads of tips on how to write the tasting answers during the Stage 1 Study Days and seminar in Rust. They’re amazingly helpful for learning how to structure your answers.
When you get back from Rust, do dry notes as often as possible, more often than you taste. Identification is fine, but structuring your answers is more important.
The Practical exam is more like a Maths exam, you get most of your marks for showing your workings, not for getting the answer correct.
You can fail the S1A Practical and identify all the wines correctly, but you can pass without identifying any of the wines if your arguments are strong enough.
Have a Study Plan
Learn the difference between ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’ Study (See Further Reading)
Set yourself a goal and a study plan for ‘Active’ Study. I put aside 12 hours per week. One full day and then a couple of gentler evenings. Split between tasting, dry notes and theory study.
Split your Theory studies by paper and start with the things you know the least about. Use the IMW Syllabus. It’s really, really helpful.
You’ll probably ignore all of the above advise anyway, but at least you’ve read through it. I could go on and on.
A big part of the MW programme is finding your own way. I’m not here to tell you ‘how’ to do any of it, just that you need to do it.
If you’re wondering how to get started on the MW Stage 1.
Learn how to write an essay
Concentrate on Theory now, you’ll learn how to approach the Practical later.
Practice writing 1000 word essays in 45 minutes on any topic.
Get organised & stick to a study plan.
* If you wanted some specifics on Exam Prep, or Essay Writing, I could do that. Let me know.
** You can devise your own, but mine are: colour, aroma sugar, abv, acid, tannin, body, style, oak, length, quality, conclusion
*** I actually started out on the wrong track here, approaching the technical factors for various regions and grapes, and trying to form them into sentences. Don’t do that
**** I stole it from Andrea Pritzker MW while I was in Rust, floundering.
There’s lots of similar articles on this sort of stuff, but this overview from GradReady makes a lot of sense.
Active learning strategies require actively engaging with the material—for example, by testing yourself. Passive learning strategies, on the other hand, do not require active engagement—for example, re-watching lectures.
Some general notes on essay writing from the Oxbridge Essays website.
Your essay writing can be dramatically improved overnight simply by using the correct essay structure.
This simple guide will show you how to structure an essay by clearly introducing and concluding your argument, and laying out your paragraphs coherently in between.