Un-Study Techniques: Say it, Scream it, Sing it

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This is the fifth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

If you just can’t stand to study….perhaps you won’t mind a bit of talking? Grab one page of notes or a short stack of flashcards—this is a great time to go straight for the information you can never seem to recall or understand. Just make sure to keep your material to a minimum so there’s no chance of overwhelming yourself.

Once you have your notes, read them out loud. When I do this I like to go all-in. Stand up straight, say it loud, say it proud, repeat it three times directly into the (fake) microphone. Then do it again. Say it, scream it, or sing it until you have it memorized. Then paraphrase it and say it again. Keep going. Repeat it ten times. Do it with a glass of wine or a shot of Bourbon and it gets fun and silly…and it’s very, very effective.

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Here’s why:

There’s something called the “production effect” that is discussed amongst those who study memory science. To put it simply, the production effect related to the fact that a person will remember something that they said (even if it is a random string of words or sounds) more than something that they read (silently) or something they heard someone else say.

I am inclined to think that this is likely to do with the fact that we like to hear ourselves talk (ahem), but the experts will tell us it is more than that—and the stats to prove it are impressive. In a study reported by Psychology Today (as provided by Dr. W. R. Klemm) students who read a list of 160 items silently were able to recognize about 64% of them two weeks later…and the students who read them aloud were able to recall 77%. That’s worth speaking up for.

One explanation for the production effect is distinctiveness—something that is read, spoken, and heard is more distinctive (and therefore more memorable) than words that are “just” read silently. The literature describes this as such: “the additional dimensions of encoding for items read aloud can be subsequently used during retrieval” (Icht, Mama, and Algom, 2014). In other words, it helps remember.

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Another is that it involves more senses (hearing and seeing) as well as motor activities (speaking). Let’s face it, we are seldom as actively engaged as we are when we are talking. This fits in with the meaning of “production” – in the sense that you “produce something” when you use information rather than just reading it or hearing it. While it might be nice if the “production” created was a cupcake rather than a sound, a sound will do for purposes of your hungry-for-wine-knowledge long-term memory.

So, the next time a day (or night) rolls around and you “just can’t stand to study,” well, don’t study. Instead, grab a small section of your notes, and talk it out.

Here are some links if you’d like to learn more about our series on Un-study Techniques:

References/for more information on the production effect:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Un-study Techniques: Watch the River Run 

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This is the fourth post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies.  An un-study technique is an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to crack open a book or flip over a flash card. An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

This week’s idea is called Watch the River Run.

It works like this: Consider a river. Rivers are so relaxing and beautiful. I’ve always found rivers to be fascinating; they spring to life from someplace high in the hills, find their way to the valley floor, and snake their way across hundreds of miles  until they reach their final destination.

Map credit: Daniel Ullrich (Threedots) via Wikimedia Commons.

Lucky for us, we can contemplate a river all night…and wine up learning a lot about wine as well. Rivers are easy to research via google…Wikipedia will even work, although I’ve had the best luck with the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. To tie this into your wine studies (albeit ever so subtly), have your wine maps handy before you get started. To demonstrate this un-study technique, let’s follow the path of the Rhine River and see where it takes us!

The Journey: The Rhine River begins its journey high up in the glaciers of the Swiss Alps. From there it flows for over 765 miles until it reaches the Netherlands and flows into the North Sea.

The Source: The Rhine is actually formed from two headstreams, both beginning in southeastern Switzerland. The Vorderrhein River emerges from Lake Toma at an altitude of 7,690 feet (2,344 m).  The Hinterrhein Rivers begins at a place called San Bernadino Pass—about 20 miles away from Lake Toma—at an elevation of 6,775 feet (2,065 m).  These two rivers join at the Swiss village of Reichenau (elevation: 1,946 feet/593 m) to form the Rhine.

Switzerland to Liechtenstein to Austria: From Reichenau, the Rhine flows north to form the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Slightly further north, the river creates the border between Switzerland and Austria (in Austria’s far west, mountainous zone).

Stein am Rhein—a small town just west of Lake Bodensee in the Swiss Canton of Schaffhausen

Onward towards Germany: Just south of the northern border of Austria, The Rhine blends into Lake Bodensee—only to emerge by taking a sharp turn to the west. At this point, the Rhine is forming the border between Switzerland (to the south) and Germany (to the north) with just a small detour that means Rhine Falls (the largest waterfall in Europe) is located entirely within Switzerland.

Between Alsace and Baden:  After a 20-mile run on fairly flat land, the Rhine takes a sharp turn north near the Swiss city of Basel, and forms the border between France and Germany. The French wine region of Alsace is just to the west of the river, and just beyond the vineyards lie the Vosges Mountains. The German wine region of Baden, and beyond that the Black Forest, are located on the eastern side.

Beyond Baden: Once north of the French Border, the Vosges Mountains become the Hardt Hills, and the Rhine River continues northward between the the Pflaz and Rheinhessen regions to the west, and the small Hessische Bergstrassethe region to the east.

Rüdesheim am Rhein—a German wine-making town in the Rheingau Region

Sharp turn west: After the Main River flows through the Franken Region, it flows into the Rhine. Here, the Rhine River takes a sharp turn and flows westward alongside the Rheingau and a corner of the Nahe region.

The Middle Rhine: Just beyond the small town of Bingen, the Rhine turns again—this time to the northwest—and begins its journey along the 90-miles of the Middle Rhine. This is the area where the river flows through the Mittlelrhine wine region, cutting between the steep, slate-covered Hunsrück Mountains to the west and the Taunus Mountains to the east. This is also the area where the Mosel River (flanked by the vineyards of the region of the same name) flows into the Rhine.

Cologne and beyond: Once past the vineyards of Germany, the Rhine River passes through the German city of Cologne. Just beyond the German border, as the river flows into the Netherlands, it breaks into several wide branches and makes its way to the North Sea.

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If you want to make your session more interactive, try “free-style” drawing the course of the Rhine River from its source to the North Sea. See if you draw in the surrounding countries (and try not to forget tiny little Liechtenstein), and then pencil in the wine regions of Germany and Alsace. If you are feeling a touch less ambitious, use one of these Blank maps – rivers of Europe to get you started.

Here are some links if you’d like to learn more about our series on Un-study Techniques:

References/for more information on the Rhine River:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Un-Study Techniques: Your Five Minutes of Fame

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This is the third post in our series about “un-study techniques” for use in wine and spirits studies. For our first post, click here.  For our second installment, click here.

An un-study technique is an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to crack open a book or flip over a flash card. An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

Here is this week’s idea; we call it Your Five Minutes of Fame. It works like this:

Instead of studying, pretend that you have an assignment to give a five minute presentation on wine (any wine, any subject). If you work with wine, assume that you are going to present to your employees or co-workers. If you don’t work in wine, let’s assume this is a five-minute talk given to students in an intro to wine class.

Your first step: Choose a topic. We’re just talking five minutes here, so you’ll need to choose a very specific topic. Here are a few ideas:

  • The white grapes of Bordeaux
  • Anjou rosés
  • Subregions of Champagne
  • Terroir of the Sonoma Valley AVA
  • The noble grapes of Alsace
  • Vin Santo
  • Soave
  • Chile’s east-west appellations
  • Vinho Verde
  • The Great Dividing Range
  • Cool-climate regions of Australia

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Narrow it down: As you can see, it’s easy to come up with a topic. Your next challenge is to narrow your focus down so you can create a five-minute presentation! Keeping your presentation short will force you to focus on the most important pieces of information concerning a topic…in other words, you need to use your critical thinking skills to determine the context and relative importance of all of the available information.

Five key points: For a five-minute presentation, you can easily make five key points. (Don’t fret if you need to expand into plus-or-minus-one-or-two, such is life.) If you are presenting on the rosé wines of Anjou, you five key points might be:

  1. Approximately 45% of Anjou wine is rosé (Anjou makes a range of wines, is most famous for Chenin-blanc based Vouvray, but rosé is a major product.)
  2. The grapes (Cabernet Franc, Grolleau, Grolleau Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis)
  3. Cabernet d’Anjou AOC (Cab Franc + Cab Sauv, min 1.0% R.S.)
  4. Rosé d’Anjou AOC (mainly Grolleau, min 0.7% R.S.)
  5. Rosé de Loire AOC (produced throughout the Central Loire, but a good choice for a dry rosé at a maximum 0.3% R.S.)

That’s it!

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Keep it Simple: This caveat has nothing to do with your (pretend) audience, but rather this simple truth: you can’t explain something in clear, concise terms unless you have a true understanding of the subject. Anyone can ramble on about a topic…but only someone who really understands the topic can distill it down to a sentence or two. Albert Einstein said it better than I can, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Slides, slides, everywhere the slides: Whether or not you use power point or other types of slides “in real life” – this is a good exercise in consolidating your information and keeping this concise. So…make a slide deck with five slides only, and one of your key points per slide. (When you are done, you can add in an introductory slide and a conclusion, we won’t tell anyone.) Remember to stick to the “real rules” of slide design and do not fill them with words (no fair “reading slides” during your presentation.) Find a photo or make a graphic, and use a statement or two. Use the notes page of the slide to fill in as much detail as you want—this is where a lot of your “un-study” learning will come in.

Learn-by-teaching, learn-by-practice: Practice your presentation and have fun with it! You’ll soon experience the learn-by-teaching effect. Give the presentation to your family, friends, teddy bears, or the mirror. Record yourself and play it back. The point here is to internalize the information until you can talk about the subject naturally and with confidence…to the point where you could give the presentation extemporaneously. Once you’re there, you’ve learned the material—un-study techniques in action!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

Keep Calm and Make a Plan (for wine and spirits studies)

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As mentioned in last few posts, I have been bombarded lately by questions about the what, how, when, and even why of studying. I’ve written a lot about study techniques in the past, and last week I tackled the question where to find the time. This week I’d like to offer up some advice on how to plan your studies by taking your gigantic-goal-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow and breaking it down in manageable week-by-week and day-by-day goals.

In other words, this post is about how to create your study plan. Here’s my take on the subject:

Eyes on the prize: The first step is to establish your long-term goal. If you are seriously into the study of wine or spirits, your goal is likely to be a certification exam—but it certainly could be to get accepted into a certain school or program of study, to land a certain job, or just to increase your knowledge. It’s all good, and it’s up to you.

Establish your timeline: A goal needs to have an end date. As Harvey MacKay says, “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.” Write the end date down and calculate how many days, weeks, and months are left between you and your goal.

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Gather your materials: Before you can complete your plan, you need to know what you are studying. If you are studying for the CSS, CSW, or any other intro- or intermediate-level wine or spirits certification, you will most likely have a text book (or books). If you do not have an assigned text (or pre-made list of sources), you will need to create your curriculum, starting with a list of topics, and then locate the resources (books, periodicals, websites) yourself.

Break it up: Take the number of weeks you have until your goal, and divide by half. This will be the length of your initial study plan with the goal of making it through a first reading of your material. Divide your study materials by the number of calculated weeks. If you have a text book, this should be fairly simple: week 1—pages 1 to 45, week 2—pages 46 to 89, and so on. If you have a list of topics, it could look something like this: week 1—red grapes, week 2—white grapes, week 3—Northern Rhône Valley, week 4—Southern Rhône Valley, and so on. Make a list of your study materials broken down by one-week increments and put a big red star on every fourth week.

Break it down: Take your first week’s study material and divide it more-or-less evenly over six days. For starters, it is best to do this one week at a time. Using a template like this generic weekly study planner like this can help, but plain old notebook paper will as well. At the top of the page, list what you need to cover for the week. Next, fill in your study goals for six days. The seventh day each week can be a free day, or a make-up day for those weeks when life goes wonky (and it will). Having weekly and daily goals will help keep you on track, create checkpoints for the material, and help you to organize your study materials ahead of time. This step is where the magic happens; a six-month journey through a 300-page text book is daunting; a daily goal to read and take notes on three specific pages is easy (easier)..

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Create your study blocks: Ideally, you should schedule one or two “long” study blocks each day (for 30 minutes to one hour) at the same time each day. One in the morning and one in the afternoon or evening is ideal, but you are going to have to look at your available time during the week and create some study time. In addition, schedule at least three “short” (10-minute study) blocks each day. Click here for advice on how to find the time to study.  Note: it has always worked best for me to schedule in the specific time slots for each study block week-by-week. It’s one of my “things to do” every Sunday morning.

For the longer study blocks: You have three goals for the first half of your study plan: (1) read through the materials, (2) take notes on (or highlight) the materials, and (3) make flashcards or notecards from the materials. Your focus should be on discovering the material and grasping the “big picture” of the subject matter. Use your longer study blocks to progressively plow through the material—at least until you have covered the assigned pages/topics for the day. (At the end of this first half, you’ll create a new plan for the second half of your timeline that will include revision, repetition/memorization drills, critical thinking exercises, and practice tests).

For the shorter study blocks: Use the first short study block of the day to review your latest new reading material. Use the second to do some follow-up research on topics you are not clear on, or some background research to create context and deeper meaning/understanding of the material. Use the last one to go through your ever-growing stack of flashcards or note cards.

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Notes to yourself: As you complete your study blocks, jot down a quick note to yourself—just a few words—about what you covered on your study planner. For your longer study blocks, record what chapters, pages, or references you read or reviewed. For the short blocks make a quick note of what activity you completed (for instance; reviewed chapter 1, researched the Gironde River, studied flashcards from chapter 6).

The routine: Having a study block at the same time each day has a myriad of benefits: your schedule is easy to memorize, you can create a routine, and you will develop a positive habit.

Here’s the hard part: Stick to the schedule—there’s not much point in making a study plan if you don’t stick with it (so much easier said than done). However, as life has a tendency to get in the way of even the best of plans, give yourself a break. Remember those big red stars you placed on your schedule every four weeks? If you can make up any study lags or losses by the end of each four-week period, you should consider yourself a study schedule success story!

Do you have any ideas for creating a study plan? Let us know!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

The Timewarp: How to Find the Time (for Wine and Spirits Study)

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Where to find the time?

I’ve been bombarded by “how, when, and why to study” questions lately. I’ve written a lot about how to study in the past, but would like to tackle the never-ending question of “where to find the time in a busy, stressed-out, hacked-up world” today. I am sure that none of these suggestions are ground-breaking (or time-warping), but these tactics have worked—at different stages of life—for me and many of my students, and maybe one or two will work for you!

Be dressed and ready to go (early): Whatever your deadlines are for the day—leave for work at 8:00 am, be ready to go to dinner at 7:00 pm, have the housework done for the day by 8:00 pm so you can watch Grey’s Anatomy in peace—try to be primped, dressed, and ready-to-go early, and use that time to study. In the morning, you might be able to make this happen so that you have a half an hour of “found” time. Later in the day, the goal might be five or ten minutes of spare study time. Whatever the time frame, it’s a perfect excuse to fit in a few minutes of no-stress study time.

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Show up early: Whenever you have an interview, an appointment, a lunch date, or even a dentist appointment, get there early and you will have a beautiful block of stress-free study time. Plant yourself as close to your appointment as you can be—in a coffee shop, the building lobby, or even in your car—and hit the books (or flashcards).

Stay late: At the end of your shift, stay after work for a half hour or so and study. If you have an office, just shut the door and pretend that you are not there. If you don’t have an office, consider using your desk, the building lobby, an employee break room, a coffee shop, or just go sit in your car. If you work nine-to-five, this half hour of “found study time” might have the added benefit of easing the crush of the evening rush hour. One caveat: this might not be the best idea for those of you who work the late-night shift.

Brush it up: Every brushes their teeth (let’s hope) in the morning and again at night (and most likely a time or two in between—I am talking to you, popcorn and cotton candy eaters—but that’s a different story). Why not tack on an extra five or ten minutes to your morning and/or evening routine, and schedule one of your shorter study sessions for right after your brush your teeth? You’ve already carved out these segments of the day as personal time, so it’s an established habit—no behavior modification necessary.

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Skip it: First things first: there is no way I am skipping Grey’s Anatomy. However…we all know that an hour a day (or even a half hour) of study time can lead to big results. If you really can’t find that kind of time in your schedule, consider swapping out one hour or half hour of activity a day. Skip the first half hour of Morning Joe. Skip the 6 pm news. Skip the re-run of Family Feud you watch before dinner (I know, that one’s tough). Cut your Candy Crush time in half. Cut your social media time down by 40%.

Everybody get up: Get up a half hour earlier than you need to, make a fast cup of coffee or tea, and make studying the first project of each day before the rest of the world even knows you are awake.

Use that drive time: It is easy to study if you find yourself on public transportation—just dive right in to your books, notes, or flashcards. However, if you drive yourself, you need to be more creative. Consider making short recordings of yourself—read from your study guide or textbooks, read from your notes, or recite short lists of information (regions of Chile, styles of Champagne, lists of approved grape varieties [for instance]). You can even make verbal quizzes for yourself (ask a question, wait ten seconds, read the answer). This study technique has all kinds of active learning benefits built right in. Of course, many people use drive time to listen to their favorite podcasts or radio programs; this is a great idea made all the better if you can find one that is applicable to your current studies.

If you have any time-warping ideas of your own, help us all out by letting us in on your secrets in the comments!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

(Un-study Techniques) The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

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This post is the second in our series on Un-study Techniques, or How to learn about wine when you just can’t stand to study any longer. Click here for: our first post, titled “How to Succeed at Wine Studies without Really Trying”.

An un-study technique is an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to crack open a book or flip over a flash card. An un-study technique is something you can do to help you learn about wine—in those times and situations when you are tired, unmotivated, or just plain sick of studying. We’ve all been there.

This week we offer an un-study technique we call “The Big Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.” Here’s how it works:

For starters, choose a wine-related (or wine-adjacent) place or thing—not a wine, winery, or an appellation—but rather something like a mountain, river, monument, city, statue, or village. This can be approached one of two ways: either start with something that is of particular interest to you, or go random and throw a dart. Here are a few ideas for your first topic:

  • The Hill of Hermitage
  • The Riddoch Highway
  • Lake Garda
  • Santa María la Real de Irache (the Monastery of Irache)
  • Mount Aconcagua
  • The Abbey of Sant’Antimo
  • The Cathedral of Reims

If none of these float your boat, we have more. Click here for a pdf of: The Big Picture is worth a Thousand Word – Suggested Topics

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Once you’ve chosen your place-or-thing, do a Google Image search and find an image that you just love (and, ideally, peaks your curiosity or wanderlust). Print out the picture (or just leave it on your computer screen) and go for it—do some research, and find out everything you can about your chosen mountain-river-monument-city-village-building-statue-or whatever. Be on the lookout for something fun, humorous, or just plain fascinating about the topic. What you’re doing is building some meaningful context that will help in the next step…which is, of course, studying the wines of the place.

The point of this exercise is that your newly-found contextual knowledge—besides the fact that it is engaging and will undoubtedly make you a more fascinating companion—is that it is likely to allow you to more easily understand and recall the need-to-know details about wines of the area. And yes, that’s the next step…study the wines of the area! Ideally, your new-found background knowledge will spike your curiosity and help you break through that “can’t stand to study” rut you’ve temporarily fallen into.

Be advised: this study technique is likely to result in you heading out the door to find a bottle of said wine—that is, if you didn’t purchase one in advance. Just don’t forget to record your tasting notes before the bottle is gone.

Stay tuned for more un-study techniques in the coming weeks and months, and as always, enjoy your (un) studies!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

 

(Un-study Techniques) How to Succeed at Wine Studies without Really Trying

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Sub-title: Un-study Techniques, or How to learn about wine when you just can’t stand to study any longer.

We’ve all been there. No matter how passionate, engaged, and delighted we are to get to study wine,  take a wine class, or attempt a wine certification…there are times when we JUST CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER. And yet that class, that presentation, or that exam is on the near horizon.

What’s a wine student to do?

Here’s an idea: use what I call un-study techniques—an admittedly goofy term for an activity that will help you learn about what you need to know, but will NOT force you to highlight your text book or flip over a flash card.

I have lots of these little un-study techniques that I share with my classes and on my webinars all the time, but for today I’ll just introduce two of them. More to come soon, I promise.

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Un-study Technique—Plan a trip: Everyone knows one of the absolute best ways to learn about the wine of a certain region is to travel. To see the vines, feel the dirt between your fingers, fall in love with a winemaker in a dark, dusty cellar—you’ll never forget it.

But…even if you can’t make that trip to Tuscany this weekend, you can still plan a trip. To make this an effective un-study technique, choose a specific wine region. Plan how you will get there, where you’ll stay, where you will eat, and the wineries you will visit. Pretend you are driving and plot out your map, making sure you learn the important details that can help you in your wine studies later—such as how many miles/kilometers it is from one place to the next, and what vineyards are located on the valley floor, as opposed to up the hillsides. Choose a local restaurant to dine in and (via the magic of the interwebs) check out the menu and the wine list (paying particular attention to the local wines they have have on offer).

I know this sounds a little silly, but there have been many Monday evenings in my life when I couldn’t get the gumption to crack a book…but I learned a lot by plotting my fantasy trip through Bolgheri courtesy of google and their maps

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Un-study Technique—Write one multiple choice question: That’s right…just one. Here’s the secret about writing multiple choice questions…it is not easy. But that’s what makes it a perfect un-study technique. Here’s what to do: pick a topic and write a question as well as the correct answer. The question—known as the question stem—should be a direct question, written as a complete sentence, and should be grammatically correct.

Next: do some deep-dive research on your question-and-correct-answer to make sure that is always correct. For instance: consider this question : Which of the following types of wine is produced using 100% Gamay? Is the correct answer Beaujolais? (No, Beaujolais AOC may contain up to 15% white grapes, and may also be white.) Is the correct answer Moulin-à-Vent? (No…while Beaujolais Cru is only produced as a red wine, it is also allowed to contain up to 15% white grapes— Chardonnay, Aligoté, and/or Melon de Bourgogne, to be precise). So perhaps this question should be re-written as follows: Which of the following types of wine is mostly likely to be produced using 100% Gamay? Using this as the question, Beaujolais or Moulin-à-Vent could be a correct answer.

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The next step is to come up with the three incorrect answers, known as the distractors. The more similar the distractors are to each other and the correct answer, the more difficult the question is. Using the question discussed above (Which of the following types of wine is mostly likely to be produced using 100% Gamay?), you could craft a relatively easy question using the following three distractors: Saint-Joseph, Rosé des Riceys, and Musigny. However…and here’s where the “un-study” technique really kicks in…don’t just assume that these appellations do not produce Gamay-based wine. Research it, find out everything they are allowed to produce, and if indeed they are not at all likely to make a wine produced using Gamay, go ahead and use it as one of your distractor.

The following three distractors would make for a more difficult question: Crémant de Bourgogne, Chinon, and Irancy. Can you figure out why?

When writing your questions, make sure to take and keep your notes (after all, you are un-studying), and keep a file of your questions to test yourself with later.

Stay tuned for more un-study techniques in the coming weeks and months, and as always, enjoy your (un) studies!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net