How to Study for the CSW (Or any other Exam)

Wine 2In the past few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from people asking “How do I study for the CSW?”  It’s a good question, and one that I thought I’d address here on the blog as it seems so universal.  By the way, most of the inquiries I get have to do with the CSW, but having been a professor for decades, I know that these study techniques will work for any knowledge-based set of material…even other wine certifications!

I think the problem stems from people confusing “reading” with “studying.”  Reading is a good first step, but it’s only the beginning.  Studying is so much more….so here’s my advice on how to “really study.”  By the way, if you are looking for the easy way out, you are NOT going to like me!

My Advice…How to Study for the Certified Specialist of Wine (or any other) Exam

Learning, unfortunately, takes time. Unless you have a have photographic memory, learning requires repetition, active study techniques, and concentration.  Here are few simple tips to help you get the most from your study time.

Read and Take Notes:  Reading alone does not do much in terms of long-term learning for most people. Do you remember that little jingle about “people only remember 10% of what they read?” It’s actually less than that. If you want your study session to result in long-term memory, you need to take notes while you study. Read your study guide section by section, taking notes all the while. Then, clean up those notes and use them as your study material for the last few months or weeks leading up to your exam.

How to study 1Study Actively:  One of the reasons that taking notes is so effective for most people is that writing involves more energy and more of the senses than just reading or listening. The more energy and senses that are involved in studying (or any activity); the more new material will make it to your brain’s “recording disk.” While it might feel silly, reading out loud or reviewing your notes out loud is one of the best ways involve more of your senses in your studying.  Writing, a kinetic activity, also increases memory.  Instead of staring at maps, draw them. Instead of just reading over your notes, copy them over.

Don’t just Memorize – Strive for Understanding: There are two ways to memorize:  by rote (mechanically) and by understanding. Telephone numbers and computer passwords are better learned by rote.  However, anything that needs to be understood must have some meaning behind it. The more association you can elicit for an idea, the more meaning it will have; the more meaningful the learning, the better one is able to retain it. This is the main reason why travelling is such a good way to learn wine…once you’ve driven from Greve to Montalcino, its easy to remember the distances and directions…you totally understand it (and will never forget it, most likely, if you tried to drive yourself)! While you might not be able to travel to every wine region you are studying, you can try to find the context behind the facts.  You can do this by comparing and contrasting, noting similarities in ideas and concepts, tying new ideas to something you already know, and trying to put new information in its proper place in a larger system of ideas, concepts and theories.

Rephrase and explain:  Anyone who has ever taught a wine class knows that one way to really learn something is to teach it.  Teaching requires us to organize and explain material, which just happen to be two of the most important facets of learning. To use this concept in your study sessions, experiment with stopping every five minutes to try and rephrase and explain the material.  This is also a great way to stop your mind from wandering. Remember, if you can’t explain something quickly and succinctly, you don’t really know it well.

how to learn slideUse Spaced Repetition:  Memories fade away rapidly when not reviewed or used. The curve of forgetting is like a playground slide; we forget most of what we learned within the first 24 hours after studying, from there the curve of forgetting proceeds much more slowly.  To combat the “24-hour brain dump,” try to fit in a study session every day, even if it is just ten minutes (although an hour a day is better). The more times around the learning circuit, the longer lasting the impression will be.

Simulate the Required Behavior: When studying for an examination, the most effective approach is to closely simulate the behavior you’ll ultimately be required to perform. What this means is that one way to effectively study for a multiple choice test is to take multiple choice practice tests.  However…what’s even more effective is writing your own test questions. Writing test questions after studying a section of material is also a great way to keep from getting bored or losing your concentration.

I hope these these study techniques – even if you only use one or two, will help you in your studies.  If you have any questions or comments, let me know!!  Good luck with your studies!!

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

How to Pass the CSW: “Do I Need to Study the Maps?”

world map backgroundBeing the Bubbly Professor, I get lots of emails asking the question, “How do I study for the CSW?”  Usually people that contact me have been studying a while – thankfully – and have many more specific questions as well.  Since I have spent so much time answering these questions on a one-on-one basis, I figured it was time for a new series of posts:  “How to Pass the CSW!” 

I really should call this series “How to Study for the CSW” but somehow “How to Pass…” just seemed like more fun.  So stay tuned as I try to address these questions one by one.

“Do I need to study the maps?”  Yes. 

“Do I need to know everything on the maps?”  This is one of the most common lines of questioning I receive.  It’s like people don’t want to have to study the maps.  However, let me make it perfectly clear:  Yes, you need to study the maps.  Yes, you need to know everything on the maps.

Hold on, it’s about to get even better, because imho, if a wine region is listed on a map, someone up at SWE thinks it is important, and you should also know what types of wine they produce there, including the grape varieties and any tidbits about terroir or production methods that are noted in the text of the CSW Study Guide.  You should also know where the region is located in relation to other wine regions, as well as the rivers, mountain ranges, and cities that surround it.  If any specific geographical information is including in the text, you might need to know that as well!

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia.

Napa County lies north of San Pablo Bay.

Chile is almost 3,000 miles long and barely 100 miles wide in most spots.

These bits of information are what I call “factoids.”  Factoids are seemingly random pieces of information and can be baffling to study – if all you are trying to do is memorize them.  A factoid such as “New Zealand is located 1,200 miles east of Australia” seems trivial – unless you put it in context.  So please don’t try to just memorize random factoids.  You will get bored and shut down; you might as well try to memorize a series of non-sequential numbers.  More importantly:  The brain just isn’t good at it. 

What the brain is very good at doing, however, is learning meaning, context, and stories.  The New Zealand/Australia factoid makes perfect sense, and is pretty memorable, when put in context.  We could weave the factoid into a story such as:

“Many people studying for the CSW lump the wines of Australia and New Zealand together and call it something like “wines from down under.”  However, the two land masses are separated by 1,200 miles of ocean – they are about as close together as San Diego and Dallas. Australia and New Zealand have more distance between them than Tuscany and the Mosel.   

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia

This means that the climates of Australia and New Zealand have little in common except the name of the nearest ocean.  Australia is hot and dry and only hospitable to grapes in certain regions along the coastlines or clustered around the Great Dividing Range.  New Zealand has a maritime climate, and is even cooler than one might imagine due to the fact that most of the country lies within 50 miles of the frigid South Pacific Ocean.

This huge distance also means that New Zealand is quite isolated, considering that Australia is its closest neighbor. To the south, there’s nothing but ice – Antarctica is the only continent south of New Zealand. Chile, its closest neighbor to the east, is over 5,000 miles away.   Seeing as how sheep outnumber people in New Zealand, this isolation makes for some interesting challenges, particularly when it comes to mobilizing a non-existent labor force for harvest.

That’s what you need to learn from the maps. Does it make sense? Sure does.  Is it a good story?  Hell yeah.  Will you remember it?  Just try not to.

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

Bubbly Disclaimer:  This is my own personal advice and should not be considered as “official” advice from any school or organization. I hope the materials here on The Bubbly Prof help you out with your wine studies, and that you are successful in your certification endeavors.  Cheers!