In December the Examiners’ Report covering the 2011-2012 WSET Diploma Exams was published, and while I’m only getting to it now, it makes for interesting reading. Anyone who will be taking a WSET Diploma exam this year needs to read it, and I mean the entire paper, so I’m not going to summarize the important points. In terms of passing the exam, knowing what the Examiners want from your answers is as important as knowing the course material. There are, however, a few things I want to discuss that have to do with neither.
First, the report, and the ones that preceded it, give the pass rates for each exam as a whole as well as for each question, and there are some interesting trends. First, the good news is that generally pass rates for the Unit 3 exam are going up. I won’t speculate as to the instruction getting better, the students studying more effectively or the exams getting easier. It’s more true for the tasting component than the theory, but the overall upward trend is clear.
Second, students who take the exam in January have been somehow disadvantaged. The difference is slight for the tasting, but pronounced for the theory exam. Since the questions are different for each exam, there will always be variation, but I suspect it’s more to do with the January exam coming on the heels of seasonal festivities. While many industries get busy over the holidays, those studying wine often work in hospitality (such as sommeliers) and so cannot devote as much time to the course in the weeks leading up to the January exam. Also, while there are some students who sit the exam for the first time in January, many who fail on their first attempt in June resit the exam in the following January. I have no data as to pass rates of those resitting an exam, so I can’t even speculate what that does to the January pass rate.
Thirdly, while January exams have had a lower pass rate historically for the theory component than the June exam, 2012 was the first year that that trend was reversed. Since I sat the January exam, my natural reaction would be to take credit for this, but in fact it seems the June students suffered a somewhat harsh exam with a particularly tempting question proving to be deceptively difficult. Still, January theory pass rates are trending upward at a faster pace then the June rates, so I am hopeful that the playing field will at some point be level regardless of when a student sits the exam. And if you will be sitting a January exam for Unit 3 next year, keep in mind the extra challenge when making your study plan.
And finally, a very small word on some of the content of the report. It typically contains selections of answers from student papers, sometimes provided as examples of what examiners expect, but at other times as public humiliation of especially poor efforts (though fortunately without the names of the students in question). While I am grateful none of my work was so ridiculed, I am suffering a fate nearly as bad, for my wife had one of her essays reproduced as “one of the few better ones” from a question that few dared to attempt (51) and fewer still (13) managed to pass. It was bad enough to be outperformed on the theory exam, but I fear I will be reminded of this triumph for many years to come. And yes, I would do the same were our roles reversed.