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  • Writer's pictureAllison Sheardy

MW Stage 1 Reflections and Tips

Well, the big news around here is that I have successfully completed Stage 1 of the Master of Wine program! I got the email earlier this month that I had done enough to show my potential and could progress to Stage 2 (the BIG ONE). I can’t explain the relief I felt at that moment. I had found the exam back in June to be tough but fair, and I knew there were areas I’d done well and some where I’d struggled (time management during the practical portion turned into a much bigger issue than I’d anticipated).

With Stage 1 behind me, I’m reflecting on how I prepared, what worked, and what didn’t. Everyone has a lot of advice to offer, and as a MW student, you’ll inevitably hear from several current MWs that there is no ‘magic bullet’ for passing the exams – put in the work, be smart and efficient in your study strategies, and do your best. This is absolutely true – there are a thousand ways to approach this beast, and one isn’t necessarily better than another. It comes down to what works for you.

Here are some things I learned along the way:

  1. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be shy about something you’re an expert in (still working on this one…) but be open with yourself and others about where you need to focus.

  2. Along those same lines, be open to criticism. I can be very shy and was always nervous about sharing my tasting notes in front of others, but inevitably, you’ll get some helpful feedback. Furthermore, the PAMS and TAMS (practice assignments for tasting and theory essays) feedback can seem harsh, but really, it is succinct and to the point. Learn from it!

  3. Surface level isn’t enough. This is something I’m still working on. I know a lot of big picture concepts, but I need to work on getting more specific and in-depth. This kind of knowledge will help set future essays apart.

  4. Have a plan. Be willing and able to modify it along the way as you discover what works and what doesn’t, but at least set a framework for yourself – and hold yourself accountable to stick to it!

  5. Find a study group, but be thoughtful about it. Here’s the thing. There are tons of MW student study groups out there – ones just for stage 1 or stage 2, blended ones, ones that focus on theory, practical, or both, virtual, in person, small, large…you get the point. There’s a temptation to join every study group and try to do all the things, but try to be critical about what you need in a study group, and what you bring to the table. I personally think smaller study groups are better. I have a virtual group that goes between 3-5 members. We’re all in different areas of the wine industry and bring different experience and expertise, as well as ways of thinking. We share common goals and have good chemistry between us – all good things. Perhaps most importantly, we take time to evaluate what we’re working on and decide if it is a good use of our time and/or an effective study tool. The support of a close study group – people that get what you’re dealing with and offer support – is priceless.

  6. Go all in. There are some aspects of the MW program that are required – the seminar, the exam – but there are a lot of optional add-ons. These include student trips, the PAMS and TAMS assignments, and course days. I had the philosophy of ‘go big or go home,’ figuring that if I was already spending the money on tuition and travel, I should do whatever I could to help myself pass. I attended all of the course days, did a student trip to Bordeaux, turned in assignments…yes, this added extra expense to the year, but I do believe it was ultimately helpful. For reference, I believe I spent between $12-14K last year, including tuition, travel (including airfare, hotel, airport parking, boarding Cabbie, rental cars, meals…), wine, and other resources/materials.

So, what’s ahead for Stage 2? The format is similar – an in-person seminar in February, optional course days, PAMS and TAMS assignments (with added RAMS – research paper topic explorations), and exams in June. Whereas the S1 assessment was one day – 12 wines in the morning, and two essays in the afternoon – the S2 exams (the MW exam) are over four days, with three 12 wine flights and multiple essays everyday. The grading cutoff is higher, too – so everything is amplified and more intense. Here we go!

Cabbie was very supportive this year, too :)

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