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How to prepare for the Certified Specialist of Wine Exam (CSW)

Got questions about the Society of Wine Educators Certified Specialist of Wine Exam?  Wondering how much time it takes to prepare?

These are some general guidelines I give my students preparing for the CSW exam:

  • The CSW exam is solely based on the CSW Study Guide.  You absolutely must get a copy of this and study directly from it in order to pass the exam.
  • You should look at any exam for wine certification – as the conclusion of a wine study program.  It is a certification of the knowledge you have learned.  The knowledge should be the goal, not the exam itself.
  • Your success …
  • … in passing the exam will solely depend on how much time you devote to studying.  An instructor can explain the regions, laws, concepts, methodology – but you alone are responsible for committing this information to memory.
  • It is not a matter of “just” reading the study guide.  You must know the definitions of all key terms (facts) and be able to apply the knowledge to answer the exam questions correctly.
  • The difficulty level of the CSW is on par with final exams for Vintage I, II and III at UCLA Ext.
  • If you have a good base of wine knowledge, then you should plan to study for about 15-20 hours a week for 10-12 weeks in preparation for the CSW exam.  Doing this in conjunction with a wine course can be beneficial as you will have an instructor on hand to explain concepts in more detail.  Receiving detailed information in various formats helps you to remember information and apply it to the exam.
  • Use the CSW Study Guide as your only point of reference for facts in preparing for the CSW exam.  You, or an instructor, may legitimately disagree with a fact presented in it – you have to let this go.  The CSW exam is taken exclusively from this Study Guide only – put aside everything else as reference.  You are only being tested on the facts presented in the CSW Study Guide.
  • If you have a little wine knowledge, but many of the concepts in the CSW Study Guide are new to you, then you should take structured wine classes prior to beginning a study program for a wine certification exam.  I recommend 9-12 months of classes, and figure you will spend about 10-12 hours a week at it.  Slow, steady, consistent delivery, in a variety of formats, will help you to retain information and apply it in an exam situation.  You need to build a foundation of knowledge BEFORE you begin to study for a wine certification exam.
  • Introduction to Wine at UCLA EXT is a good place to start, but this course alone is NOT enough to prepare you for the CSW exam.
  • I have had several students complete the entire Wine Education and Management Certificate Program at UCLA EXT and go on to pass the CSW exam on their first try.  (Courses include: Introduction to Wine, Vintage I – Viticulture & Enology, Vintage II – European Wine Regions, Vintage III – New World Wine Regions, Business of Wine Management, The Wines of Bordeaux)

Links for further reference: