With last written exam under the 2008 guidelines looming close, I figured I should take a shot at it again before the changeover. I need to score 90% or higher, no other score will do me any good other than give me more experience in taking the exam. Granted it is experience I need, since the last time I took the written exam was in 2005, under the 10 essay question written exam. Today, the test is considered easier, which I don’t deny. The legacy exam was 3 hours, 10 essay questions, and the tasting exam all rolled into one. Every so often you would be stopped and asked to evaluate a beer. This was very disruptive because you would have to stop in the middle of writing an answer to evaluate a certain beer, then switch gears and get back to finishing your essay answer. Today, the exam is 5 questions, 20 multiple choice answers, and is 1 ½ hours long. What has not changed is the difficulty of the questions. The only thing that has changed is the number of these difficult questions.
So, do I feel I was prepared for this exam? The answer is….it depends. Do I feel I was prepared enough to pass? Yes. Do I feel I was prepared enough to pass at 80%? Absolutely. Do I feel I was up to snuff for a 90% or higher grade? Yes and no. For me it all fell on what styles I would get. I was not concerned with what I consider “real” judging questions. They would be questions about flaws and how are they perceived, how to correct them, and in what styles they may be acceptable. I am comfortable on brewing process questions, like mashing and boiling and the various steps, what they produce, what temps they are at, what enzymes are active when. I was OK with brewing ingredient questions like questions on malt, hops, yeast, and so on. What I struggle with is the style questions. Perhaps that’s why a part of me wonders why as a judge you are judged on comparing and contrasting styles. This is something you rarely do in competition, and 10 times out of 10 you have the style guidelines by you. I wonder why I’m being graded on being able to recite from memory the similarities and differences between a Biere De Garde, California Common, Düsseldorf Altbier, and why I should be able to list a commercial example from the guidelines by heart. What purpose does that serve? Honestly, I don’t know but I’ll play the game since it’s what is required.
So, just like the judging exam, the trick lies in time management and making sure you answer everything that is asked of you. That’s it. Sounds easy right? Well, it’s easier said than done. I felt I had the recipe formulation question down. You don’t have much time to go back and reflect on what you wrote compared to what you are being asked to comment on. That is where I messed up. I practiced writing out several recipes and I had a plan…..but like Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. This happened to me and the punch was my race against time. I know I hit ever component I listed accurately, except for 2 things…..batch size and listing my efficiency. I forgot those 2 components that could make or break me getting a 90 or higher. 2 points could mean the difference between an 89% and a 90%. Knowing that……sucks.
Getting asked the right styles is the key as well. I studied the online tutorials on the written exam and sadly I paid too close attention to styles you are likely to be asked about. While one set of questions was fairly straight forward styles, the other set was not only on 2 styles you rarely even see, it was lower on my study list because they are reportedly not too common to see on the exam. Basically I thought I was screwed. But, after reviewing by memory what I wrote, I think I hit several key components that may be my saving grace.
So what did I learn? If you need to get to the 90% or higher on the written exam, it’s no small feat. While I’m still waiting on my results I’m pretty certain I didn’t do enough to get there. Which is disheartening because I know in regards to most of the information I should be up there or at least close if I were verbally tested or could use a keyboard. But the issue is, can you write fast enough? Can you organize your thoughts and present them in a manner that the graders will understand? And do you know enough about each and every style in the style guidelines to write a full page on each one? That’s the hardest part, and can be disheartening when you put so much time into memorizing and studying, you just can’t write fast enough to get everything you want to say onto a page, even with bullet points and grids.
The next question is if I didn’t do well enough, will I retake the exam? I certainly will. I’ll keep trying until I get that 90 minimum. I’m already there with the tasting exam, I might as well go all the way with the written, right?
Are you preparing to take/retake the written exam? I found this to be extremely helpful. The BJCP Written Exam for Dummies (2013 version)