Alternative Title – How to Score above 80 with limited preparation time 🙂
Flash back 7-8 months and I had just gotten back my tasting exam results which were greatly improved from my first go at it and got me to where I needed to be National. I have 15 judging points and I normally earn about 5 judging points a year so I’m within striking distance of the 20 I need for National. So, the one other hurdle is getting the score I need on the written to get above the 80 tasting + written average needed. I scored an 87 on the tasting so a 73 (72 really since they seem to round up) is all I needed. Of course I had visions of 92 so I never have to take another exam ever, ever, ever again 🙂 Prior to that I had gotten an email about a written exam only 30 mins from my house so I had tentatively signed up for it with the understanding I wasn’t confirmed until I got my score back. So, when got by my 87 I confirmed my spot and got to work studying for the written. There was one hitch – I had less then a month to get ready. So, a bit of a cram session but I gave it a go. So, I’ll go through how I prepared for the exam and the results.
My preparation started with getting basic details on the exam and what I should be studying. It became immediately apparent that there is a lot more information out there on the Judging (aka Tasting) exam then there is on the Written Proficiency Exam and a lot of the material I found was old and outdated (pre-2012 when we went from Legacy to the current structure). So here is what I found helpful:
BJCP Exam Structure: This document goes through all the various different historic and current exams, the different judging levels and what is required from those exams to get to each level. Very good to know so you understand what your goals are. Also, you can see the requirements. To take the written you must have 10 judging experience points and >= 80 on the Judging / Tasting Exam. You also learn that the test is 20 true/false and 5 essay.
BJCP Beer Exam Study Guide: This guide has changed since I took my Written since the 2015 style guide was not the standard at that point.
Under the “BJCP Beer Judge Written Proficiency Examination” section you will first find the pool of questions that the above mentioned 20 true/false question. I just printed these up and ran through them till I knew them cold and then refreshed on them right before the exam and that seemed to work well.
Under the “The Essay Portion of the Written Proficiency Examination” you will find the pool of questions that the 5 “essays” will be pulled from.
My understanding is the 2 of the 5 will always be S0 (compare three styles). 1 of the 5 will always be T14 (recipe). The other 2 will come from the remaining “T” questions. This certainly was true with my exam and is backed up by a statement by Gordon Strong on the BJCP Forums.
At first glance, it doesn’t look too bad since it is only a handful of questions. The problem is that with a lot of the questions there are a ton of different style combinations or sub-options that leads to a pretty vast array of possible essays.
The biggest offender is S0 ie compare and contrast 3 styles. As you can see there are now 109 possible three way combinations. Yow! Since each essay should be about 2 pages, to complete prepare you would have 218 pages of answers to come up with. Not really, since styles are repeated, but you get the idea. So, since I only had a few weeks to prepare, I just spent time refreshing on each of the styles so I felt comfortable going through the 4 sub-questions for each style. But I have been an avid competition homebrewer for many years and I have brewed most of the styles so I already have a good level of comfort – I just needed to focus more on the technical specifics so I could write an accurate technical description and comparison. I struggled a bit with this on the actual exam but considering my prep time I feel pretty good about it. I think with more time flashcards might be a better approach so you can really beat them into your cortex 🙂
For the recipe I used Thomas Barnes’ (see next document) math rather than try to fully memorize recipes to get my numbers right. I also lucked out since I had brewed all of the styles that can be asked and the one I got (German Pilsner) is one of the easier ones. I also have written my own brewing software and just brewed a lot in general so the process of coming up with recipes and brewing are second nature. But even with all the math worked out, you still would want to be sure you know the technical details for all the styles that can be covered as well as what your grain and hop bill and yeast selection would look like as well as your process. If you have brewed that style of something similar it is pretty easy. If not, some more work will be required.
There are a fair number of “T” questions so I just went through all of them and made sure I was comfortable with all the questions and where I wasn’t I dug into my brewing library and got comfortable.
Thomas Barnes Cheat Sheet: I did go through all the questions on my own and I used a lot of my hard earned knowledge to answer questions but when cramming the last week for this exam I kept going back to Thomas’ document. Really, really great and highly recommended that you know this backwards and forward. There is other useful items on his website but this sheet I found to be essential and probably got me at least 10 more points on my exam.
And that is really it! Like I said, there is a ton of material out there but a lot of it is outdated or I didn’t find that helpful.
Here is my written exam:
and here is my Report to Participant (RTP) so you can see how I was graded:
I scored an 84 (yeah!) so I’m now where I need to be to be National, I just need a few more Judging Points. To get to Master I need to up my game on the Written exam but I feel like I’m close and I just need some refinement especially around some of the styles. It’ll be years before I have the number of points for Master so no rush there. I hope you found this helpful!