Best Study Practices

A very special and heartfelt thanks goes out to Leslie Rudd!  It was my great honor to be selected as one of the MS to participate in the Rudd Roundtable last weekend in Napa Valley where the some of the best and brightest talent in our industry gathered together to study and share some great information about preparing ourselves and each other for the Master Sommelier Diploma Examination and for excellence in the roles we have in our industry.  For those that don't know the Roundtable is sponsored by The Leslie Rudd Educational Foundation's  generous and gracious donation to the Guild of Master Sommeliers for the purposes of the advancement of students of The Court of Master Sommeliers of the Americas.

The highest scoring Advanced Exam passes of the past year and a few handpicked Master Candidates have the amazing experience to spend a couple days one on one  with several MS that dedicate their time and attention to these bright professionals.  Over the course of the event there were several "best study practices" identified to assist anybody interested in advancing in the industry.  I was delighted to work with the team to deliver some structured classes and also some very free form panel discussions about preparing ourselves for the future. I would like to begin an ongoing dialog here focused on the study habits an best tips we can come up with as a community to help us al to embrace the rapidly changing world of wines and spirits and share the best ways to be educated, enlightened and at the top of our game as the top beverage professionals we are.

There have been several very good forums written recently about sources for pronunciation and translation, etc.. as this blog progresses we will also address those as well. It is my hope that this blog becomes the ongoing location for up to date and most recent study practices that work. So, Please add on whenever you can, when you find great information, when you do something that really works- share it!!

Ok gang, here we go. Lets talk about theory first here. While as a Master Sommelier there isn't really a way to help candidates with theory.  It is all in the books, on websites and wikis and you must ferret out that information and somehow memorize it. We are all aware that there are lists of questions that we have shared and used to create our flash cards and while studying on flashcards is needed, there are more enhanced ways to weave a tapestry of information for yourself.  If you were asked a question you have studied you are stoked, if it is one you don't know , you are bummed. And in an examination setting , especially a verbal exam, you may be so nervous you forget the simplest bit of information you have known for years!  And remember at the Master Level we are expecting you to be able to know the information intimately, to be able to teach this info with confidence and mastery, not just struggle to answer a single question....So, I strongly suggest that you do not just ask and answer the thousand questions you have on cards... but create a web, a tapestry of data for your mind to be able to follow any of many strands of thought to remember. 

Some of the best tools for this are:

  • Begin with the basics, don't get so esoteric with your study information that you forget the basics of wine making!
  • Study regions in their entirety, read books about those regions for the in depth history
  • create your own questions about it - don't just rely upon the list of questions that somebody gives you after they sit an exam - we are not supposed to be doing that , but we all know its done. You will be bummed when you don't get asked ANY of those questions!
  • Visualize and draw maps of the regions, and then fill in the districts, subs, where each different grapes are, styles and important winemakers, etc. 
  • Create lists from north to south or east to west - whatever works for you.
  • When you study your flash cards, ask and answer your question and then expand on everything you know about that topic, for example you ask what the three soil types of a place are, then you go on to "teach" that area, what grapes, made in what style, by who, and what are the classifications, aging reqs., etc... then go off... where else in the world are those grapes grown, how are the wines similar or different, etc.... you are weaving fibers together, so when stressed you can draw from several angles to recall that info.  Not  just one question and one answer.
  • Create tapes or Cd's of your questions with a pause before the answer. Listen in the car, while jogging, etc.. make use of all time.
  • Go on line to sites that offer quizzes and questions to see a very different style of questions than you probably have in your seven boxes of flashcards.
  • Practice with a study group partner. Ask each other questions... and more questions about a topic until you have exhausted it. Be complete.
  • Write essays about a region or a topic that you really struggle with. There is something about writing it on paper that helps you set into your brain.
  • Study the hardest areas to you first, then reward yourself with the ares you favor or have more fun with.
  • Don't forget to review those boxes of questions you have sorted into the ones you "know" every now and then, I can guarantee you won't remember them all.... so be vigilant.
  • Do not EVER stop studying.  Do not take the fatal "break" after sitting a exam, and try to pick it up again in a few months. You have to live and breathe this stuff gang, you must be completely obsessed, I don't believe at this level there is any other way. 

I hope you can all add a few items here... lets talk more about theory and I will go onto tasting and service each in the days to come , but lets be focused and leave no stones unturned here... ( what kind of stone...? wet river rock, slate, granite?... just kidding)

My best wishes to you all!

  • Let's keep this going.  I am pretty sure there are several MS Candidates coming away from this last exam in Napa, with fresh impressions of where the bar is....that could help the rest of us to improve our skills get better.  

    Anybody out there..... please  help our fellow candidates to find the BEST STUDY PRACTICES for service... please share your experience, stregnth and what you have done to prepare yourselves for service.  .....if youve been challenged and succeeded , how?

  • Hello Master Jordan,

    Thank you for the valuable information and to others that have left notes on this blog. I am so thrilled and pleased to have found this, as I am preparing to take the Advanced test in Anaheim in less than 60 days, yes I am counting!

    This will be my second go around so at least I have some idea of the pressure and knowledge needed.

    I live in Dana Point, CA (The OC!). I  am involved in a local study group every Monday night but need to join or start another. Does anyone have any interest in joining us on Monday evenings, starting another  study group or adding a serious student to an existing group? Please and Thank you.

    One thing that I think may be helpful for me, after reading your suggestions about verbal communication, especially during service, is to reconnect with my French teacher to pronounce the language a bit better. Any one interested?

    Thank you sincerely,

    Deborah Diamond

  • Hello Michael!

    Sounds like another successful Rudd round table. I was fortunate to glean so much perspective and encouragement at the first one. Thank you for continung to do what you do with the committment and enthusiasm you offer. Miss you brother!



  • Ok gang,

    We have pretty much covered Theory and most of our best study practices.  Let's move on now to SERVICE!  remembering that along with skills and proper techniques there is a ton of theory involved here.   Simply stated, "you must have a strong working understanding of theory and the ability to reason and describe to do well in service."  Before I give my "best of" study practices I would love to hear from YOU what you are doing to prepare yourselves for service..... how are you working on becoming a better sommelier?  What are you doing to make yourself better each day/    .... better than you were yesterday.    

    Yes, a working sommelier with great skills and the ability to use them in any type of situation or business condition - to serve guests... that is what we are striving to teach, examine and certify... real, honest, intelligent, respectful, respectable, refined, friendly, service oriented, wine service professionals.   Sommeliers.   I would be remiss if I don't remind us all that one of our most important  goals as a community is to HELP EACH OTHER, to be the best we can, to represent this honorable profession in its best light and to help others to be the very best they can be too.  FOR THE GUEST!!!!  Because without them we do not exist. So, the service aspect of our business and our development in this area is crucial to our continued growth as a group as well as individually.  Please think about this frequently as you travel down that happy road of destiny!   .... do not become fooled that you are a such a great and gifted individual that you become more important than your guests or the people you work with.  Remember to be humble, that your guests do not care how much you know , they only want to know how much YOU Care !!   This philosophy will serve you well in exams, in business and in life.  If it sounds like a lecture here... it is.  I think it is the part our parents may have forgot to tell us ... "no matter how good you get or how much you learn  don't become an arrogant jerk, its not nice to be around you!"

    So that all being said, tell us what are you all doing to be better in service, both philosophic and practical.  Both theoretical and physical. Whats up with service?  

  • Master Jordan,

    One more big thanks for starting this blog. It was an amazing opportunity for learning at the Rudd Masters Round Table last month. I wish every Master Candidate could be so lucky. I wanted to thank Mr Rudd for an incredibly generous donation to fund the event through the Guild of Sommeliers. Also to Master Geoff Kruth and Blakesley Chappellet for their work in organizing the event and to all the Masters who donated their time.

    I'm having trouble trying to think of anything that hasn't been mentioned about theory but here are some of the things that have worked for me.

    Allocating enough time for study, you have to face facts, there is no way you'll know everything, but you need to try and get your mind around each region of the world and for me this took time, possible because of all the lost brain cells Master Jordan mentioned.

    Forest through the trees: I think I focused so much on some areas that I didn't take the time with others, even though I passed the theory in July, I felt I could have done better had I taken the time to ask myself what are the important aspects or this region or subject. Although knowing some of the esoteric details can be really fun.

    The tapestry approach really worked for me. As I studied and my mind wandered when it all started to become a blur it allowed me to follow tangents of information that were easier for me to recall when I was sitting in the verbal testing format. Like a grape variety with multiple synonyms, as the name changes per location you can explore aging requirements, wine styles, soil aspects and producers on a cross-regional basis. Creating this web of information also allowed me to better explain wines to the guests in the restaurant, which also helped reinforce my knowledge.

    I hope this gives another angle to the discussion.

    The Rudd Masters Event also pointed out how lucky we are to work in an industry with such fantastic people. I look forward to seeing all the new friends I've made through the event at future functions.

    I want to also say that much of the education and trainiing that is being provided by the court may not have been possible without the long involvement of Master Fred Dame, he has truly shaped the court in a fantastic way.

    I'm truly honored for the opportunity to be considered in this group.