The WSET Level 4 Diploma is one of the most sought after and challenging certifications in the wine industry. Grape Experience is one of the few select WSET providers in the world who have been given approval to offer the Diploma. The course of study involves passing six sub-courses or “units.” It is an understatement to say achieving Diploma certification is difficult. It takes maximum effort and knowing the best strategies to approach the enormous amount of material.
Grape Experience has had tremendous success in getting many of our Diploma candidates over the finish line. We asked those now Diploma holders to share their top study tips. I have grouped them into five key areas below. Following their advice is not a guarantee of passing, but if you are thinking of taking on Diploma, incorporating their suggestions will put you in the best position for success.
Tip 1: Form a study group early on in the program
Everyone mentioned a study group as a main key to their success. Study groups should be not only for tasting, but also for theory. Just about all Diploma holders admitted theory questions were the most challenging part of the exams.
In person or virtual group meetings should happen every month if not weekly, and as long as two people attend, said one Diploma holder, it is worth getting together. For theory, Diploma holders suggest each week preparing a topic from a past exam and sharing essays or essay outlines. This can easily be done virtually with each member of the group submitting their essays/outlines via email or a platform like Dropbox.
Tasting sessions should be used to train the palate and enable you to start to get the key elements of wine styles by region. They also build confidence and cut the expense of having to buy all of the wines you need to taste on your own.
Tip 2. Utilize DAPS and the Study Support Sections of the WSET Global Campus
Most Diploma holders admitted that the Diploma Assessment Preparation Scheme (DAPS) for Unit 3-6 was frustrating. They love the idea that DAPS gives you real personal examiner feedback on exam questions, but noted the system was hard to navigate and that the feedback can range from very brief to overly harsh.
Still, everyone who commented here believed the frustration was worth it. “It forced me to practice exam style timed writing,” noted one Diploma holder. Another person commented that they had a better sense of what examiners looked for even when the feedback was brief. “You are really hurting your chances of passing if you don’t do DAPS,” bluntly stated a third Diploma holder. “Make it happen!”
Along with DAPS, the Study Support materials on the proprietary WSET Diploma web site, The Global Campus, were critical. One Diploma holder summed up the thoughts of most others, “I went through old exam questions each week and picked one to study. Then I figured out how much time I’d have on the exam and limited my writing to that amount. Only when I finished writing did I read what the examiner posted about how students actually did or what they showed as an example of a good answer. “
Some successful Diploma holders used the material on the Global Campus as the basis for a Theory grid for each region: with headings of Grape Variety, Climate, Soil, Viticulture and Winemaking. Other people made flash cards and either took them with them everywhere or used the Quizlet app to maintain them.
Tip 3: Teach Your Friends and Family
Many Diploma holders said that the more they talked with other people about what they were learning, the more it stuck in their head. Writing information in a notebook is not as effective at remembering it as when you have to speak it to someone else. This is likely because you actually have to think about the information you are conveying, respond to questions and organize your thoughts in a way that are not just bullets on a page.
One Diploma holder said that he “bored his partner and friends to death with explaining the techniques for making Hunter Valley Semillon and South African Pinotage.” In the end though, it definitely helped him cement his knowledge and his audience was rewarded with great free wine tasting opportunities.
Tip 4: Don’t Worry About Getting the Wine Right
Many Diploma holders said they often missed identifying the wines on the exam 100% correct, but still passed. It is more important to get the components and quality level of the wines right, rather than correctly stating what the variety and origin is. “The points are in the body of your tasting note – not in getting the wine type spot on,” said one Diploma holder.
Tip 5: Create a Study Schedule and Stick to It
The WSET gives an estimate of the minimum required study hours for each unit. Successful Diploma students said creating a weekly study schedule at the start of undertaking a unit and not diverting from it is critical. This means that you should block time off each week on your calendar for studying and not change it or make it a low priority. One person suggested “treating it like it is a doctor’s appointment that you can’t miss. If someone asks you to do something in that time and it was really a doctor’s appointment, you wouldn’t cancel it.”
Inevitably some study time will need to get cancelled for “life” reasons, but make sure that you build in extra contingency study hours and only give up your study time in a real emergency. At the same time, while you are studying, make sure to keep things in perspective. This is a course on wine and spirits – things that give people enjoyment – and so you too should find some level of fun in the program
Diploma is truly a rewarding experience. You meet other people, build your wine and spirit knowledge to an incredibly strong depth and, if successful, get one of the most respected certificates in the industry. It is also a prerequisite for the Masters of Wine program.
To begin Diploma you must first pass the WSET Level 3 Certificate in Wine. The next Diploma and Level 3 Certificate courses start at the beginning of August. For more information go to: