Everything You Need To Know About Taking WSET Diploma at NVWA

Enrolling in the WSET Diploma is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your wine education life. Knowing how to approach the Diploma, and why you’re thinking of taking it is only half the battle. Having the right support and innumerable options to help you glide through each unit with confidence is critical not only to your personal journey but also for your enjoyment. It should be a joy to dive deep into the many facets of wine and to soak up all you can with the aim of using that knowledge to further your career or enhance your personal enjoyment of wine.

We asked Napa Valley Wine Academy Chief Education Officer and Co-Founder Catherine Bugue a slew of questions that we hear all the time about Diploma; and also spoke with Napa Valley Wine Academy’s Diploma Advisor, Janet Kampen dipWSET, who advises diploma students on a daily basis, about her own experience in the program. We hope this article sheds a great deal of light on this important course of study and inspires you to take the leap. 

Q: What is the WSET Diploma program and who is it suited for? 

Catherine Bugue (CB): This is an expert-level certification course encompassing six units of intensive study which prepares students for, and springboard careers into, advanced positions in the industry, providing the knowledge and confidence to be an industry expert, leader, and innovator.

Q: When did NVWA start offering the Diploma program and why should prospective students take the course with NVWA? 

CB: The NVWA started offering the WSET Diploma program in 2017, and even before we began, we knew our goal: set our diploma students up for success. Many students have competing responsibilities (work, families) and we consider ourselves partners with each student on their diploma journey: guiding them on what to expect; how to study smarter, not harder; how to know what and how much to include in exam answers; how to expertly assess wines and evaluate the quality and other conclusions, as well as comprehending the complex theory content. We are as proud as they are when they receive this expert-level certification. 

Q: How does NVWA kick off the Diploma program?

CB: To aid in our students’ learning, we start each unit with a live webinar on what to expect for that unit (tips on studying, exam type questions, etc). We follow this webinar with ones on tasting calibration, writing a great SAT note (systematic approach to tasting), and how to answer the quality and other conclusion sections for any tasting exams. We augment this learning, and students’ general studies, with an online platform that includes taped webinars, theory content, mock exam questions, and general admin. This way, no student needs to go fishing through hundreds of emails to find the learning tool or information they are looking for. They can find it easily in one place, our Online Wine Academy’s Diploma portal.

Q: Who are the instructor teaching Diploma at NVWA?

CB: Our Diploma teachers include a list of ‘who’s who’ in the industry, including six (6) Masters of Wine, over ten (10) dipWSET, and highly respected experts in their fields of work. Each instructor adds their rich expertise to student learning, aiding students in the successful understanding of the material and complex concepts. 

We also have a terrific student support team. You don’t register with us and hear crickets. We actually pick up the phone, answer your chats and emails, and generally keep in touch with you, sending email reminders or notices, and answering questions ranging from the best unit scheduling to tips on writing a bibliography for the paper unit.

Q: What Diploma-based courses are coming up? 

CB: We offer each unit more than once a year, making our students’ completion of the various units easier on their schedule. You can sign up for units right now if you can’t wait to jump in! Students can choose their main learning platform: online learning, in-person, or a combination of both; all are augmented by our additional webinars, platform, and study help. While COVID may temporarily prevent us from holding classes at our school location, our classes still take place live with the instructors in front of you, presenting on theory; tasting and calibrating with you utilizing shipped wines; and answering questions, all via live Zoom webinars. 

If you are currently a diploma student, and even if NVWA is not your program provider, we offer additional exam-prep workshops to help students hone their tasting abilities, theory comprehension, and exam-taking skills. 

Q: What support are you providing to students for the big D3 tasting portion? 

CB: We have you covered, with a series of four mock exam tasting workshops, each taking you through one of the potential tasting exam topics. We ship you wines, the exam is given virtually under timed conditions, and then a live Zoom session follows to reveal the wines and explain the considerations involved in coming to the right conclusions (i.e. grape variety, region of origin, country of origin). Check out our SAT tasting workshop offerings here

There is also critical help on the theory portion of the exam, on to all Diploma students, regardless of their program provider. Learn to know (1) what to include in an exam answer and (2) how much to write, for the different types of exam questions you will encounter. 

Q: How do I pass my exams on the first try?

CB: The WSET states that the two main reasons people fail a diploma exam are (1) they run out of time and don’t complete the exam paper; and (2) they don’t answer the question as asked. Many students quickly read the question and then write everything they know about the topic in their answer, without giving enough consideration to what, exactly, is being asked. 

We help prepare students by providing mock exams, including two answer reveals, one at the pass level, and one at the distinction level. The exams, taken under exam conditions, will give you insight into your personal timing (too slow or too fast), and the full answer reveals will let you know if you are covering enough and if you are covering the key points expected by the WSET. 

Our mock exam workshop for D1 is open for registration now, ready to take you to D1 exam success. See our D1 Workshop offering here.

Q: Can you offer any advice on how best to prepare for the Diploma? 

CB: One important tip is to treat your studies like important business meetings. Put study time on your calendar and stick to it. If you absolutely have to miss one of your study sessions, re-book that study time. Another piece of advice is to interactively study, in order to make the most of your study time. Don’t just jump into bed with a unit’s study book and highlighter. Notice lists and comparisons; group information together under common themes, etc–and most importantly–re-write or type this information into your personal study notes (paper or electronic) for later contemplation and comprehension. 

Napa Valley Wine Academy’s own Janet Kampen is a Diploma graduate who is focused on guiding and supporting NVWA Diploma students. We asked her a few questions about her own experience taking and acing the Diploma. 

Q: Tell us why you enrolled in the WSET Diploma. 

Janet Kampen (JK): I enrolled in the Diploma immediately after receiving my Level 3 results — Level 3 opened up the world of wine for me and I wanted to keep up that momentum by diving into Level 4. On a personal level, I really wanted to increase my tasting skills, and having a structured program where I could learn from expert tasters appealed to me immensely. On a professional level, my goal was to teach wine. The credential itself opens many doors for that, but more importantly, the entire journey to attain it helps you grow more confident in thinking about wine, tasting it, evaluating it professionally, and ultimately being able to express yourself coherently and with passion.

Q: What have you heard from other students enrolled in Diploma about why they are taking the course?

JK: Many of our students pursue the Diploma because they want to use it to springboard into new opportunities. They want to teach, write, or judge wine. Among those who work in the industry, they want to attain higher-paying positions or prepare for the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier exams. We have students who do not currently work in wine and want to use the Diploma to get their foot in the door or perhaps start their own wine venture. We have a good number of enthusiasts who pursue the Diploma as a passion project — maybe they have a hobby vineyard, collect wines, or travel extensively to wine regions. No matter what the goal though, our students are curious, passionate people who want to dive deep into what makes this beverage so special.

Q: Are you hearing anything surprising from students studying during the pandemic?

JK: While the world seems to be on pause during the pandemic, many students are using this time to focus on their studies. I’ve heard from several students that they’re using this time right now to practice mock exams and really hone in on perfecting their timing and writing skills. Despite us all having to physically distance right now, many of our students are using this time to connect with us here at NVWA and each other more. I’m finding that students are reaching out to me, our instructors, and each other more now to get study advice and discuss what they’re learning. Also, many have formed virtual tasting and theory groups to stay connected. It is very heartening to see the passion and resilience in our students.