by Janet Kampen, WSET- Advanced
USE THIS FOOLPROOF METHOD TO ACE THOSE SHORT-ANSWER QUESTIONS
Statistically speaking, if a student fails the WSET Level 3 exam it’s because they failed the theory section, specifically, because they failed the short-answer questions.
How does this happen? Most often it’s because students didn’t answer the question completely, missing valuable points.
The method described below provides an easy-to-follow set of actions to take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you.
READING THE QUESTION
When approaching a short-answer question, ask yourself two questions: “Which concepts do I need to prove that I understand?” and “How do they want me to prove it?”
Asking yourself these questions is critical. Why? Because it’s what the WSET was thinking when they wrote the questions.
WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO PROVE
Pay attention to the nouns. You know what a noun is – a person, place, thing, idea. Find them all and circle them. Why do this? So you know exactly what you need to talk about and ensure you don’t forget something.
To achieve maximum points, your answer needs to cover each and every noun found in the question, as well as any new ones you use in your explanations. Bear in mind, some concepts are always linked with other concepts. For example, if you’re asked to explain slope, you’ll need to talk about sunlight and aspect. Write these related nouns next to the one circled so that you remember to define them later.
HOW THEY WANT YOU TO PROVE IT
Once you’ve identified the nouns, how do you prove your understanding of them? You can do this by – you guessed it – finding the verbs. Find them all and underline them.
Here are the most commonly used verbs and what they’re really asking you to do:
|Define||Talk about what it is, give a brief definition|
|Describe||Define it, then detail how & when it happens|
|Explain/Discuss||Define it, describe it, then talk about why it is used/needed/desirable|
|Compare||Define, describe, and explain for two or more concepts while noting how they are the same or differ|
OUTLINING YOUR ANSWER
Do you really need an outline? Yes. How else will you ensure you don’t forget something? Make sure that all the major concepts you circled or wrote are present. Be as concise or thorough as you like with your outline, but try to be ready to write within five minutes of reading the question.
FINAL POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND
- Write plainly, with as few words as necessary; you’re not writing a novel
- Follow your outline
- Stick to the verb formulas
- Provide examples
- Define everything; assume the person scoring your exam doesn’t know any wine-related terms you mention
- Write neatly
Now that you have a plan of attack, practice this method until it becomes second nature. The more you practice, the less daunting short-answer questions will seem. Soon you’ll find that what was once the hardest section for most won’t be for you. See below for a sample short answer that should receive maximum points.