In the first part of Sipping Toward Cicerone® I walked you through the 4 levels of Cicerone® Certification. In part 2, we covered my studying for and taking the Certified Beer Server exam (which I passed). In part 3, we looked at my studying techniques for the Certified Cicerone® exam. In this fourth and final post, I’ll discuss the test itself as well as my results.
P.S. If you’re looking for questions or answers to anything on the version of the test I took, you’d better look elsewhere. My lips are sealed.
It’s been 10 years since my college graduation so a test with some weight behind it hasn’t been on my plate in quite a while. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I’d been studying for the Certified Cicerone® test for nearly a year and the day was quickly approaching when I would have to apply what I had learned. In preparation, I took off work for two days because of the exam. I took off the day before my test to cram and I also took the day of my test off. It’s a 4 hour long exam that requires drinking and I think my bosses would appreciate me not showing up after I finished.
The test started at 10am and there was no way I was going to be late. I arrived a cool hour and fifteen minutes early. I didn’t dare go inside that early like some kind of psychopath so I sat in a used car parking lot in the rain studying flashcards like some kind of psychopath. Once it was quarter ’til 10, I went down to Major Brands where the test was administered and took my seat in one of their meeting rooms. There were rows of seats, 9 of which had papers in front of them. Using what I learned from my time reading Encyclopedia Brown books as a youth, I deduced that there were 8 other folks aside from myself that would be taking the exam. Suck it Hardy Boys.
After filling out a sheet acknowledging who I am and that I wouldn’t divulge specific details of the test at the risk of losing my potential certification, it was time to begin. They make no secret of their test format (http://cicerone.org/content/cc-exam-details) so I knew what to expect: “The written exam begins with approximately 150 short answer/fill-in-the-blank questions that cover all five areas of the syllabus. In addition, candidates will complete three essay questions: one each in the areas of beer service, beer styles and brewing process.”
Here’s how I attacked the written portion of the test:
I did the essays first
Answering the essays first meant that I was relying on what I had memorized, without the influence of the first 150 questions. In other words, I didn’t want the short answer/fill-in-the-blank questions to put an idea in my head that made me doubt what I knew, so I avoided them before writing my essays.
I took notes
I’ve been told by most everyone I’ve met that I have diarrhea of the mouth so I knew I needed to jot down notes in order to compose my thoughts enough to write a coherent essay. It was also crazy how my brain was just dumping any beer related info on any subject at any moment. I wrote them all down as they came to me in case I needed them later.
I did two passes of the test, then a review
I went through the 150 questions on the test and if I could answer in less than 2 seconds, I wrote it down, if I couldn’t, I moved on. Once that was done, I went back through and answered all my blanks. When everything was answered, I went through and reviewed each answer. Every. Single. One. Better safe than sorry.
I felt cautiously optimistic after this part of the test. It was easy to dwell on the questions I KNEW that I’d missed but the excruciating part was not knowing whether the questions I kinda sorta thought I knew were correct. I must have gone over some questions a dozen times before conceding there was no way to know if I was right or not. Like I said before, you’ll either know it, or you won’t.
The next part of the test was the demonstration portion. This is the one TRULY, TRULY, TRULY unknown piece of the test. You know you’ll be asked to perform a beer related task. You know it will be videotaped. This is all you know. Again, I can’t give details but verbatim from their site, it says “Candidates will be given a question relating to an aspect of the beer keeping and service portion of the syllabus. They will also be given a relevant item with which to demonstrate their response to the question. Responses are limited to 3 minutes and are videotaped for later grading.” Knowing only this much, I was prepared for this part of the exam. Be smart and study and you’ll do just fine.
Finally, we got to the tasting portion. If you don’t practice off-flavors, you will be lost. End of story. Period. End of sentence. Study off-flavors. Study. Off. Flavors. To summarize the Cicerone website, of the 12 samples of beer you get, you’re tasting 8 to see if they have off-flavors or not (if they do, you’ll have to say what they are). The other 4 samples ask you to name what style of beer you’re tasting. With a minimum of 70% needed to pass the tasting portion of the exam, knowing only the off-flavors won’t help you pass. However, it will get you most of the way there (8/12 = 66% if math is still math) and give you a solid foundation. Also, being able to identify beer styles, ALL the beer styles, is the only other way to earn the other 33%.
The only part of the exam you’ll be 100% certain of when you leave is the tasting exam. You review your tasting results immediately after everyone is done. While you use commercial examples of beers during this portion, even those beers aren’t immune to off-flavors. Therefore, if a beer is supposed to have no diacetyl and diacetyl is present, that could really throw the test out of whack. Because of this, a current Certified Cicerone® is there to taste alongside candidates and ensure everything is copacetic.
Now for the wait. You have to wait 4-6 weeks for them to email your overall results and it’s as nerve-wracking as you’d expect. On the 28th day, I began checking my spam folder every few hours. I then began to refresh their website for Certified Cicerones® in Missouri , thinking that maybe they update their site before they send emails. This caused a brief heart attack when I saw one day that there were 5 new CC’s and I was not among them (I used those Encyclopedia Brown skills again to ascertain that these were results of the KC test, not mine). All in all, I had to wait 31 days for my email. It arrived while I was at work and I was terrified to open it. What if I didn’t pass the written? I’d have to drive to Chicago for a retake. What if I only got a 60%? Could I even learn what I needed to if I took 10 months and fell short by that much? So many thoughts and none were positive. I decided to open it.
|Keeping and Serving Beer||87%|
|Beer Flavor & Evaluation||97%|
|Ingredients & Process||94%|
|Beer & Food Pairing||93%|
Holy crap! I did it! As of October 30th of this year, I’m officially allowed to call myself a Certified Cicerone®. My results show me that while I did well, there’s room for improvement in the keeping & serving as well as the beer styles categories. This was the part I knew I’d struggle with because I’ve never worked in the beer industry. While you can study all day on those things, being inundated with them on a daily basis at work would definitely help.
So, what do I plan to do with my certification? There are two reasons I took the test:
- For personal fulfillment. I wanted to learn more about beer and be tested on my knowledge to make sure I retained it.
- I wanted to start a beer blog where I talk about beers, taste and review them. Having this certification (especially the 100% on tasting) should give the readers of this blog some confidence in my palate.
Going forward, I could see myself taking the Advanced Cicerone® test. That’s not in the near future by any means but I don’t see myself staying content where I’m at for long. For now, I’m going to drink beer to enjoy it instead of evaluating it and read books for fun, not for cramming.
Thanks for following me along my journey, although it may have just begun.