Delete the Wonder - Developing a Realistic and Effective Study Plan

Posted by Brian Browning on



The end of summer and the arrival of fall means the inevitable beginning of the school year, something I have dreaded each and every year as long as I can remember. Long summer nights are over and it’s time to hit the books. Just as my neglect in the gym leads to sore muscles, not working the brain over break has the same results. An organized and realistic study plan is one of the most important building blocks to successfully completing your course.

As you begin your studies it can be extremely difficult to understand the breadth and scope necessary to achieve a pass, no matter what level you are operating at. In addition, you have a life: (i.e.-family obligations, children, careers, significant others, beer) and trying to manage all these things together can be overwhelming. Let’s outline some of the major points in developing an effective study plan with realistic goals.

Write a Schedule. This is critical not only in organizing your time, but also in covering the topics you need to study. Using a calendar to apply a block of time to each day with a specific topic will maximize your study time and is extremely effective. Too much time is wasted in general reading without a clear focus. By selecting a topic and dedicating a set time to said topic, you are creating immediate accountability. 

Be Realistic. I once studied with a very bright young lady who often bragged that she studied eight hours a day. Needless to say, she burnt out fairly early and dropped the program. Set realistic and attainable goals. One hour of effective and focused study is much more valuable than four hours of glossy reading. Doing something everyday and creating healthy habits can avoid the need to cram last minute. It will also lead to long term retention. 

Utilize your Specifications and Syllabus. The Specification from the WSET is a clear roadmap on how to prepare for your exam. Read it. Read it again. Take notes. I have found creating an outline of the Specification topics and then building on the general guidelines with specific details breaks the information down in clear and understandable bullet points that are easy to review. Reading these before you study will assist in honing on the details and avoiding the pitfalls and rabbit holes that can develop. 

Understand how you learn. I am not an academic. Traditional school and reading textbooks has never worked for me. Don’t do things just because you have always done them. If you are an auditory learner, use a recording app to read out your bullet points and listen to them on a morning walk. Listen to a winemaker podcast and take notes. If you respond well to colors, highlight texts or create color coded tables to organize information. Create flashcards or games to test your knowledge. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try something non-traditional. 

Have Fun. We are not sweating in a coal mine or steel mill all day. We are studying wine, a truly enjoyable topic. Involve your partner or friends with blind tastings or food pairing exercises that turns into an impromptu dinner party. I worked with a student once who created their own board game with questions about wines and regions whilst creating their own “drinking” game. Doug Frost, one of the few people to achieve both the MS and MW qualification, once wrote a short play as a response to an essay question. Link what you enjoy to the study material, you will be amazed what you remember when you are having fun. 

Schedule time for a break. It is very important to shut down and allow your mind and body to recoup. Studying takes an extreme amount of energy and you will not retain nearly as much information when exhausted versus fully rested. I like to take an hour walk each morning and clear my head before my study session. I have also found yoga to be an excellent way to clear the mind and keep your body fresh. Find ways to relax and don’t get buried in guilt or negative feelings about taking a break. 

Ultimately, it is up to each individual to understand and create the best plan that will be enjoyable, effective, and realistic.  There are no perfect answers, and not all tips work for all students. Following these general outlines can contribute to you developing an effective and realistic study program that will contribute to your success. Good luck on your journey and happy studying!


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