Tips for studying the
WSET Diploma online
For many prospective WSET Diploma students, the only option available is to study online. There are currently thirteen APP’s (Approved Programme Providers) of the presential course in Europe and, from Spain, the closest is in Bordeaux! So, what’s a wine lover to do? I completed the Online Course with the WSET School London in 2018, after two gruelling years of hard study, exams and litres of tasting practice. Here are some tips for online Diploma success. Best of luck!
1. Choose the format that’s right for you
The online courses run by the WSET School London take two years to complete. Attendance is compulsory at their centre in Bermondsey for the exams and optional (but recommended!) for the tasting tutorials. Current price listed on their website is £1290 per semester (year). Within Europe, an online format is also available from Wine Wise in Antwerp, Belgium. However, if you have a little more time on your hands and want to complete in less than two years, you could have a look at block release courses. Those offered by the WSET School London involve spending 2-5 days in the classroom, three times per semester, at one of their centres in London, Manchester, Edinburgh or Dublin. So if you want to get qualified quick, block release could be a better fit for you.
£1290 per semester looks like a bargain compared to the £1995 you could pay for a block release or other classroom course. So what’s the deal? As part of the WSET Level 4 exams, you will complete four gruelling blind tastings and must be able to make effective assessments of quality, grape type, climate and winemaking techniques. In short, tasting practice is going to be a big part of your life over the next two years. Four days of tasting tutorials are included in the course but you will be responsible for tasting everything you may be examined on. So ensure you budget for samples, attending local tastings and any trips to ensure your skills are tip-top for exam day. You’ll also need to take into consideration travel and accommodation costs for attending exams and tasting tutorials. So get saving!
3. Find a tasting group
Studying online can be lonely and tasting by yourself makes it… tricky to taste blind! Start a WhatsApp group with your online classmates and get together with those who are local, or grab your wine enthusiast friends. Your local APP (Approved Programme Provider) may know which WSET Level 3 graduates have gone on to do Diploma and be able to help. While it’s not necessary (or necessarily easy) to find fellow Level 4 students, having at least one other experienced taster will ensure you’re kept on the right track. Practising blind tasting is easy in a group. Everyone can bring a bottle, wrap it up and you’re ready to go. Just remember, it’s not a guessing game. Tasting at Diploma level is about making sure your tasting note is perfect, more than being able to spot a 2010 Gevrey-Chambertin at fifty paces.
4. Make use of the online classroom
As part of the online course, you’ll be given reading and tasks to complete on a weekly basis. While some activities will be individual, for others you will be assigned to a group. In both cases, all work is published to the online forums where you can see everyone’s input. You could choose to ignore the whole thing and study solo, but you’d be missing out: on your peers’ input, tutor feedback and a great big virtual room of people in the same boat. You can use the more informal chat forums to air your frustrations, share books you’ve found, recommend wines to taste or organise tasting groups. Moreover, starting the Diploma and being told you have 600 hours of study to complete is daunting. Whereas following the online syllabus breaks every subject down into bitesize chunks so you’ll be ticking off topics before you know it.
5. Talk it out
There are going to be times in the next two years when you will be tearing your hair out and cursing the day you first tasted wine. You will study for hours on end and feel that nothing has gone in, you’re likely going to fail and you’ll never touch the stuff again. And this is why it’s important to talk. Make discussing topics you’ve studied part of your study plan. For me, it was those dinners with my husband where he quizzed me on the soil types of the Rhone, origins of the Zinfandel variety or Chardonnay producing regions of New Zealand when everything started to come together. For those WSET students who I teach now, particularly Levels 2 and 3, I encourage them to talk things through with a friend. They don’t even need to know about wine! Just give them your study notes or a book and ask them to pick a topic. You’ll soon find that studying for Level 4, is as easy as 1, 2, 3!