There's definitely a big difference between the WSET2 and 3 exams. WSET3 is much more comprehensive, and you really have to know the core concepts and be able to apply them to difference situations from geographical influences, winemaking, and regions. There are two parts to the exam: the written part and the blind tasting.
Blind Tasting: The blind tasting isn't as difficult as many people expect it to be. You have 30 minutes to evaluate a white and a red wine, and use the WSET systematic approach to tasting for the exam, which is the same format as all the tastings you do in class. One important point my instructor noted was that many students have a tendency to just choose "medium" for many of the criteria. She told us not be be afraid of using criteria at the other ends of the scale like "light" or "pronounced" for intensity on the nose. She explained that the medium(-) or medium(+) choices on the scale often influence students to be too cautious and end up choosing in the mid-range of the scale when the outer ends of the scale would be the better choice. It's also a good idea to do a quick review of your tasting notes from the WSET workbook because it's likely that you'll have similar wines from your course for your blind tasting. In my case, we had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Saint Estèphe Bordeaux blend for the blind tasting, which were wines we had tasted during our course.
Written Exam: The written exam is an entire different story, and it is a tough exam. WSET revised level 3 at the start of 2017 so that students could no longer just memorize facts to pass the exam. Instead, it is much more concept-oriented and tests to see if you can apply these concepts to different situations. My instructor said that the pass rate for WSET3 is now just 60%, and said that just reading the book a few times won't be enough to pass. I took the intensive course over just 5 days compared to others courses that meet once a week over 3 months, so I did put in a lot of study before I started the course. At the start of the course, I knew the factual information, but I still didn't have the "big picture" of how everything from geography, grape growing and winemaking connected together. I really think the type of instructor you have will play a big role in whether or not you pass the exam. I had a fantastic instructor from theBordeaux Wine Campus, and she did an amazing job at making all of these connections, and showing how you could apply them to difference situations. I remember how she said that if you were asked a question about sweet winemaking in Tokay, and even if you didn't know that region very well, you could still apply the concepts of sweet winemaking from a region like Sauternes. In this way, she said that you show the exam marker that you do know the core concepts and would get marks for those points even if you didn't know the exact varieties used for sweet winemaking in Tokay. She really showed us how to find these similarities and differences among geography, winemaking and regions.
Multiple Choice: For the written exam itself, you only get two hours to complete it, and you'll need every single minute to finish the exam. In the two hours, you have to complete a multiple choice section with 50 questions, and then a short-answer section. For the multiple choice, try to finish this as quickly as possible because you'll need the time for the short-answer section. The multiple choice is incredibly detailed-oriented, and will test you on those tiny little details in the textbook like those lesser-known varieties and wine flavor profiles. I finished the multiple choice is just under 20 minutes, and didn't go back to recheck my answers. I've found with multiple choice that your first choice is always the best one. Definitely don't start second-guessing yourself on the multiple choice because you'll end up losing valuable time.
Short-Answer Questions: For this section, it is divided into four sections (thematic-based sections), and each of these four sections is then divided into four other sections, which can consist of questions that require just a sentence or 1-2 paragraphs as an answer. Our instructor told us the most important thing to remember is to read the question very carefully, and only answer what the question asks for. She said that some test-takers try to write everything they know about the topic, but this ends up wasting valuable time because they won't have enough time left to finish the other sections. I've remember most of my short-answer questions, and have summed them up below. I wrote the WSET3 exam in September 2017, but it definitely won't be the same. I had friends who wrote the exam earlier in the year, and the questions were different. However, this will hopefully give you an idea of what to expect from the short-answer section.
How do the Vosges mountains influence grape growing in Alsace?
Explain the criteria to be a Grand Cru vineyard in Alsace?
Explain the process of semi-carbonic maceration? (connect to winemaking in Beaujolais)
Explain the classification system in Beaujolais? How does each classification influence the wine profile?
List the sweetness classifications used for Prädikatswein in Germany.
What is the difference between a Kabinett and Trockenbeerenauslese Riesling. (You are shown two different wine labels.)
How is Eiswein made? How does the grape growing and winemaking contribute to the final wine profile?
What is Austria's main grape variety? Describe its profile.
Name two regions in Chile that grow Chardonnay.
What are 4 winemaking techniques used to make premium Chilean Chardonnay. How do these techniques contribute to the profile of the final wine?
Describe the profile of Carmenère.
The only question I can't remember!
Describe the Asti method. (Remember to also include the variety and region.)
Describe how to open a bottle of Asti.
What is needed for flor to exist? How does flor contribute to the winemaking process of Manzanilla?
What is the difference between a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise and a Rutherglen fortified wine?
*When you are asked to describe profile, make sure you state whether it is a red or white variety!
How I Studied for WSET3
I wrote WSET2 in March 2017, and then WSET3 in September the same year. It's possible to do both levels in one year, but it'll definitely take a lot of study time, especially for level 3 since there is a huge gap between level 2 and 3. When I got the textbook and workbook for level 3, I was a bit overwhelmed because of the amount of information you have to know for the exam. This is how I organized my studying:
Read each chapter and typed up notes for each one.
Rewrote concepts and wine profiles into notebooks. I found that writing notes helped me remember the information more easily than when I typed it.
Wrote down each variety profile and appellation classifications onto flashcards. For example, one one side I wrote Mosel Riesling, and on there other side I had the profile. I also color-coded my flashcards based on grape varieties and styles of wines. For varieties, I used pink for red varieties and yellow for one ones. For styles, I had orange for appellation classifications that had both red and white varieties, green for sparkling wines, purple for port, and red for Sherry.
During the course, I added additional information to my notebooks that the instructor gave in class. Since I already had my notes written out, I didn't feel overwhelmed in class since I simply followed my notes and then added the extra information that was new to me or explained more clearly than in the textbook.
In the margins of the workbook maps, I wrote down key words and phrases to help me remember the main points about each region. I included the varieties, climate and soil for each of the regions. I also noted down other features like winds, ocean currents, mountains that played an influential role in each region
Even after doing all of this, I still had to review my notes over and over again so that I was actually learning the concepts rather than just memorizing them. One of the most useful things I did to help learn these concepts was explaining them to other students. Before my exam, I got together with one of my classmates, and we went through the textbook explaining the concepts to each other. We did "mini-teaching" sessions with each other. If you have to teach a concept, you definitely learn it more quickly!
Another useful technique I used for studying was exchanging practice materials with students who had previously taken the WSET3, or were taking it at the same time as me. The textbook and workbook are the same for each institution that runs the WSET3 course, but the preparation materials aren't necessarily the same. I found that practicing with different mock exams was a great help. Although mock exams aren't widely available online, there are a few out there. The site Thirtyfiftyhad useful multiple choice and short-answer practice exams. The site PalatePracticealso summarizes a WSET3 exam that was used in April 2017.
WSET3 is tough for those who are even in the wine industry, so if you're new to wine, you'll definitely have to put in extra study time to pass the exam. Although there was so much to learn, I never felt at any point that I didn't enjoy studying the material. The more I studied, the more I felt that I was finally "getting" wine. Hopefully, it'll be the same for you! Good luck!