What it's like to take a WSET wine exam online - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

As of 1 June 2020 the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, better known as WSET, announced that their popular wine knowledge exams (Level 1 Award in Wines and the Level 2 Award in Wines) could be taken online at home using your own computer and internet conection. The option to sit in an exam hall and write the answers on a piece of paper is still available (once social distancing regulations are lifted) but WSET have taken the decision to provide access to exams online, for now and into the future, while the world-wide pandemic cancels traditional paper-based testing methods via their Approved Programme Providers (APPs).

The result of having to rethink their assessment stategies is the use of 'proctored' exams - online exams overseen by the human pair of eyes of a proctor (also known as a remote invigilator) using your computer's webcam. The proctor (who in this case is Dutch company ProctorExam) tracks your movements to ensure no cheating takes place while you read and respond to the exam questions through a web browser.

If this all sounds like the easy option then think again. This is not just a test of wine knowledge but also a test of your IT skills and furniture moving abilities.

Before you can access the wine exam itself from an emailed link, there's the small process of setting up the computer, finding a second digital device and rearranging a room in your house into a version of the school exam hall complete with a printable 'Stop - Remote Exam in Progress' poster that you can stick to the door.

A step-by-step guide and YouTube video is there to help you through the computer system set up procedure. Click a link sent to you in an email ten days before the exam, or the reminder at three days prior, and you'll be sent to an online check process. This tests that you are using a compatible web-browser (the latest version of Google Chrome), that the sound and microphone is switched on and that the video camera is working. An online text chat function, accessed through a jaunty green speech bubble in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen labelled 'We are here!, is there to answer any queries you have and help you through this rather complicated process.

And it's a good job that this Grade A service responds so quickly to those increasing semi-literate cries for help as you remember all your computer passwords, change privileges and settings, find these settings and make sure these settings stay set. Which is not a given if you are using a shared computer (some Windows, Macs and Linux-based operating systems supported but not all) as those carefully changed settings to allow pop-ups, allow Flash, install a browser plug-in and switch on Google Sync (so you'll need a Google account) can be lost if another user in your household logs you out and logs themselves in with settings set for what they want and not what works for the online exam. So open a new browser window before you start logging in to Google and changing things, then ensure any other users in your household use separate account logins with their accompanying browser windows for the week or so prior to your exam.  

And don't forget to test the speed of your internet connection. The WSET RI (Remote Invigilation) Candidate Information sheet shows that a bandwidth of 1Mbit/sec is required. Double-checking with the additional Candidate Quick Guide (a supplementary document writen by the British-American company BTL Surpass who supply the exam computer software) shows that this is the minimum upload speed (internet connection speeds are normally shown as one number, a higher download speed). To check use one of the many free online options (speedtest.org is one).

So can we start the exam now? No not yet as there's still the need to arrange the room that you'll be using as your 'exam hall'. You'll need to remove anything that might provide clues during the exam (so remove all text boks on wine and definitely no wine bottles on display as the label might help you with regional and grape information) and choose a room large enough to position an additional smart phone three metres away from where you are sitting to capture a side view that's controlled with a downloaded app using that video camera too. The human proctor at the end of this video cam footage will be keeping a sharp look out for any suspicious eye movements and hand twitches during the exam to ensure you don't access a printed cheat sheet.

Now we can start the exam.

Click on the link within the email sent on the day of the exam to Start Your Exam Now. Your computer will take you to the online exam area within the browser and start the device check procedure again (if you click on the exam start link before the set start time you'll see a message saying you are bit early and a clock ticking down the hours and minutes to the actual start time). Get through this and your webcam and microphone will be switched on and your mobile phone camera will start sending back images of you sat at your screen.

The exam itself is a multiple-choice exam (30 questions in 45 minutes for the Level 1 Award in Wines and 50 questions in 60 minutes for the Level 2 Award in Wines). What you need to know can be found in the exam specification downloaded from the WSET website (at the bottom of the page) and this also contains several example exam questions so you'll know the type of thing to expect on the day.

Answer the questions by clicking on one of the four answers shown, and for the Level 1 exam you'll also see some True/False type questions, then the online exam system will take you to the next question. If you have any queries or worries during the exam you can access the We are here! text chat service. Once you've had a go at answering all the questions there is the option to go back through and review the answer you picked. Click Finish to finish.

Although you've accessed the exam online using a variety of technologies there are humans at the other end who still need to verify your results. So don't expect an instant Pass or Fail. The results will be sent to you later along with the WSET lapel pin you're now be allowed to wear if your wine knowledge was up to scratch.

wset l1 award in wines pin badge 01

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