I've had a week now to digest my Advanced Cicerone exam experience. It's been weird not having to stress out about when I'm going to squeeze in studying and I feel a little bad for my box of now-neglected study materials. They were getting so much attention for so long and now they've been discarded like so many old toys.
For now, at least. Spoiler alert: I don't think I passed this time.
We'll have to wait 8 weeks to see if I am correct. While I don't think I passed, I feel really good about how I did. The Advanced Cicerone is a scaled-down version of the Master Cicerone, and not a scaled-up version of the Certified Cicerone, if that makes sense. It is a difficult exam for everyone who takes it. The pass rate is around 15%, and I'm pretty sure that number includes everyone who passes, which means that people who pass after taking the exam more than once are included in that number.
I left the exam knowing that there are some areas where I really need to concentrate, such as memorizing the quantitative aspects of beer styles and really nailing down my commercial examples. But I also left the exam knowing there are some areas of which I have a really thorough understanding.
You can read some really great and informative blog posts from people who have taken the Advanced Cicerone here and here. I wasn't aware of the exam structure until the evening before the exam when another exam taker pointed me to Chris Cohen's blog post about the exam (the first link above). Knowing at least what to expect in terms of how the exam was structured was extremely helpful and lowered my anxiety quite a bit.
The evening before the exam, I holed up in my hotel room while my husband went out for drinks (and drinks and drinks) with some friends and I ordered deep dish via Door Dash. I reviewed a few topics that I had wanted to review, but mainly caught up on recent SNL episodes I had missed (Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer was even more amazing than my pizza) and texted with a couple other exam takers who had found me via my blog. I had entered a somewhat Zen state - as Zen as a highly anxious person like I can get - and told myself the following things:
- The exam is difficult for everyone. You are not the only person who is nervous about passing it. Everyone should be nervous about passing it because so few people do.
- You are not going to be asked anything you absolutely do not know. You will be able to BS at least a little bit about anything.
- You know a lot about beer. No matter the results of the exam, you are knowledgeable about beer.
The exam is structured so that everyone has three hours in the morning for part one of the written portion of the test, plus a 15 minute oral examination with either Ray Daniels or Pat Fahey. If your stomach just dropped a little like you realize you're about to get hit with a bout of diarrhea, then you probably already know that Ray Daniels is the creator of the Cicerone Certification Program (and all-around beer expert) (like seriously, one of THE beer experts in the world) and that Pat Fahey is the Content Director of the Cicerone Certification Program as well as one of the only Master Cicerones in the world. If you didn't get that feeling, imagine having to go speak to two of the foremost experts in your field and have them ask you questions.
After the morning written portion of the exam comes two of the four 15 minute tasting portions of the exam. The first 15 minute tasting exam is off flavors and the second 15 minutes tasting exam consists of describing three beer samples using non-technical terms. After the first tasting portion comes lunch and then you repeat the entire process over again for the afternoon session. Similar to the tasting portion of the Certified Cicerone exam, they go over what each beer was at the conclusion of the tasting portion so you have at least an idea of how you did.
So here's how my exam day went:
Morning written portion:
I turned over the exam and skimmed each page. I checked out the four essay questions and suppressed a smile. I had this. I didn't see anything that made me nervous. I could answer the multiple choice and matching questions pretty easily and craft (ha) essays that hit almost all the high points. Hell, they may even just go ahead and make me a Master Cicerone instead.
Going over the results of the morning tasting portion:
Are you sure? Are you sure that's what that off flavor is? The answer is yes, yes of course they know what the off flavors are. You know who didn't know which off flavors were which? Me. Bomb city. Although on the plus side, I did get one off flavor correct that I had had problems detecting when I studied with my off flavor kit. So there's that. But yeah, if it's not diacetyl or trans-2-nonenol, turns out I'm a little shaky.
Afternoon written portion:
With the afternoon session, there was an uptick in the amount of questions where I was a little shaky on the answers. There was an uncomfortable amount of questions where I was very shaky on the answers. I did a little more...let's call it tap dancing...on a couple of the essays. All of the essays contain multiple questions, so there was at least one where I was pretty confident in most of my answers but had one or two areas where I wanted to put this as an answer:
Going over the results of the afternoon tasting session:
Oh, I got most of the style discrimination answers correct? Great. I also completely missed a key component about one of the technical description samples? Cool, cool, cool.
At least the exam is over.
Of course you all know that I'll let you know when I find out my results. In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone who reached out to me through the blog, social media, text, phone call, IRL, etc. to support me, send me well wishes, and check to see how it went. It really meant a lot to me to know that so many people were cheering me on.