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Five common misconceptions about the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines

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Do you have your sights set on completing the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and earning that coveted ‘DipWSET’ postnominal?

If you’re thinking about enrolling on this challenging and rewarding course, take a look at the five common misconceptions listed below – including reasons why you don’t need to be intimidated by the tasting exams.

1. You'll be a sommelier when you finish the course

The word ‘sommelier’ is often used interchangeably with ‘wine expert’. However, this is actually a job title. At its most basic definition, a sommelier is a waiter in a restaurant who is responsible for serving wine, advising guests, and sometimes creating the wine list. This means it’s possible to be called a sommelier without having any formal qualification.

However, if you’re hoping that taking the WSET Diploma will help you become a sommelier – it can! Qualifications such as those offered by WSET or The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) are extremely well respected on CVs, and can fast-track you into a sommelier role, sometimes without ever having worked in a restaurant.

Whether you want to gain the qualification to become a sommelier or pursue another career or personal goal, the Diploma will absolutely make you an authoritative wine expert.

Read more about understanding the sommelier levels.

2. It's only for people who work in the drinks industry 

Lots of Diploma students work in drinks or otherwise study the qualification so that they can move into the industry. However, we also see many dedicated enthusiasts taking the course. Yes, the course challenging, but it’s also incredibly enjoyable – if you’re someone who loves to get a bit geeky about flavour compounds, production methods and new styles of wine, this course is also for you.

For example, at 2024’s annual graduation ceremony and prize reception, Graham Cohen, who does not work in drinks, won the IWSC EMEA Scholarship for achieving the highest overall mark in this region. He studied the Diploma at The International Wine Education Centre in South Africa while working full time as an oncologist!

A person holding a glass of red wine, with cheese and charcuterie snacks in the background.

Some students complete the Diploma purely because they enjoy wine and learning more about it.

3. You won't have time to study

The Diploma is a demanding course, there’s no escaping that!

The WSET awarding body states that the total qualification time is 500 hours. This is made up of 128 guided learning hours, either in class or online, plus a minimum of 372 hours of private study. It’s worth noting that ambitious students who want to gain a merit or distinction grade often put in many more hours of work on top of this!

It sounds like a lot of time when it’s laid out like that, but it becomes much more palatable when you break it down. Firstly, the qualification is divided into six separate units of study that you’ll take on one at a time. (Though the order of study will depend on your chosen school.)

• D1 - Wine production
• D2 - Wine business
• D3 - Wines of the world
• D4 - Sparkling wines
• D5 - Fortified wines
• D6 - Independent research assignment

When considering how to fit Diploma study around your other commitments, the study format is one of the most important decisions to make. Course providers offer a range of options, including weekday, weekend, evening and online courses. If you have a busy schedule during the week, online or evening courses might offer you the most flexibility and more time to study between lessons. If you’d prefer to dedicate longer blocks of time to studying, then an intensive course might be right for you. Your choice of study format will typically come down to which option is the most appealing, convenient and financially viable for you.

Some course providers, such as our flagship school WSET School London, also split the Diploma into two semesters. This allows you to have a break after completing the first units and either enjoy some well-deserved time off or get prepared for the remaining units before you begin those classes. The time it takes you to complete the qualification is really up to you!

Studying doesn’t have to be a chore either! Many students form tasting groups with their peers and get together to do fun blind tastings.

4. You have to correctly identify wines in the tasting exam

Learning how to identify a wine’s grape variety, country or production method by analysing your tasting note is a key focus of your classroom studies and your tasting abilities will improve rapidly as you move through each unit of the Diploma.

The tasting exams are an important part of the Diploma qualification and many students worry about how they might perform in these assessments. If that sounds like you, it’s worth noting that the pass rate is higher for the tasting exams than the theory exams and many students excel here. Secondly, the majority of the marks in these exams come from writing accurate tasting notes and quality assessments. There are only few marks available for identifying grape varieties, countries or regions. This means it’s possible to do very well in tasting exams without getting the wine right! If you’ve written a strong tasting note and a logical argument for your identification, you’ve got every chance of success.

5. It's impossible to pass

Over 11,000 graduates around the world have successfully completed the WSET Diploma, and you can too.

The Diploma is designed to equip you with expert level wine knowledge, analytical tasting skills, research abilities, and a sound understanding of the global business of wine, so it’s intended to be demanding – but it’s not impossible!

Here are some tips for success:

• Join the supplementary tastings and theory sessions put on by your course provider.
• Watch the free webinars on WSET’s YouTube channel.
• Join the study groups on Facebook.
• Write a study schedule and try to stick to it.
• Make use of all the resources in WSET’s Online Classroom, from exam guidance to practice quizzes.

You can also retake exams if you don’t pass them the first time, so take some of the pressure off yourself and enjoy the journey. Although there are exams to sit at the end, you’ll have many hours of fascinating learning and delicious tastings to experience first!

 If this has sparked your interest, click to read more about the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines.