Certified Cicerone Exam Advice: if your exam is tomorrow, here are some tips!

cert cicerone exam advice Jan 03, 2024


Paul, a student in my Beer Scholar Course for the Certified Cicerone® Exam, sent me this email:

Chris - Your CC program has been excellent, worth every dime. I've followed your suggestions and have scored in the mid-nineties on each of your practice exams, so I'm feeling pretty confident thanks to you! Big kudos! I'm taking my written exam tomorrow morning and my tasting exam in Chicago on the 18th. Any last minute tips? Thanks again. Great program, well done. - Paul S

Awesome! I was stoked to hear that Paul was feeling good about his upcoming exam and of course I always love getting some positive feedback on my Beer Scholar courses. It sounds to me like Paul is well prepared and ready to crush the CC exam, but his email got me to thinking that this is probably a question everyone who is about the take the test has and that I could offer some last minute exam advice!

1) You're right at the finish line. Now is the time to prioritize good sleep rather than last minute cramming. Sure, feel free to run through some flashcards if you feel the need, but it's more important that your brain is fresh for your exam! Maybe this sounds crazy, but don't have any beer or other alcohol for a day or two before your exam, especially before the written exam. Alcohol is a notorious sleep disruptor and you want to get plenty of REM and deep sleep so you wake up fresh.

2) Keep in mind that you can bullet point facts for your essay questions. There's no need to write a full essay with an opening sentence that repeats the questions, a body of material you're recalling for the grader, and a conclusion paragraph. This isn't a high school English class essay. Bullet-ing your answer can help if you feel a time crunch (if you've been doing the practice exams in your Beer Scholar course with a timer, this will not be a problem for you).

3) When writing about pairing, remember to go down your food pairing checklist. Start with matching intensities, then hit the 3 Cs (complement, contrast, & cutting) in that order. Also, consider discussing any advanced pairing effects you've learned, such as cancelling. Using more advanced pairing concepts isn't required for getting a good essay score at the CC level, but it shows the grader you really know your stuff. Finally, for a home run discuss whether the pairing will provide the consumer with the impression of some other familiar flavor or dish beyond the particular beer or food item in front of them (i.e. the combo of certain food and beer can lead to impressions of other dishes, like the common example of an American brown ale + cheddar cheese = the impression of a grilled cheese sandwich).

4) When writing beer style essays, be sure to go down the list of all the major beer ingredients and address each separately. The point of this is to avoid forgetting to write things like, "hop aroma in this style is typically none to low," or similar. It's easy to forget to mention things that are not in a beer. It's much more likely you'll remember to talk about aromas and flavors that are typically present for the style. While those intense elements of the beer are indeed more important, touching on all the major elements of a beer the way you would if you were going down a BJCP score sheet is the key to ensuring you don't miss anything at all.

5) Building on the advice above - when discussing a beer or style, there are lots of discussion points to address and the BJCP scoresheet can once again be a guide. I'm talking about aroma, flavor, the various elements of mouthfeel, balance, finish, overall impression, and potential problems and off flavors that may be present. When you have that BJCP scoresheet in front of you, it's difficult to forget things because there's a spot to write about each and a list of potential issues. You don't get that on the Certified Cicerone exam, you have to remember it all and go down the list in your mind.

6) Know your beer compound names and how they are perceived by people in the aroma, flavor, or mouthfeel. Know where those compounds come from and how to get more of that compound, or limit that compound, in the final beer. 

7) Describe beer aroma and flavor eloquently. Many of us people struggle with this because it's a performance. You're making your opinion known about what you sense in the beer. Be very specific. Getting good at sensory description is one of the coolest things about learning beer and it's a skill that can be applied to all the food and drink you'll experience, forever. If the grader can taste the beer you're describing in their mind as they're reading your answers, that's amazing - that's your goal! Don't stop at the generic descriptors you see in the BJCP Style Guidelines. They're not great and they won't get you an amazing score on the exam. Don't use general terms like "malty" or "hoppy." Go deeper.

8) Don't write down anything you're not positive is correct. It's weird, but a lot of people sabotage themselves by attempting to demonstrate extra knowledge they're not actually sure about. Don't spit out any beer legends or tales you heard from someone at a beer share. Only use knowledge you gained from legit sources. The graders are Master Cicerones, they'll know if you're writing nonsense or repeating myths.

9) Related to the above advice - answer the question you're being asked! Sure, if you're positive you know things that go beyond the immediate answer to the question, go ahead and drop it into an essay as a single extra sentence of material. Do not, however, go off on a tangent. Also, do not write anything you're not positive is correct. Going beyond the question you're asked can usually only hurt your score. Why? Well, if you're wrong you lose points, but if you're correct it won't help your score much because you're not actually answering the question. Don't get me wrong, take opportunities to show off if you can go deeper on the material than the grader is expecting for folks at the CC level, but keep it super tight and don't waste time trying to impress's more important that you have the time to fully answer all the questions! My courses are designed to train you to just beyond the CC level, so you should be very good to go here.

10) For the tasting exam - stick to your tasting routine. Be in the zone. Be focused. Be in the flow state and don't worry about what else is going on around you. Don't make up a new tasting routine on the spot or do something odd. Swirl the beer, do the drive by sniff, do a quick sniff or two, do a covered sniff, sip it only if you must. Most of these can be answered without putting beer in your mouth. Take notes on each beer you sniff. Set them down and allow them to warm up to be revisited later. You don't get a lot of beer in each sample, so don't just drink it up. Be sure to revisit beers after they warm up, it can be very revealing. You can cup the beer in your hand to speed that process up. Never use appearance to come to an answer on the style discrimination panel. Obviously, be aware of what the 3 panels are and how they each work, which is all covered in my course...that's a major hack.


Finally...never forget that the material you need to know for the tasting exam and the written exam is LEARNED. You can learn it all and the more you do it the better you'll get at recalling the info and sensing the beers and compounds. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about reviewing material in the Draught Beer Quality Manual, memorizing BJCP vital stats, or getting good at tasting styles and off flavor compounds - it's all learned and you will get better and better at it. That said, the tasting exam can sometimes feel a little capricious in that you can just have a bad day with sensory. Lots of people have to retake one or the other portion of the exam a couple times, don't let pressure get to you or feel like a failure if you struggle a bit. I had to retake the AC tasting a second time, myself. It is challenging stuff, but you got this! 

You're about to take the exam now, you're ready, you've done the work. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!



cert cicerone exam advice