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Do you really need to memorize all the BJCP data for beer styles tested on the Certified Cicerone exam?

cert cicerone exam advice Oct 09, 2015

Fifty Fifty Brewing's legendary barrel aged Eclipse imperial stout at the brew pub in Truckee, CA. 

The Cicerone Certification Program's (CCP) Certified Cicerone syllabus indicates that you need to memorize all the qualitative and quantitative info for the styles they test on the exam (ABV, IBU, SRM, OG, & FG). You definitely want to know the qualitative information backwards and forwards, but in my Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone Exam I say that, no, you really don't need to memorize all the quantitative information, but be familiar with it generally. Because of that, I regularly get emails questions from folks who are unsure and are seeking assurance of who is correct on this issue. My short answer remains the same despite new information that the CCP is asking more questions about styles' quantitative info on the CC exam - I don't think you NEED to memorize all that data as long as you're very familiar with all the styles and can make educated guesses. For me, this is all about smart time management during your studying, however, there's more to it. Read on for the details.

The Certified Cicerone exam has evolved over time, as could be expected. The CCP has changed the test as they've moved along. When I took the CC exam a couple years ago, there was, if I recall correctly, a single fill-in-the-blank question asking about a particular style's ABV range. Since then, I've been told by several recent test takers (in 2017) that the CCP is now asking 5 to 7 questions on the exam that ask something that looks more or less like this: What is the maximum abv range for an American IPA, within 0.1? The correct answer to this would be 7.5%, but you'd get it right if you said 7.4% or 7.6%. They can and do ask this same type of question about the minimum and/or maximum ranges for IBU, ABV, SRM, OG, or FG for any of the styles they test on (that's actually not true, they will never ask you about OG or FG, do not waste your time learning those!). 

Despite the fact that there are now 5+ such questions on the Cert Cicerone exam, my take on the question of whether you should memorize all this info hasn't changed. Why? Because I don't think that the amount of time you'll spend memorizing it all is worth the few points you'll pick up compared to the payoff you'll get by putting that time into studying a broader range of material. That said, it's up to you to decide how to spend your study time. It's important to be very familiar with all the BJCP material so that during the exam you can make a decent educated guess and move on (maybe you'll only miss a couple this way). What will hurt you very badly is not knowing tons of descriptive tasting, aroma, color, food pairing, and history info about a style that you're asked about for an essay question...or not knowing how to tell beer styles apart during the tasting portion...or not understanding the brewing process and ingredient effects inside and out for the short answer questions...or a whole list of other information on the CC syllabus and covered in my Study Guides. 

During your studying there is so much material to learn, so many books you should read, so many notes you should take, I don't feel that the hours and hours you'd spend memorizing quantitative beer style data is worth the payoff. For people who feel they've mastered the other information, who memorize numbers easily, or who just absolutely want to gun for a 100% score it makes sense. Certainly, it's ideal if you can learn everything, but many people will have to come up with a study plan that will require them to focus on certain areas at the expense of others. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, when I studied I focused on service and draft systems, because as a homebrewer and BJCP judge I already knew much of the required material regarding brewing science, ingredients, and styles, so I reviewed those areas more briefly. On the other hand, I didn't know jack about draft systems and service because I'd never worked at a bar/restaurant or done sales for a brewery/distributor, so I put more time in to learn that stuff.   

The CCP has only recently begun asking so many questions about specific quantitative style measurements. My personal feeling is that it doesn't make sense to require a candidate sitting for the CC exam to know that information, I think it's more important they understand beer styles in a slightly more general way that helps make that CC a smarter server or sales person. No customer will ever care about exact beer style quantitative date (which can be looked up on a phone app in about 5 seconds anyway), they care about descriptions of flavor and aroma, about connecting that beer style to others, to beer history, and to recent trends. But hey, I don't make the exam, I just help you pass it. 

I'd love to hear about any recent test takers' experience with these questions on the exam and whether they thought that studying for those questions made sense in retrospect. 

Study on, my friends and keep the questions coming! 

cert cicerone exam advice