The Wine & Spirit Education Trust's new online exams will launch on June 1.

By Mike Pomranz
May 22, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic already led to the cancellation of this year’s Master of Wine exams. Now, another major wine educator has announced it will be offering many of its exams online for the first time to accommodate social distancing.

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust or WSET—perhaps the most-recognized wine certification course in the world—announced yesterday that, starting June 1, it will be offering English language Level 1 Awards in Wines, Spirits, and Sake and Level 2 Awards in Wines and Spirits as online exams—a move intended for “enabling as many students as possible to continue with their learning during the current COVID-19 crisis.” The trust says that “many exams” had already been canceled or postponed due to the coronavirus, so these online exams should help address that issue as well.

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As WSET points out, the majority of the actual courses are already available online; only the exams themselves previously had to be taken in person. So not only does moving the exams online represent a logical next step forward, it will also finally allow students to “study for, and complete” these courses entirely at home from “anywhere in the world.” Even setting the pandemic aside, it’s a pretty cool development that could theoretically benefit WSET in the long term by allowing and encouraging more people to attempt to gain these certifications.

“I am really excited that, with these latest developments, we can now offer our course providers and students a 360 degree digital learning experience at a time when traditional classroom education is very challenging or impossible,” Ian Harris, WSET CEO, stated. “The integrity of our exams is of the utmost importance to us and we are confident that the award-winning remote invigilation system we have in place meets our stringent standards. At a time when many people in the industry have much more time at their disposal, it’s great that they can choose to upgrade their drinks knowledge, studying and qualifying for a WSET qualification without leaving home.”

For those wondering if online exams could devalue the certifications by allowing for funny business, WSET addressed this issue head-on. To assure the integrity of the tests, WSET explains that their remote invigilation system “enables students to sit their exam at home on a computer whilst monitored via webcam, screen sharing technology and a secondary recording device (usually a smartphone).”

Meanwhile, if that sounds a bit too Big Brother-y for you, don’t worry. WSET says students can still take a traditional paper-based test in a classroom if they so choose. “Online programs are never going to completely replace the classroom environment,” Harris added, “but they give us another very important string to our bow in the short-term, and will be a valuable add-on for us to offer in the longer term, extending the global reach of WSET in the post-COVID era.”