BJCP Exam Tips - LONG post

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TexLaw

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I've been asked a few times about the BJCP exam and program, so I thought I would just post up a few tips and answers that might help anyone thinking about taking it or signed up to do so. If anyone has any other questions, never hesitate to ask away, whether in a thread or by PM. I am teaching my club's BJCP study course this year, so I'm right in the middle of it, too.

It's probably easiest to do this in a FAQ format, so here goes:

Is the BJCP exam hard?

Yes, it is, and for a few reasons.

First, it covers a vast amount of information. It is not just about describing beer styles and regurgitating ranges for OG, FG, IBU, SRM, and ABV. You will be asked about ingredients, brewing techniques, and off flavors and aromas. One of the questions usually is to come up with an all grain recipe for a certain style, also.

Second, it's long. In fact, it's three hours long, so fatigue is a factor. The test is, in no way, impossible, but it also is not fun. You have to pace yourself properly and hang in there. Just writing for that amount of time taxes nearly everyone, even someone who has taken more three hour essay tests than he cares to recall.

Third, you have to judge beer in the middle of all that. In fact, you have to judge four beers in the middle of all that. When the exam administrator brings around a beer to judge, it usually is abrupt, and it certainly is a distraction. Drinking what amounts to 8-16 ounces of beer during what usually is the first hour of an exam also adds to the fatigue factor.

However, the material is not so difficult, by itself. It's all about beer and brewing. Chances are you already know quite a bit of it, in one form or another. If not, this is a great time to learn.


What sort of questions are there?

The exam consists of the "classic" question (see the Study Guide), nine essay or short answer questions, and four judging beers.

As mentioned, the essay questions cover a vast amount of information. The good news is that the form of questions varies little from exam to exam, so you should not see much of a surprise. In fact, with a decent amount of work on your part, you should be able to answer half of the essay questions by preparing for that very question in advance. The Study Guide has an invaluable section on the list of questions from which the Exam Director will select to create an exam.

When it comes to judging, you judge the beers as you would in a competition. You start the exam with four blank scoresheets. At some point, a proctor will come around with a beer and announce that the style to which you will judge that beer. That's what you do. Fill out the score sheet and move on. That happens four times, and usually early on during the exam.

As far as I know there is no proscribed formula for the judging beers, but you usually have at least one beer that is classic to the announced style, at least one that is far off the announced style, and at least one with significant off flavors or aromas.


How do I prepare for the exam?

Nearly everything you need to know for the written portion is in the Study Guide, the Style Guidelines, and the other resources linked to the BJCP Exam Center. However, to get a very high score, you need to go beyond those resources. The reading list found at the beginning of the Study Guide is excellent. No, you do not need to read everything there, but the more you read and absorb, the easier you will find the exam.

For the judging portion, get out there and judge! Even if you do not hold a BJCP rank, you can judge in just about every competition out there. If you cannot judge in a competition or you are not comfortable doing so, go steward in those competitions and see how it is done. If you have no competitions in your area, work on judging your own homebrew, as well as commercial examples. Practice filling out score sheets and thinking about beer that way. Have the guidelines with you as a checklist for what to look for and think about (note, though, that you will not have the guidelines with you during the exam). Do things a little off the wall, too, such as judging a Sierra Nevada Porter as an American Wheat, a Brown Porter, and a Belgian Saison. Try and judge styles you have not tried or do not like. Breadth of experience carries tremendous value here. For excellent examples about how to fill out score sheets, look HERE.

If you can, get together with a group of others interested in the exam and work together. The Study Guide provides a brief, skeletal curriculum for a study course. If you are a member of a homebrew club, it's best to organize such a course through your club and have it led by an experienced judge or brewer. If you do not belong to a club, see if there is one in your area that you enjoy.


How is the exam graded?

The Study Guide goes into that, and there also is a published Exam Scoring Guide. While I cannot speak for all graders, I know at least a few graders (including me) that follow it closely. Pay attention to where the big points are. As mentioned in those resources, the written portion counts for 70% of your score, while the tasting/judging portion counts for 30%, so they are both important.


What tips can you give?

First and foremost, prepare well in advance. You cannot cram for this exam. There is just too much information. Okay, maybe you are the walking computer who can absorb information and spout it out verbatim later on, but that won't help you with the judging unless you prepare.

I found that division also works well when pacing your time. Allocate roughly 45 minutes for the tasting/judging portion (or about 12 minutes per beer). Yes, it really can take that long to fill out a score sheet like they want to see them. In fact, if you just count each judging beer as a question, so that you have 14 questions, that allows 12.85 minutes per question. If you keep yourself to 12, you'll have a little time to look back over your answers, run to the head, moan a little, or just slide on your time.

On the essay questions, keep in mind where the big points are. Don't go into vapor lock because you cannot remember a commercial example of a certain substyle when the big points are about describing that substyle. Clarity of your answer is important, so get straight to the point. Be concise, and use proper punctuation. This is time to write like Hemingway, not Faulkner. If you just can't write something down, try to outline an answer, providing the information that normally would be in your brilliant prose. Such a form is especially clear for giving the "stats" on a substyle, i.e., it probably is just as good to write "American Pale Ale - OG: 1.045-1.060; IBU: 30-45" as it is to write "the OG of an American Pale ale falls within the range of 1.045-1.060, with bitterness between 30 and 45 IBUs."

On the judging, it's best to get right to the beer right when it comes around, or you might miss some volatile off aroma. Don't be surprised if they set something clear, golden, and bright down in front of you while telling you to judge it as an Imperial Stout, or visa versa. That's the way it goes. Likewise, don't be surprised if they set an Imperial Stout down in front of you and tell you to do the same. Take your time with the beer if you need it. Probably, you can write to fill the score sheet in about 5 or 6 minutes, so you have a little time to think about what you perceive in the beer. Concentrate on it, write it, and get back to your essay question. Don't be surprised if all four come around in the first hour or so of the exam. The proctors often like to get that part over with and cleaned up. However, don't be suprised if the are more evenly spaced through the exam. It is entirely within the administrator's discretion.

Also, keep in mind that the exam often is held on a weekday evening. Chances are, you could be a bit tired from your day. Also, it might run through your normal dinner time. If you can, get something to eat before going in, but keep it something rather bland. You don't want to screw up your palate moments before you need it. Also, get yourself a comfortable pen or two.

On how you can expect to do. Of course, it depends on how much you prepare and how well you know the material, but many score over 60, the minimum to hold a BJCP rank (i.e., "Recognized" or higher). More than half score better than a 70, the minimum to attain the "Certified" rank. However, very few score higher than 80, the minimum for the "National" rank. So, many experienced brewers with rudimentary knowledge of styles and a little luck can probably walk in cold and score about a 60. Just about anyone who prepares properly and doesn't seize up can score a 70 and become Certified. However, if you have your sights set on National or Master, you will have to work very hard to get there. That said, on any given day, someone might walk in and score a 90 or a 50. There is a bit of luck involved in the question selection and how you might feel that day. If you score lower than you expected, don't get too hard on yourself. It happens. Get back in the saddle and ride again.

Finally, relax. This is just the BJCP exam. This is a hobby thing, nothing more. Your job, your home, your family, the Super Bowl, the fate of the Universe, or anything like it is not on the line. Yes, you paid some good money to sit for the exam, but you'll get good experience out of it, one way or another.

Good luck!


TL
 

the_bird

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There was some talk that a local guy was going to start offering BJCP classes, which I'll be all over if that actually happens. Great post, great insight as usual, Tex!
 

ohiobrewtus

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This came up in the related posts section of something else I was reading today, and I'm glad it did. Anyone serious about taking the exam should read this post and get to the BJCP exam study center asap.

Prosted.
 

flyangler18

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A few members of my club were talking about studying for the BJCP; I'm on it like white on rice if it goes down!
 

chumprock

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Great info. I have a pair of friends who are BJCP and they said they wished they had more beer when taking it.. heh.
 

Reverend JC

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One more little nuget of info-

Do not expect to get your results back in any timely fashion. Mine was taken on Oct 26th....................................Half of the class had theirs back the week before christmas.................................yeah, im in the half that is still waiting.
 
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TexLaw

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Since this came back up, I ought to mention that the exam format has changed a little. The "classic question" is not like it used to be, and the test now includes some true/false questions (although it's nothing complicated), and the last question on the exam is to fill out a scoresheet for a beer that exemplifies a certain substyle. I liked the new format, actually.

I took the test back in December, and I was the only one not doing the tasting part. One has that option for a retake. Since I was in the middle of a nasty cold, I thought it better to skip the tasting. Shoot, I was there only because they needed one more taker to hold the exam. I am still waiting on my exam results, too, but I tell people to wait at least three months. Remember, the graders are volunteers with real lives, and you get a nice, detailed, critique of your answer. Like everything else in brewing, be patient. :)


TL
 

explosivebeer

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Thanks for the great advice Tex. I actually decided late last week to sit for the 2/28 exam here in Seattle so it should be interesting. I can see where your experience will be helpful though. Cheers.
 

gwood

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Great post Tex. I've been considering trying to find a study group, as with all things in life it comes down to time and how much of it you are willing to devote to each endeavor.
 

KayaBrew

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Thanks for the great info, Tex. BTW, haven't seen you around here lately...what gives?
 

Brewme

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Great post. Thanks for the post. I want to sit for the exam, but not for a couple years. It is hard enough to find time for me to brew!
 

memphomaniac

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I am a competition barbecue judge under three dispensations. BJCP is much more involved than barbecue. I hope to sit for the BJCP exam at some point over the the next couple years, and this info is invaluable. Thanks for the help.
 
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TexLaw

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Thanks for the great info, Tex. BTW, haven't seen you around here lately...what gives?
Guys, I'm glad to help. As much guff as the BJCP can get, and as much as I give it, I owe the program and competition judging a lot with regards to my brewing skill and education. Studying for the exam is a worthwhile effort, even if you do not sit for it.

If you have any questions about BJCP or the exam, I prefer you post them here (as you usually aren't the only one with that question or a similar one). You can always PM me, but keep in mind that others may benefit from the discussion.


TL
 

Dude

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My goal for 2009 is to prepare for this beast, and take the exam before the end of the year or in early 2010. Thanks for posting the great info above!

I printed out a study guide last night--it is going to live in my hand for the next few months.
 

Beerrific

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Taking this on Sunday...

At this point there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns, I am concentrating on the things I know I don't know.
 

explosivebeer

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I accumulated and put together a fair amount of study materials for the exam. I learned a lot just putting them together so that might be a worthwhile experience in itself. But if anyone wants to use mine, let me know.
 

carnevoodoo

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I accumulated and put together a fair amount of study materials for the exam. I learned a lot just putting them together so that might be a worthwhile experience in itself. But if anyone wants to use mine, let me know.
I'd be interested in seeing that if it is something you can send electronically.
 

Beerrific

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Guys, I'm glad to help. As much guff as the BJCP can get, and as much as I give it, I owe the program and competition judging a lot with regards to my brewing skill and education. Studying for the exam is a worthwhile effort, even if you do not sit for it.

If you have any questions about BJCP or the exam, I prefer you post them here (as you usually aren't the only one with that question or a similar one). You can always PM me, but keep in mind that others may benefit from the discussion.
I have some questions:

1. For the question that is "Identify, describe, and give at least one classic commercial example as listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines of a major beer style commonly associated with the following three classic brewing centers:" Does the description need to be at length? Should it follow the standard format like the other style questions? The other style questions have the table that breaks down the points (6-2-1-1) and defines explicitly what is expected. This table is not given for this question in the study guide.

2. On the "Provide a complete ALL-GRAIN recipe for:" question they list 11 styles that may be included. Do you know how common it is to get a style not included in those 11?

Thanks for your help Tex.
 
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TexLaw

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I have some questions:

1. For the question that is "Identify, describe, and give at least one classic commercial example as listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines of a major beer style commonly associated with the following three classic brewing centers:" Does the description need to be at length? Should it follow the standard format like the other style questions? The other style questions have the table that breaks down the points (6-2-1-1) and defines explicitly what is expected. This table is not given for this question in the study guide.

2. On the "Provide a complete ALL-GRAIN recipe for:" question they list 11 styles that may be included. Do you know how common it is to get a style not included in those 11?

Thanks for your help Tex.
1. I advise writing as much as you would on a scoresheet for a 50-point beer in that style. You do not need to write as much as you may find in the style guidelines, but more detail is better. Keep in mind, though, that each part of that question is only worth roughly 3.3 points in the exam, and plan your time accordingly. You should not need to spend more than a few minutes on each segment, but it should only take a handful of seconds to identify the style and provide the commercial example.

I find it easier to stay organized if I break the description down like a scoresheet, and I imagine the grader will find it easier to grade.

2. That is very rare. However, if you know how to brew those styles and are familiar with the rest, you should be able to a pretty good job on any recipe. Keep in mind that, while the ingredients are very important, they are not the whole answer to the question. Describe the process from crushing to packaging (including carbonation levels, which are fine to give in volumes, but not a bad idea to mention corn sugar or forced). Don't forget lautering and sparging.

Good luck, guys, and keep the questions coming!


TL
 

Beerrific

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Good luck, guys, and keep the questions coming!
OK, here is another one:

What is the best answer for this question? I have the first part, but cannot come up with a good, concise answer for the second part.

Describe the stages of yeast development and give five considerations in selecting the appropriate
yeast strain for a given beer style.
 

Reverend JC

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beerific


PM sent if you would like to call. I can run through this bad boy for you. I actually have a copy of a somewhat controversial, but not illegal, study guide for the test written by one of the grandmaster judges. It gives you a way to organize thoughts and enough info to pass. 6 out of the 7 club members that took it with me passed.
 
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TexLaw

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OK, here is another one:

What is the best answer for this question? I have the first part, but cannot come up with a good, concise answer for the second part.
For that one, I usually point folks to the section in the study guide about yeast and fermentation (by Chuck Hanning). Hanning mentions that yeasts differ in their "optimum fermentation temperatures, ability to ferment different sugars, environmental conditions, and ability to settle out upon completion of fermentation, and production and/or metabolism of fermentation by-products." Since I count five differences, those sound like good considerations for the exam answer. Besides, that's just what you need to consider when choosing a yeast. :)


TL
 

claphamsa

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Im taking the class now.... at first I was like i have a good palate ill take the test too.... now..... after one class... hey i just wanna be able to not go "huh?" when looking at some of these sample questions. Ill still probably take the exam... but wow :)
 

brewfun

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Hello everyone!

I stumbled on this thread while looking for something else. I had to register to give Kudos to TexLaw for doing a masterful job of explaining the exam and what to do to prepare.

The exam is fundamentally about your ability to communicate clearly over many beer related subjects. Primarily, you are asked to describe beers, since beer evaluation is a core skill.

The current exam format downplays stats in favor of more vivid descriptions of aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel for each style. Making each come alive as a unique example is a challenge. A Master level score can be had without ever mentioning a beer stat (OG, FG, SRM, abv.). Regardless of how a style question is phrased, describing these elements is critical to success.

While a difficult and comprehensive exam, the entire pool of questions is published in the Study Guide on the BJCP website. Only questions found in the question pool are asked on an exam. With only Rauchbier (22a) as the exception, you will NEVER be asked about a style above category 19.

The recipe question is NOT about making a recipe to win BOS at the AHA Nationals. It is about using appropriate ingredients and methods to communicate the brewing process. Think of brewer feedback about how someone can achieve a good, in style example.

Again, excellent job, TexLaw

Kev Pratt
BJCP Exam Grader
Grand Master I
 

claphamsa

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Hello everyone!

I stumbled on this thread while looking for something else. I had to register to give Kudos to TexLaw for doing a masterful job of explaining the exam and what to do to prepare.

The exam is fundamentally about your ability to communicate clearly over many beer related subjects. Primarily, you are asked to describe beers, since beer evaluation is a core skill.

The current exam format downplays stats in favor of more vivid descriptions of aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel for each style. Making each come alive as a unique example is a challenge. A Master level score can be had without ever mentioning a beer stat (OG, FG, SRM, abv.). Regardless of how a style question is phrased, describing these elements is critical to success.

While a difficult and comprehensive exam, the entire pool of questions is published in the Study Guide on the BJCP website. Only questions found in the question pool are asked on an exam. With only Rauchbier (22a) as the exception, you will NEVER be asked about a style above category 19.

The recipe question is NOT about making a recipe to win BOS at the AHA Nationals. It is about using appropriate ingredients and methods to communicate the brewing process. Think of brewer feedback about how someone can achieve a good, in style example.

Again, excellent job, TexLaw

Kev Pratt
BJCP Exam Grader
Grand Master I
wow a grand master :D
 

Beerrific

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I got my scores back today. I am happy with the results. I guess I should be getting the scored exam back in the next week and I will plan to make a post while everything is fresh (if you can call March fresh) in my mind.

Thanks to everyone that helped...Reverend JC, TexLaw.....thanks! :mug:
 

Homercidal

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I have been looking into the BJCP exam process as a way to improve my own brewing. Essentially I would like tasting practice and I thought following the study guide would help, along with taking a class.

Does anyone know where I could find classes to take? What is the class like? I'd likely have to drive at least an hour to find one.
 

Beerrific

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If you check the list of exams (here), and find one near you, the organizer or local club will usually put together a class a few months before the exam date. If it is a drive, they might also be willing to provide you with the class materials via e-mail or something.
 

Homercidal

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If you check the list of exams (here), and find one near you, the organizer or local club will usually put together a class a few months before the exam date. If it is a drive, they might also be willing to provide you with the class materials via e-mail or something.
Ugh. Nothing near me at all. I suppose I should settle for something less formal for tasting classes.
 
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TexLaw

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I got my scores back today. I am happy with the results. I guess I should be getting the scored exam back in the next week and I will plan to make a post while everything is fresh (if you can call March fresh) in my mind.

Thanks to everyone that helped...Reverend JC, TexLaw.....thanks! :mug:
Congratulations!


TL
 

BNVince

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I'm thinking about studying for the exam and taking it come February when it's around me.

By the way, a lot of the links in the original post here are no longer working. I think the BJCP changed the website a little bit. Just wanted to let you know.
 
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