Setting and marking the Examination
Who sets the Master of Wine Examination? And how is it marked? Find out here about the setting and marking process, the full candidate anonymity throughout the process, and the strict processes for ensuring fairness in all parts of the Examination.
The Examination Board
The content, conduct, and marking of the Master of Wine Examination is administered by the Institute’s Examination Board. The Examination Board includes Masters of Wine from every region – notably the UK and Europe, the United States, and Australia and New Zealand.
The Examination Board is made up of three panels, of which two (the Practical and Theory Panels) work on the closed book parts of the Examination. The third panel administers the Research Paper.
Candidates taking the MW Examination are never identified by name. Those marking and moderating the papers can only identify papers by the candidate number.
The Practical Examination
The Examination Board’s Practical Panel consists of six MW Examiners and an MW Chair. Each of the three Practical papers is set by two of the MW Examiners. The other 4 Examiners, plus the Chair, assist them with tasting and selecting questions.
The question setting process starts in late November/early December. The Practical Panel taste through potential Examination wines checking for typicity and the quality level the panel seek to display.
The wines themselves are sourced in the UK (occasionally in the US) and are sent from their point of origin to the exam centres. Therefore all those taking the exam will be tasting wines bought at the same time and in the same place.
Following the Examination, the two MW Examiners who set a particular paper then separately mark all the scripts relating to that paper. They then send their results to the Practical Panel Chair for moderation.
The Practical Panel Chair moderates any marking discrepancies between examiners. He/she also moderates the complete set of papers for any student that could be considered ‘borderline’ overall.
The Practical Panel Chair’s moderated results are then sent to the overall Chief Examiner, who checks and discusses the results, also involving the External Examiner. Further moderation may then take place before the Chief Examiner finally passes the results to the Education and Exam Board for approval.
The Theory Examination
The Examination Board’s Theory Panel consists of approximately thirty MWs. Each of the five Theory papers is set by a Paper Panel Chair and a team of Examiners. The Paper Panel Chairs then report to the overall Theory Panel Chair and the Chief Examiner.
The Paper Panel Chairs for each paper brainstorm with their MW teams to come up with topics and areas that they wish to examine. In December the Paper Panel Chairs meet with the Theory Panel Chair to discuss the ideas that have been put forward for individual Papers and to formulate questions. They refine the final questions and ensure there is a good balance across the whole Examination.
Once the wording for the questions has been agreed, they are checked by non-native speakers of English to ensure they are comprehensible. They are then typeset, and comprehensively proofread before the Examination papers are printed.
Every answer is marked by two MW Examiners. Each examiner marks up to three questions. They mark all scripts separately, and return their marks to the relevant Paper Panel Chair for moderation.
The Paper Panel Chair then moderates if there is any discrepancy between the two marks. He/she also moderates the complete set of papers for any student that could be considered ‘borderline’ for that paper.
The Theory Panel Chair considers the overall results and moderates across all 4/5 papers. Any candidate who is ‘borderline’ overall will be reconsidered as necessary. He/she then meets with all the Paper Panel Chairs and both the Chief Examiner and the External Examiner. Final results are discussed and more moderation may be required. Once the Chief Examiner is confident that the process is complete, he/she passes the results to the Education and Exam Board for approval.
Once the Examination Board approve all the results, statistical data is collated for all papers, and a report on the conduct of the Examination from the External Examiner is presented to the Education and Examination Board.
Once the results are formally approved in this way, results are sent out to all candidates by e-mail and letter. This is the first time that candidates are identified by name throughout the whole process.
The Research Paper
Those candidates who have achieved passes in both Theory and Practical are now able to go on to the final part of the Master of Wine Examination – the Research Paper.
Students are able to propose wine-related topics from any area of the sciences, arts, humanities, social sciences or any other discipline. They also have the freedom to choose the way that they explore their topic as long as it enables them to provide a rigorous interpretation of the subject and to make a contribution to the understanding of the world of wine.
The first part of the examination process is gaining acceptance of a synopsis. The synopsis is approved (or referred or rejected) by the Research Panel Moderator and Deputy Moderator. They also provide appropriate feedback to the candidate via the candidate’s MW Advisor.
Like the other two parts of the exam, each Research Paper is examined by two MW examiners, and occasionally by a non-MW expert in that field. If there is a discrepancy in the marking, it will be looked at by the Research Paper Moderator, Deputy Moderator, and, if necessary, the Chief Examiner and External Examiner.
As with the other parts of the examination, those marking and moderating the Research Papers can only identify papers by the candidate number. Candidate’s identity will only be revealed when it is announced that they have become a Master of Wine.