I recently passed the BJCP exam (right before the new guidelines came out). I thought I might write a short post based on how the test went in case anyone else is thinking of taking the exam.
The first part of the process is to pass the online multiple choice exam. It is a 200 question open book timed exam. I thought that the test would be a lot harder than it was. I picked the option of paying $20 to take the test 3 times instead of $10 per time figuring I would not pass the first time and need to take it again after some additional studying. As it turns out I passed on the first attempt. If you know a decent amount about the geography of beer and fermentation you will do fine. For example, English styles of beer use English hops and yeast that are generally fruity, somewhat sweet, and produce byproducts such as diacetyl. So when a question asks "What is the hop characteristic of such and such ENGLISH BEER STYLE" the answer is going to be floral/spicy. If the question is asking about an American style of beer the answer is going to fit American characteristics (Piney/Citrus hops, clean fermentation profile, etc.). If you don't know anything about a certain style, say Bock, as long as you know the beer style is from around Germany you know that it should have German hops, German malt profile, and German fermentation characteristics. By knowing about what ingredients are located where you automatically know a lot about the beers in that area.
After passing the online exam you can now take the in-person part of the exam. The consists of tasting 6 beers and filling out judging sheets for them. You do not get to use the style guide while you are tasting the beers. Your score is then compared to that of three judges who are also tasting the exact same beers. The result is based on how closely you scored the beers to the professional judges with some leniency if the majority of the people taking the test disagree with the professional judges.
The first beer was a German Pils, it ended up being my best review for the exam.
The second beer I tasted was a Cream Ale. I was certain that it had been spiked with DMS as it tasted terrible. I scored the beer low as did most the people I spoke with after the exam. It turned out the beer was a gold medal winning beer at GABF. I assume this is where I lost the majority of my points. It is a little frustrating that the professional beer judges get to take the exam with the tasting guidelines and confer with each other as they take notes.
Third beer was a Northern English Brown, I learned later that it was Ellie's Brown Dog Ale from Avery. I scored the beer well and mentioned that it would fit better in an American Brown Ale category.
Forth beer was an American Pale Ale (Dale's Pale Ale). I scored well on this beer and it was a very enjoyable sample.
Fifth beer was a Belgian Golden Strong (New Belgium's Trippel). I missed some points here but did note that the beer would be better placed in the Tripel category because it lacked the fruitiness of a Golden Strong.
Sixth beer was a Robust Porter (a home brew). This was my second lowest scoring beer. My remarks apparently disagreed with those of the professional judges.
What I learned is that several of the beers were really high quality beers (Trippel, Dale's, Ellie's Brown Dog) entered into the wrong category to see if you could identify what was required for the category. Being forced to take the exam without the style guidelines requires you to really know your stuff. I did not score low in any of the five area (Perceptive Accuracy, Descriptive Ability, Feedback, Completeness, Scoring Accuracy) but rather did poorly on two of the beers (Cream Ale and Robust Porter). I am not all that surprised as I have never had a Cream Ale before and do not drink much porter let alone compare it to Stout and Brown Porter. In order to improve my score I simply need to drink and review more beer!
Overall my final score was a 74, I would have liked a higher score but it will at least allow me to achieve the "Certified" rank after I have some judging points.