Any sage advice for somebody taking their first shot at the tasting exam here in a couple weeks?
Things to be absolutely certain of, or areas to focus on? Any tips are appreciated.
Late to the party but:
Perception and scoring accuracy: Not much you can do now. You just have to be right. Being good at identifying common faults is the big thing. The good news is that the proctors are often far enough apart it is hard to take a lot of points off for perception. This is often the best score on exams that score relatively low.
Completeness: Always comment on malt, hops, esters, diacetyl, DMS, alcohol, anything else that is expected in the beer but missing (clove in a hefeweizen). Do this to an exaggerated extent. No white space.
Description: never describe anything simply as malt, hops, or fruity. Bready malt, citrusy hops, peach esters, etc. Always use level descriptors and specific ones (high, low) not weasely ones (some, a decent amount of). Feel free to be a little flowery but that isn't very important.
Feedback: Constructive feedback on every beer. That beer you gave a 45 to? Saw something about improving it. This can be really minor like I feel like this barleywine would be even better with another year but say something. On flawed beers lots of specific feedback. Study the causes of common flaws and give technically correct feedback. I love it as a grader when an examinee shows that they realize a flaw can have multiple causes/solutions. You should probably give some positive feedback on bad beers too. I'm a big believer that sandwiching criticism is counterproductive but most people aren't. Definitely don't be rude. I do chuckle when I grade scoresheets that say they can't discern any malt or hop characters over the overwhelming sourness and then start the feedback by saying they can tell it was a really great beer before the infection.