Hot off the Press: The 2016 CSS Workbook has Arrived!


Here’s a riddle: What has 105 pages, 1,070 activities, and over 150 “practice” multiple choice quiz questions, all dealing with spirits,  vermouth, cocktails, and bar culture?

What newly-published resource will help you engage with, retain, and understand the material in the CSS Study Guide and help you to make sense of all sorts of “facts and figures” about adult beverages?

Here’s another hint…

What has been professionally designed to help you structure your studies, and ensure that you receive the best training possible in order to help you pass the CSS Exam?

Answer:  Our CSS Workbook—in print for the first time ever, and available NOW on the SWE Website!  This 105-page workbook has a variety of exercises, including multiple choice questions, word matching, fill-in-the-blank, short answer, and true/false questions. It also contains map exercises and blank maps of the tequila-, Scotch whisky-, armagnac-, and cognac-producing regions.

All of these resources have been designed to help you to learn and comprehend the rather large amount of material to be found in the CSS Study Guide.  While it may sound like a lot of work, we’ve also made it enjoyable—after all, what’s more fun than learning about spirits and cocktails?

The CSS 2016 Workbook is now available for purchase on the SWE website. Click here to access the SWE Website Catalog and Store.


Added note: Our next CSS Online Prep Class is scheduled to begin the week of July 12th. This will be the first class to utilize the 2016 CSS Study Guide and workbook, and we still have a few places available. Click here for more information on the CSS Online Prep Class.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the CSS Workbook, please contact our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, at

Click here to return to the SWE Website.


The New CSS is Here! The New CSS is Here!


The 2016 version of the CSS Study Guide has been received in the SWE home office and as of  April 11, 2016 is now being shipped! Any new purchase of the CSS Exam will be accompanied by the 2016 Study Guide, and candidates will receive an exam authorization code for the 2016 exam – which is now available at Pearson Vue testing centers.

A CSS Workbook to accompany the 2016 version of the CSS Study Guide is in the final phases of publication and should be available by June 1st.

If you have already purchased the CSS Exam and received the 2015 Study Guide, your authorization code is for the 2015 exam. In other words, when you purchase the exam, you receive an authorization code based on the version of the Study Guide you received. CSS exams based on the 2015 version of the Study Guide will be available at Pearson Vue Centers until June 1 of 2017.

Paper and Pencil (Scantron) versions of the CSS exam are offered in some cases for large groups, at the discretion of the SWE General Manager. From April 1 to August 1, 2016 paper-and-pencil CSS exams will be transitional, that is, based on material that is covered equally in both the 2015 and 2016 books – either version of the Study Guide may be used for preparation. After August 2, 2016, paper-and-pencil versions of the exam will be based on the 2016 book only.

CSS Exams: CSS Exams are available, by appointment, at Pearson Vue Testing Centers. For more information on scheduling and taking your exam at a Pearson Vue Center, please click here.

eBook:  The 2016 edition of the CSS Study Guide will be available soon – a release date is forthcoming. The 2015 version is now available as an ebook on, and iTunes – however, before you purchase the ebook, please make sure you intended to buy the 2015 version.

Online Prep Course: SWE now offers an online CSS Prep Course, led by our Director of Education. Our next CSS Prep Course will begin in July of 2016. This course will use the 2016 version of the CSS Study Guide as well as the 2016 CSS Workbook. This course aims to get attendees “as prepared as humanly possible” for a successful sitting of the CSS Exam. Online prep courses are available, free-of-charge, to Professional members of SWE who have a valid CSS Exam attendance credit. Click on the above link for start dates and further information.

Addendum: Click here for an Addendum for the 2016 CSS Study Guide. This document details the updates and differences between the 2015 and the 2016 CSS Study Guide.

For more information on the CSS, please contact Jane Nickles at .


Congratulations to our First Class of Certified Spirits Educators!

During our 2015 conference in New Orleans, the Society of Wine Educators administered the first ever Certified Spirits Educator exam to a group of leading industry professionals.  Six candidates successfully demonstrated superior theoretical knowledge through multiple choice and essay questions, tasting acumen through accurate blind identifications and rationales, presentation skills to a targeted audience, and proof of responsible beverage service.  For more information on the rigors of this exam click here.

Please, meet and congratulate the first group of official Certified Spirits Educators!



Hoke Harden, CSW, CSE, B.N.I.C. Certified Cognac Educator, and French Wine ScholarAn enthusiastic lover of wine and spirits, Mr. Harden left a career in academia to follow his other muse for the last 27 years, trekking around the world to the great producing regions. Recently referred to as a veritable walking omnibus of wine and spirits knowledge, he has experienced every possible facet of the world of wine and spirits as a retailer, restaurateur, bartender, buyer, wholesaler, supplier, marketer, critic, writer, competition judge and an educator. He is currently with Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, a member of the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Instructor at Mt. Hood Community College, and a Master Instructor with the French Wine Academy.

Hoke on the CSE Exam: The new Certified Spirits Educator program is a highly complex self-study program offered to professional spirits educators and industry professionals; the equivalent to the Society’s highly acclaimed Certified Wine Educator. Other programs dabble in spirits or include ancillary courses in the basics; the CSE focuses singularly on the world of spirits.

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

daubenmire, experts photos shoot, 2014

Linda Pettine, CWE, CSELinda Pettine is an Associate Professor for the College of Culinary Arts, Providence Campus, Johnson & Wales University. She has been at Johnson & Wales University since 2000, where she teaches in the Beverage & Dining Service Department. She was recognized for her teaching skills with the Beverage & Dining Services Department Service Award in 2001 and Teacher of the Year in 2007.  With over 20 years of industry experience, Ms. Pettine operated and managed fine dining restaurants in the south suburbs of Boston before joining the faculty at Johnson & Wales. Prior to that, she was a sales associate at Branded Liquors in Westwood, Mass. Linda is an active member of the Society of Wine Educators, Women Chef’s & Restaurateurs, and the USBG. She is a Certified Wine Educator, Certified Specialist of Spirits, and a Certified Hospitality Educator. Pettine recently became a Certified Cognac Educator and is certified through the Ėcole du Vin as an international Bordeaux educator. She holds degrees from Massachusetts Bay Community College, North Adams State College, and Johnson & Wales University.

Linda on the CSE Exam: I am fortunate in my like that I have had the opportunity to pursue my passions, “wine and spirits”.  The time and effort studying for the CSE exam was rigorous and demanding utilizing a variety of study techniques and tasting formats.  However, when you are passionate about the subject, it seems less like work and more like a journey.  I am thrilled to have arrived at my destination!



Lisa Graziano CSW, CSELisa Graziano grew up with a German father and Irish-American mother in Los Angeles, California. An education in beer, wine and spirits came with this upbringing. She has pursued the study of wine and spirits seriously for the past eight years, earning both Certified Specialist of Wine and Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators, and currently works as a retail hand seller for Gallo Fine Wines and consults for Bottle Shop 33 in Denver. Her current passion is craft spirits and educating people about them – and she’s obviously great at it!

Lisa on the CSE Exam: The CSE exam was certainly challenging!  I ate, slept, studied and tasted spirits intensely for three months to prepare.  The SWE online Spirits Academy was a helpful tool in preparing for the exam as was the list of iconic spirits and suggested reading list. 



Harriet Lembeck, CWE, CSEHarriet Lembeck is a prominent wine and spirits educator and writer. She is President of the Wine & Spirits Program, headquartered in New York City, and was the Director of The New School Wine Classes for their 18-year duration. She has revised and updated the textbook “Grossman’s Guide to Wines, Beers, and Spirits”, is a favorite speaker on wine and spirits at SWE Conferences, and is a contributing editor to Beverage Dynamics Magazine.

Harriet on the CSE exam: I think that the Certified Spirits Credential is very important for those who teach spirits as well as wine, and for those who already have the Certified Wine Educator credential, it completes the picture. The test was very comprehensive. Multiple choice questions (not as easy as one might think), writing an essay, and then completing two differently-styled tastings made for a long day, but each element was necessary for a candidate to illustrate familiarity with the subject of spirits.



Ira Norof, CWE, CSEIn 1976 Ira’s wine & spirits career began in a retail wine shop.   As his knowledge and passion for the product grew, he eventually became a Sommelier in a Beverly Hills Restaurant.   In 1983, he was hired by Southern Wine & Spirits of California, and in 1996 he was named the Director of Education.  His illustrious career has taken him to visit most of the major wine regions in Europe and the Americas.  He attained the CWE (Certified Wine Educator credential) in 1999.  He holds a diploma from the Bordeaux Wine School and is a certified International Bordeaux Educator, as well as a certified Cognac Educator as ordained by le Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac. He is a guest lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona’s School of Hospitality each semester. Ira served as the President of the Society of Wine Educators from 2010 – 2013 and has been on the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIWF and was a member of the Bon Appetit Tasting Panel.  Ira remains actively involved in many wine-related charity events throughout the country.

Ira on the CSE exam: I am privileged to have been part of the first CSE exam and will continue to mentor within our California organization on both wine and spirits education. We have over 200 CSW and/or CSS certified employees in the state as well as 4 CWEs. I look forward to help increase those numbers in the coming months.



Jane A. Nickles, CWE, CSE, MBA – “Miss Jane” is the Director of Education for the Society of Wine Educators and in charge of all educational materials such as study guides, workbooks and online courses as well as exams and certification instruments.  In the past two years, she has introduced SWEbinars, ebooks, online prep classes, our blog, and computer-based testing to SWE.  Before working for SWE, she  created and taught wine classes for 20 years at Le Cordon Bleu Colleges, was the 2012 Banfi award winner for best score on the CWE exam, won the 2008 WOSA wine essay award (the prize for which was a 2-week tour of the winelands of South Africa), and has published countless textbooks and journals, including the latest editions of the SWE Study Guides.

Miss Jane on the CSE exam: Over the past few years, the CSS program has grown rapidly, and we have received an increasing number of requests for more in-depth programs and a higher level certification in spirits. One could even say the CSE was created due to popular demand!

Congratulations to our new CSEs! Now…who will be next?

Announcing the CWE Candidate Manual!

CWE ManualSWE is happy to announce the publication of our latest text on the subject of wine and spirits education, The 2016 CWE Manual for Candidates

The 124-page book is unlike anything we have published before and is intended as a guide to help candidates successfully prepare for the Certified Wine Educator (CWE) Exam. The book contains seven chapters as well as several appendixes.  The main topics of the chapters are as follows:

Chapter 1 – Introduction to the CWE Exam: An overview of the various components of the exam, the objectives of the exam, and what to expect on test day.

Chapter 2 – The Multiple-Choice Exam:  Study tips, suggested study focus, test day advice, and an 85-question multiple-choice practice exam.

Chapter 3 – The Essay Exam: Advice on how to study and practice for timed essay questions using the “five-step” method of essay construction, exercises for creating the various parts of an essay outline, multiple “practice” essay questions, advice on writing well, and test day tips. Sample essay outlines and sample (successful) essays.

Chapter 4 – The Varietal/Appellation Identification Exam: Advice on semi-blind tasting, 24 iconic wines (presented in four suggested practice flights of 6 wines each) detailed for typical profile with tasting sheets for you to fill in your own observations, a list of suggested wines for study, benchmarks for wine styles, and test day advice.

Chapter 5 – The Logical Tasting Rationale: Detailed information on how to complete a wine tasting note using SWE’s Logical Tasting Rationale, sensory and technical definitions of all of the terms used on the tasting note, sample tasting notes, and test day advice.

CWE FaultsChapter 6 – The Faults and Imbalances Identification Exam: Background information on the faults and imbalances, instructions on how to use the SWE faults kit (or make your own), a sample tasting exercise, sensory benchmarks for each fault, and test day advice.

Chapter 7 – The Presentation Skills Demonstration: Information on learning objectives, a template for creating presentation outlines/abstracts, a sample presentation outline, and advice on oration, organization, the use of supporting materials, and audience engagement.

The CWE Manual for Candidates is available for purchase now on the SWE Website. The cost is $50 for members/$100 for non-members. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Jane Nickles, our Director of Education and Certification.

Good luck with your studies!

The 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide is Here!

CelebrateToday is a great day at the DC offices of SWE! After more than a year’s worth of work, we have received the 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide and have already started sending them out.

If you have recently purchased a CSS Study Guide or exam and have been waiting for your book to arrive – keep a close eye out in the next few days because it is on its way!

The 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide has 205 pages and over 100 full-color photographs, maps, charts, and diagrams. New chapters include “Vermouth, Amari, and Bitters,” “The Sensory Evaluation of Spirits,” and “The Impact of Alcohol on Health.”

CSS Exams: CSS Exams based on the 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide will be available at Pearson Vue Testing Centers as of January 5, 2015. If you are studying from the previous (2012) edition of the Study Guide, have no fear – you have been assigned a Pearson Vue Test Authorization Code based on the edition of the Study Guide you were issued; and may take a Pearson Vue test based on the “old” version through the end of 2015. Paper-and-pencil versions of the CSS Exam will be based on the 2012 Study Guide CSS Study Guideuntil May 1 of 2015. As of May 2, 2015 all paper-and-pencil CSS Exams will be based solely on the 2015 Study Guide.

eBook:  The 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide is now available as an ebook on – and will be available on iTunes soon.

Workbook:  A workbook to accompany the 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide will be available later this year.

Online Prep Course: SWE will offer its first online CSS Prep Course, led by our Director of Education, beginning in February of 2015. The course will feature the 2015 edition of the CSS Study Guide and aims to get attendees “as prepared as humanly possible” for a successful sitting of the CSS Exam. Online prep courses are available, free-of-charge, to Professional members of SWE who have a valid CSS Exam attendance credit.

For more information, or to sign up for the CSS Online Prep Class, please contact Jane Nickles at .



Bitters and Bittered

bittersCocktail bitters reside in a class by themselves. Essentially, cocktail bitters are aromatics and flavoring extracts that have been macerated in neutral spirits. Cocktail bitters are so intensely concentrated as not to be considered potable on their own—or, as the official phrasing has it, “Not for singular consumption.”


Most cocktail bitters are botanicals in a neutral spirit base, although, while uncommon, it is possible to produce bitters with a glycerin base. In the United States, cocktail bitters are considered “food extracts” and are therefore regulated by the Food and Drug Administration rather than by the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB) or other alcohol-regulating agencies. Thus, they have wider distribution than wines and spirits, including in most food and grocery stores.


Cocktail bitters began, much like many other spirit groups, as medicinal and restorative tonics created by infusing botanicals in alcohol in order to extract their (presumed or actual) health benefits. One of the most prevalent forms of bittering agents used was Peruvian cinchona bark, also called quinine, which became popular as part of the potions used to treat malaria and tropical fevers. Other common bittering botanicals were used as well, and many are still in use today, such as caffeine, hops, gentian, and burdock root, as well as many other forms of herbs, roots, leaves, barks, and spices.


Flowering Gentian

Flowering Gentian

Some of these medicinal elixirs were favored as refreshing beverages, while others remained in highly concentrated form as tonics. In many cases, the tonics came to be used to flavor other beverages, as in the gin and tonic, pink gins, and other such drinks, where a dash of bittering agents was called for to liven the drink. Bitters were so much a part of beverage culture that the earliest definition of a cocktail included a bittering agent. To be exact, the definition, formulated in 1806, listed “spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitter.”


Outside of FDA regulations regarding use of certain approved foodstuffs, there is no limit or regulation on what may constitute a recipe for cocktail bitters; thus, much is left up to the discretion and whim of the creator. Cocktail bitters have found a new popularity, and there are many unique, creative products on the market today. Two of the most “classic” brands are Angostura Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters: 


Angostura Bitters: The most well-known of the cocktail bitters began with the House of Angostura. Angostura Bitters were created as a medical concoction in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, a doctor in Simón Bolivar’s Venezuelan army. It was named after the town of Angostura (later, Ciudad Bolivar), although, oddly enough, the recipe did not contain the local angostura bark as an ingredient, even though other bitters did. The House of Angostura later relocated to Port of Spain

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003" by Gryffindor

Photo of “Angostura bitters 003″ by Gryffindor

in Trinidad, where it resides today. The company also owns and operates rum distilleries on the island, both for the Angostura brand and by general contract for several others. Readily recognizable with its bright yellow cap and oversize paper label, Angostura is easily the world’s dominant brand of bitters.


Peychaud’s Bitters: Peychaud’s Bitters were invented by the Haitian Creole Antoine Amédée

Peychaud in his apothecary shop in New Orleans, circa 1830. The concoction was originally designed to go in his powerful spirit libations said to be served in dainty eggcups known by the French term coquetiers (a possible explanation for the origin of our term “cocktail”). This is a savory, exotic style of bitters with highly lifted aromatics. Peychaud’s Bitters are an integral part of the original recipe for the Sazerac cocktail.


As a pleasant side effect of the current cocktail renaissance, the bitters market is exploding with

artisan and local versions of cocktail bitters, with more entering the market each day. Fee Brothers, Regan’s #6 Orange Bitters, Bittermen’s, the Bitter Truth, Bittercube, Basement Bitters, and Bar Keep Bitters are among the many artisan-produced bitters available today. A plethora of flavors are also being produced; one can find bitters based on fennel, lavender, grapefruit, rhubarb, dandelion, molé, pineapple, apple, curry, and Jamaican jerk seasoning.


The creativity for bitters, it seems, knows no bounds.

Cocktail bitters, bittered spirits, vermouth, quinquinas, and Americanos are all topics that receive new and expanded coverage in our 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits Study Guide…due out by January!

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

The Bartender’s Handshake

Fig 10-7 different brands of fernetThe beverage world abounds with spirit amari (bittered spirits), which may be classified as aperitifs, which are generally served in diluted forms as cocktails to stimulate the appetite, or as digestifs, which are often served in more concentrated forms to enhance digestion after a meal.

These amari contain botanicals with carminative properties intended to lessen gastric discomfort after rich meals. Just ask a bartender, a wine student, or a serious foodie you will hear them tell you its true: they work! Botanicals known for their carminative properties include angelica, aniseed, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, ginger, hops, nutmeg, parsley, and sage.

One of the most popular Spirit amari is Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca was invented in Milan in 1845 by Bernardino Branca. It soon became famous worldwide and led to the founding of the Fratelli Branca Distillery.

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Archives of the Boston Public Library

Fernet has recently become quite popular in the United States as both a beverage and a hangover cure, but its popularity long precedes the craft cocktail scene. So popular is it among industry professionals that a shot of Fernet Branca has been called the “bartender’s handshake.”

In Prohibition-era San Francisco, fernet was legally consumed on the grounds of being “medicinal.” San Franciscans still drink it—over 30% of the fernet consumed throughout the entire United States is consumed in San Francisco.

Argentina consumes more fernet than any other nation. The beverage’s popularity is reflected in the fact that a leading  Cuarteto (an upbeat, popular dance-hall music genre) song is “Fernet con Cola.” 

The secret recipe for Fernet Branca is reportedly known by only one person, Niccolò Branca, the current president of the Fratelli Branca Distillery. It is said that Niccolò personally measures out the flavorings for each production run.

Fernet ValleyThe Branca brand, while definitely one of the better-known, is not the only producer of fernet. Fernet is actually a type of herbal-based bitter that is made by other producers, as well. Many Italian companies, including Luxardo, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi, produce fernet. Fernet is produced internationally, as well, such as in Mexico, where the popular Fernet-Vallet is made.

Each brand of fernet has its own secret combination of herbs and botanicals. However, a good fernet is likely to include myrrh and saffron, both known for their “disgestivo” and antioxidant properties. Other ingredients rumored to be included are linden, galangal, peppermint oil, sage, bay leaves, gentian root, St. John’s wort, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and bitter orange.

Fernet Branca, as well as other versions of Italian spirit armai, French spirit amer, and various types of vermouth, quinquina, and americano that will be covered in the new 2015 edition of the Certified Specialist of Spirits study guide…to be released in January, 2015!

Post authored by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE – your SWE Blog Administrator:

Click here to return to the SWE Homepage.

August SWEbinars: The Insider’s Guide to the CSW Exam!

Insiders guide for blogAs part of our ongoing series of CSW-prep SWEbinars, we are offering a very special session in August titled “The Insider’s Guide to the CSW.” If you are currently pursuing the CSW Certification, or considering the CSW as your next stage of professional development, this session is for you!

This online workshop will cover all aspects of the CSW, including what the test covers, how difficult the test is, what type of questions to expect, the resources available to students, and how long SWE recommends for study before sitting the exam. This session is led by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE (SWE’s Director of Education). You will have a chance to ask any and all questions about the CSW – she’ll answer just about any questions save for “what are the answers?”

distillation blogOur series of CSS-related “Spirited SWEbinars also continues August! This month we are pleased to offer a session on Spirit Production, based on chapter 1 in the CSS Study Guide and beyond.

This session, led by Gary Spadafore, CSS, CWE, is sure to be fascinating for CSS students and fans of spirits alike! Join us to learn about distiller’s beer, feints, washbacks, and reflux – and definitely join us if you are a CSS aspirant who doesn’t know those terms!

SWE’s SWEbinar series is unique in that it is offered free-of-charge, and open to the public! We also try to accomodate all schedules by offering sessions on weekdays and weekends, as well as daytime and evening hours. If you have a topic you would like to see addressed, or a time-of-day that would work for you, please let our Director of Education, Jane A. Nickles, know via email at

SWE...we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

SWE…we might just be the most accessible wine education on earth!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. There is no need to register in advance.  Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.

When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but its still a good idea to log on early!

  • If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time (just click on the link).

August 2014:

If you have any questions, please contact Jane Nickles:

Click here for the 2014 SWEbinar Calendar


Italian Wine SWEbinar this Friday!

florenceThis Friday – June 20th, 2104 – at 12 Noon central time – we’re offering a Friday lunch-time SWEbinar all about the grapes and places of Italian Wine! These SWEbinars are free and open to the public!

This session, called “The Italian Grape Game” will be led by our Director of Education, “Miss Jane” Nickles. Jane’s session will be a lively way for you to test your knowledge of Italy’s wines and wine regions. You are advised to read and study chapter 10 of the CSW Study Guide in advance – this is glass-to-glass competition!

And don’t forget to ask about “Vice President Lenny,” who you’ll be meeting at the session. Vice President Lenny is here to help you learn the Italian wine regions – trust us on this one!

Login instructions and a link to the online classroom are located below. If you any questions about our SWEbinar series, please contact jane at

See you Friday!

Great way to start the weekend!

Great way to start the weekend!

Login Instructions: At the appointed time, just click on the link. (Links will be attached to the date and time announcement of each session in the list below and will go “live” a few days before the scheduled date.) When the SWE Adobe Connect homepage appears, click on “enter as a guest,” type in your name, and click “enter room.” Remember that each session is limited to 100 attendees, and that several of our past sessions have reached capacity. We are hoping to avoid this issue in the future by offering more SWEbinars, but it is still a good idea to log on early!

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect event before, it is also a good idea to test your connection ahead of time.

To join the session, just click on the link: Friday, June 18– 12 Noon Central Time – The Italian Grape Game, based on Chapter 10 in the CSW Study Guide, hosted by Jane A. Nickles, CSS, CWE

Click here to see the SWEbinar schedule for the rest of 2014!


Guest Post: Pearson VUE Testing – A Candidate’s View!

Today we have a guest post by a recent CSW candidate who has generously agreed to share her Pearson VUE testing experience with us! Hopefully this will give all you CSW and CSS aspirants out there a realistic, personal insight into what you can expect from a Pearson VUE test.  In a nutshell:  it’s great!

computer keyboardOur intrepid reporter goes by the code name “Candi” Candidate, CSW. (Spoiler alert:  she passed!) Read on to hear Candi’s experience, and her useful tips as well:

I began studying for the CSW exam in January, 2014. By early May, I decided that late May would be my target time for the test. Conveniently, the remote testing option at Pearson VUE became available, so I scheduled my test on the first day that the scheduling was “live.” Without my Pearson VUE option, the nearest test site would have been about 50 miles away, with unpredictable traffic. Pearson VUE, with choice of location, date, and time, was a much better alternative.

My test site was 10 miles from my home. I was able to schedule my first choice of date and location with about 2 weeks’ notice.

As suggested, I arrived 30 minutes before the scheduled test time. Upon arrival, I learned that I was the first CSW candidate at this test site. I was the alpha! Once the identification and security process was complete, I was able to begin testing early.

Testing was done in a room with about 12 small cubicles. I chose to use the provided noise-canceling headset. Dead silence. I received instructions on the testing software via a short tutorial program. The tutorial will review your options for proceeding with the test. The software was straightforward; if you’ve taken online tests or even Internet quizzes before, you can easily do it.

Everyone has their own test-taking strategy. I chose to take my time, answer every question, and then review all of my answers. Answering all of the questions took 40-45 minutes, reviewing took about 10 minutes, and I submitted my answers with about 5 minutes to spare. Done! Deep breath!

Computer Testing CenterAfter leaving the testing room, I went back to the area where I initially checked in. There, I was given a 2-page printout of the results. Immediate feedback! My eyes focused on two words in the middle of the page: GRADE: PASS.

Another deep breath! A big smile to the friendly guy who checked me in and out!

Would I use the Pearson VUE testing option again? Absolutely. Convenient location and scheduling. Professional staff. Simple testing software. And did I mention immediate feedback?

Based on my experience, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Verify driving directions. I received directions with my scheduling confirmation, but they were not as specific as typical online driving directions. Since you may be driving under (ahem) some stress, why not get more information before test day?
  2. Expect tight security. The Pearson VUE experience included detailed identity verification, a candidate photograph, multiple palm prints, demonstrating that my pockets were empty, and video/audio monitoring in the testing room. While this may seem like overkill, Pearson VUE provides a wide range of testing for many organizations. It appears that all candidates are subjected to the same, rigorous procedure. Personally, the worst part was being photographed. I did not see the photograph. I did not want to see the photograph. I am sure it was just as charming as the one that appears on my driver’s license.
  3. Follow Pearson VUE instructions. Your confirmation will tell you what is needed and what is not allowed. After my identity was confirmed, I was required to secure all items in a provided locker. I was allowed one form of ID in the testing room.   Nothing, and I mean nothing, else was allowed.
  4. champagne toastUse the tutorial. While the software seemed simple to me, why not take advantage of everything available to help you along the way?
  5. Develop a plan. You will have 100 questions to answer within 60 minutes. The tutorial will show you your options for proceeding. What worked for me might not be your best strategy. Just as everyone learns differently, everyone tests differently.
  6. Consider using the SWE’s Online Academy. I found that this resource was effective preparation for online testing in a timed situation. Practice helped.

Now, time to celebrate with a special glass of vin/vinho/vino/wein/wine. Cheers!

Click here for more information on CSS and CSW Exams at Pearson.