Online Beer Exam Study Guide

Passing the Exam

To pass the BJCP Beer Judging Entrance Exam, 116 of the total questions (64%) must be answered correctly. The scores on the entrance exam are only based on the number of correct answers; there is no penalty for incorrect or missing answers. The exam is also open-book, which means that those taking the exam can access the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines and other materials during the exam.

Many examinees will find it challenging to answer all 180 questions, but the format has proven to be a valuable tool for probing gaps in the examinee’s knowledge of beer styles, beer characteristics and aspects of the ingredients and the brewing process that are relevant to judging beer. If passing the entrance exam proves to be a challenge, the prospective judge may not be sufficiently prepared to provide score sheets that encompass the five components that are evaluated on the BJCP Beer Judging Exam: perception skills, scoring accuracy, descriptive terminology, accurate and constructive feedback, and completeness. 

Study Materials for the BJCP Beer Entrance Exam

The primary study materials are listed on the first page of the Report to Participant Form that judges receive after taking the BJCP Beer Judging Exam. The ones listed in the first group below include a useful one page summary of common beer faults and introductory books on homebrewing:

We also recommend reading Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, which is somewhat outdated but is a good reference for the terminology that is used to describe the many historical beer styles. Prospective judges with more brewing experience or technical backgrounds can — and should — supplement their study with the following references:

  • Designing Great Beers, by Ray Daniels
  • New Brewing Lager Beer, by Greg Noonan
  • Principles of Brewing Science, by George Fix
  • Brewing Better Beer: Master Lessons for Advanced Homebrewers, by Gordon Strong

The material in these references encompasses every question on the BJCP Beer Entrance Exam, and studying them should enable anyone to achieve a passing score as long as they retain a reasonable amount of the information. Another key element for successful study is to taste and ideally judge beers (using the BJCP Beer Scoresheet) to better understand how the written descriptions in the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines manifest themselves in the actual flavor and aroma of the beer.

Beer Judge Entrance Exam Question Components

BJCP Program and Ethics

Twenty questions on each online exam are randomly selected from the 124 True/False questions and accompanying answers that are listed in the BJCP Study Guide. Given that these questions pertain to the program that aspiring judges want to join, there is little excuse for missing any of these questions. The examinee should also be able to answer these questions fairly quickly, which leaves more time to answer the questions on beer styles and the impact of the brewing process on beer characteristics.

Question Types and Categories

The remaining 160 questions on each exam focus on beer styles (57.5%), beer characteristics (22.5%), and processes and ingredients (20%). The content of these questions is based on the questions that appeared on the essay portion of the legacy BJCP exam and now form the base for the BJCP Written Proficiency Exam. The breakdown of the question types is:

  • True/False (TF): 92
  • Multiple Choice (MC): 54
  • Multiple Answer (MA): 24

The table below presents a more detailed breakdown of the question types and categories that are used to select the questions that appear on each randomly-generated online exam.

  Subcategory TF MC MA
BJCP BJCP Program and Ethics 20    
 Beer Styles Belgian and Sour Ales 4 4  
  Brown and Dark Ales 8 4  
  English and American Ales 4 4  
  Lagers 8 4  
  Wheat Beers 4    
  IPAs and Strong Ales 4    
  Pale Ale Comparison 6    
  Dark Ale Comparison 6    
  Lager Comparison 6    
  Mixed Style Comparison 6 8 12
Technical Beer Characteristics 24 12  
  Process and Ingredients 12 8 12

It’s helpful to analyze these question counts to indicate what level of preparation is needed to pass the exam. If all of the BJCP Program questions are answered correctly, then completely random guesses on the TF (50% probability) and MC (20% probability with five possible answers) will yield an overall score of (20+46+11)/180 = 43%. While we do occasionally see scores at this level or lower, random guessing is not a viable strategy for passing an open-book exam. However, it does illustrate that random guessing can propel an examinee to 2/3 of the score required for passing.

With a reasonable amount of study, prospective judges should be able to narrow down the answers to most of the MC questions to two possibilities (50% probability if guessing) and improve the success rate on the TF questions to 75%. These adjustments correspond to an overall score of just over 64%, which is exactly what is needed to pass the entrance exam. Also remember that the entrance exam is open-book, which means that the BJCP Style Guidelines and the BJCP Study Guide can be accessed during the exam to narrow down the number of possible answers. However, attempting to take the entrance exam without a reasonable amount of preparation will force the examinees to spend too much time thumbing through the references to find the correct answers. This approach will likely not provide them with enough time to attempt to answer all 180 questions on the exam.

Each exam also includes Multiple-Choice-Multiple-Answer questions, which all begin with the phrase “Check all that apply.” There are only 24 questions of this type on each online exam, so it is quite easy to pass without even reading or answering them (which is one possible strategy). But many prospective judges enjoy the challenge of trying to answer questions which require more thought, and we include them on the entrance exam because one purpose of an exam is to test what is not known or understood. Closing these gaps will help prospective judges be better prepared for the BJCP Beer Judging Exam. In terms of exam-taking strategy, the wording to the correct answer to the MA questions relating to beer styles is closely matched to the BJCP Style Guidelines, and the incorrect answers include one or more characteristics which are regarded as stylistic flaws.

Questions on Beer Styles

The questions on beer styles are based on the first 26 styles in the 2015 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines, so the Historical, Smoked, and other beers in styles 27-34 do not need to be part of the study materials. The exam questions also focus on the styles that are more common in homebrew competitions as well as those that frequently served during the BJCP Beer Judging Exam. Three examples of the questions on beer styles are given below and should be straight-forward to answer for those who have some familiarity with the descriptions presented in the BJCP Beer Style Guidelines.

  • (TF) Light malt sweetness is part of the flavor profile of a Belgian Blond Ale
  • (TF) Diacetyl in a British Brown Ale is acceptable due to the yeast strain
  • (TF) Decoction mash is the preferred brewing method for Dunkles Bock

The MC questions on beer styles, like the one given below, usually have one answer that is fairly obvious given the information in the BJCP Style Guidelines. The phrase “most appropriate” is also a key piece of information for this particular question.

  • (MC) The hops most appropriate for Strong Bitter are: (a) Kent Goldings and Fuggles, (b) Styrian Goldings and Saaz, (c) Cascade, (d) Hallertauer and Tettnanger, or (e) Any low alpha acid varieties

Questions on Beer Characteristics

Most of these questions should be quickly answered by prospective judges who have a basic knowledge of the origin and control of the flavor descriptors that are listed on the left side of the BJCP Beer Scoresheet. It’s also helpful to know which styles are permitted to exhibit some of the common flavor characteristics such as diacetyl, DMS, and astringency. Examples of TF and MC questions are given below to illustrate that one does NOT need to be a microbiologist to correctly answer the technical questions on the Entrance Exam.

  • (TF) Beer that is light in body is thick and chewy
  • (TF) Smoky is a flavor or aroma associated with phenols
  • (TF) All IPA styles should have a harsh, hop-derived astringency
  • (MC) A beer with a notable green apple aroma most likely has which flaw? (a) DMS, (b) Phenolics, (c) Acetaldehyde, (d) Tannins, or (e) Fusel alcohols

Questions on Ingredients and the Brewing Process

As with the questions on Beer Characteristics, the information needed to answer these questions can be found in the BJCP Study Guide or the references listed above. These questions are directed at aspects of the brewing process that impact beer characteristics, and knowing this linkage is sometimes useful when providing feedback to the brewer when judging. A few examples of TF and MC questions are provided below:

  • (TF) All-grain brewers can decrease the body of their beer by increasing the mash saccharification temperature
  • (TF) Weissbier yeast are typically lager strains
  • (TF) Chloramines used to inhibit bacterial growth can produce off-flavors if not removed
  • (MC) The typical duration of lagering is: (a) Two to six weeks, (b) Two to six hours, (c) Two to six days, (d) Two to six months, or (e) Two to six years