SCA Sensory Skills Exam

Part 1 – Reference: Instructor led, Passing Score 100%.
Part 2 – Blind: 20 Minutes, Passing Score 80% (79 Points).
Part 3 – Mixtures: 40 Minutes, Passing Score 70% (67 Points).

The Sensory Skills Exam sets a baseline standard for taste acuity. Subjects taking the exam must identify three (3) intensities of salt, sour and sweet odorless liquids. This is first done individually and then when combined in mixtures.

In Part 1 of the Sensory Skills Exam, participants are provided three samples (low “I”, medium “II”, high “III”) of each taste modality or group (salt, sour, sweet).  Subject must rank each by intensity. Part I is a reference set for calibration, so each category is provided.  Discussion led by the instructor will reveal answers for part 1.  Be sure that you record these answers correctly on your scoresheet, as part 1 is for credit.

Part 2 recreates Part 2, only blind, which is where the real Sensory Skills Exam begins. The same set of 9 solutions from Part I will again be passed around to each table.  This time, no grouping by category will be provided or discussed. Subjects must identify both the modality and intensity of each cup by writing down its coded number on the appropriate line.  One of each solution from the prior round is provided, so there will be no duplicate answers.

In Part 3, the same base solutions used in Parts 1 and 2 are combined into 8 new mixture samples. Half (4) contain 2 solutions and the remaining 4 contain 3 solutions. Subjects must correctly identify the number of solutions in each mixture and their intensities.

To practice, experiment ahead of your Q Grader course by tasting solutions prepared yourself.  Use small amounts of sugar (sweet), table salt (salt) and citric acid (sour).  Mix each in clean water with about 75-250 mg/L total hardness (SCAA standard). Use as little as possible, decreasing the amount with each try until each taste is no longer perceptible. Use your base solutions to make liquid mixtures when moving on to combinations, just as you will in the test environment.

Some take a mathematical approach and others a more practical view of the test but rest assured that there are ultimately no tricks. In addition to practice, prepare yourself both physically and mentally before taking the exam. Mainly by ensuring that you are:

  • Adequately hydrated. Drink lots of water for the hours and day before the test. Consider that your body may not be accustomed to several straight days of cupping preceding the Sensory Skills Exam.  Air travel and dry environmental conditions will only make matters worse. Avoid alcohol the night before your test.
  • Well-rested. Lack of sleep wil impact your taste acuity and your ability to reason under pressure.  Be sure to get a full night’s rest if before the test.
  • Not hungry. Hunger affects your perception of taste and also your ability to concentrate. Do not go without food before your test. Avoid foods that are excessively sweet or salty on the day of your exam.  These may negatively impact your ability to assess sugar and salt intensities.

Note that these solutions have no aroma.  There is no need to worry about your performance in the event you develop a cold or sinus congestion.

Above all, when taking the Sensory Skills Exam, remain calm and do not second guess your instincts. Those who finish in shorter times tend to score better than those using the full time allotment.  Always stay with your first impression and do not change your answers later.