SCA / Q 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 evaluating taste acuity. Students taking the exam must identify three (3) intensities of salt, sour and sweet odorless liquids. Solutions are presented individually in the first two flights, then combined in mixtures for the third.

In part 1 of the Q sensory skills exam, participants are provided three samples (low “I”, medium “II”, high “III”) of each taste modality or group (salt, sour, sweet). Students must rank each by intensity. Part I is a reference set for calibration, so each category is provided. The instructor reveals answers for part 1 immediately after. Be sure to record these answers correctly on your scoresheet — 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 nine solutions from part 1 will again be passed around to each table. This time, no grouping by category will be provided or discussed. Students must identify both the modality and intensity of each cup by writing down its coded number on the appropriate line. Each solution from the prior round is used only once, so there will be no duplicate answers.

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

To practice, experiment ahead of your Q Grader course by tasting your own solutions. 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 (SCA standard). Use as little in each solution 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.

  • Stay 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.
  • Get some rest. Lack of sleep will impact your taste acuity and your ability to reason under pressure. Be sure to get a full night’s rest if before the test.
  • Eat breakfast. Hunger affects your perception of taste and also your ability to concentrate. Do not go without food before your test (normally in the morning). 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.

Remember these solutions have no aroma. There is no need to worry about your performance in the event you develop a cold or sinus congestion — as a courtesy, never cup with others if you are sick.

Take this online Q practice course from Boot Coffee to learn more about the exam and see how it is organized.

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 (really). Don’t rush but always stay with your first impression and do not go back change your answers later.