My Thoughts on the MAI Exam…Paired with Wine

June 13, 2014 by Nancy Tomlinson / Posted in Uncategorized.

I recently had the chance to view the movie Somm, which is a 2013 documentary about the Master Sommelier Exam.  The Master Sommelier designation represents the pinnacle of achievement in the wine industry, and the exam has one of the lowest pass rates in the world.

The Master Sommelier Exam covers three days, and includes sections on theory—basically everything there is to know about wine—then a blind wine tasting, and a section called Service, wherein practical sommelierie is demonstrated.  Despite years of professional training, tasting, and months of hard study, the majority of candidates have to take the exam multiple times before passing all the sections, if they pass at all.

The candidates study, take courses on the exam, run flash cards.  They neglect their significant others and stay up late.  When the day finally comes, they walk out of the exams dazed, disheartened, and completely clueless about how they actually did.  They obsess over their performance with the other examinees; they wait in agony for their results.

Sound familiar?

If you have taken the MAI Comprehensive Exam, it should.

For those who don’t know, the Comprehensive Exam for the Appraisal Institute’s MAI designation is the highest hurdle any appraiser will clear in the designation process.  The exam has four sections:  a General Knowledge section, which includes anything and everything about appraisal practice, and one section each on the valuation approaches – Cost, Sales Comparison and (the dreaded) Income Approach.  Until just recently, the exam was taken over the course of two grueling eight-hour days.  Many take time off work and fly cross-country to attend exam prep classes, and still have to sit the exam multiple times to pass it all.

The fact that the MAI Comp exam and Master Sommelier exam are so similar in character is not surprising when one considers the high standards and unusual nature of our work.  Like a sommelier, an appraiser is a hub of expertise where the spokes of multiple disciplines converge.  Where a sommelier requires knowledge of history, chemistry, geography, botany and cuisine, an appraiser has to be knowledgeable in construction, finance, geography, economic theory, real estate law, market trends and accounting. We need to be able to read a legal description, interpret market studies and decipher engineering plans, all while schmoozing with brokers over the telephone.  These diverse elements are then distilled (fermented?) into a single idea – an opinion of value.

For those who get discouraged on the path to MAI designation, you might take a break from studying one night and watch Somm.  If anything, it shows us that we’re not alone in our quest for professional excellence.  In addition, it reminds us that the years of hard work we invest in this rite of passage makes the achievement of the MAI all the more rewarding.




Anne Pulis-Tappouni is a recently designated MAI.