The Cicerone Certification Program announced today that it will be introducing a level of certification between Certified Cicerone and Master Cicerone. The press release was worded in a rather interesting way of whose nature I am dubious. It reads:
Previously, the only way for a Certified Cicerone to advance in the program was to take the Master Cicerone exam. Many who took the Master exam told us that there should be another way. They wanted something that required clear improvement in knowledge and skill without having to achieve the “ultimate” expertise required to pass the Master exam.
This is truly interesting. I hold the rank of Certified Cicerone (although I suspect that might be rescinded after writing this article) and I am curious about this logic. I do not believe that I’ve ever met another Certified Cicerone who has requested an intermediate level of testing between Certifed and Master. It seems to me like an imposition. You’re still going to have to study the same amount in order to eventually complete the Master Cicerone exam, but you’re going to have to take two tests to do it. It does not necessarily follow that this is desirable.
Let’s run the numbers.
As of this date, the Cicerone Certification Program has awarded 54,386 Certified Beer Server certificates, 1878 Certified Cicerone certificates and 10 Master Cicerone certificates. This is according to the Cicerone directory.
The program is designed to be fairly difficult. There is no point in a certification if just anyone can get one. Indeed part of the prestige of the Master Cicerone certificate, presumably, is that there are only 10 of them. According to the website the Master Cicerone exam is administered “one or two” times a year and it is capped at 24 registrations per exam. Given that the certification has been around for some time and there are only 10 of them, we may take it as read that it is very difficult indeed. That’s a good thing. It keeps the riff raff out.
However, if you’re a Certified Cicerone, you have 1877 equivalents world wide. There’s a lot of prestige in being one of ten people who have done a legitimately difficult thing. If 1878 people can do something, the shine sort of wears off. That’s a lot of Certified Cicerones and you’ve got to imagine that there are more coming because the Certified Beer Servers outnumber them by 52,958. They’re like some manner of Mongol Horde, the Certified Beer Servers, just sweeping down through the beer halls and devouring all the Lambic in sight.
If you’re a Certified Cicerone, you probably want to take the Master Cicerone level exam just to breathe that rarefied air and get away from the beer peasants. Problem is that because the failure rate is so abysmal and because there are so many applicants, you’re put in a lottery against people who have already failed and are allowed to retake the exam. You’re not guaranteed to be able to take the exam at all because of the lottery approach to candidacy and by the time they have the next one there’ll be an intermediate level that’s a prerequisite.
This means that even if all 24 of the next sitting of the Master Cicerone level exam are Certified Cicerones that have not yet taken the Master Cicerone level exam, there are 1854 Certified Cicerones that would be forced to take the Advanced Cicerone exam in order to take a subsequent Master Cicerone exam.
I have to ask you whether that sounds like something that you would request if you were a Certified Cicerone? I’d like to see a show of hands on that one.
Let’s get financial.
Further, the Master Cicerone exam costs $895 to write. You’ve got to go to Chicago to do it and it takes a couple of days. With “one or two” sittings a year that means that you can accommodate a total of 48 exam takers for a total of $42,960 in revenue for the Cicerone Program.
With 1878 Certified Cicerones on the books all clamouring for an additional level of testing before Master Cicerone, the proposed Advanced Cicerone level of certification will come to a town near you! That’ll save you some travel money (actually, it won’t because if you still want the Master Cicerone certification later, you’ll probably still have to go to Chicago).
Let us assume for the purposes of argument that the Advanced Cicerone level of certification will be a more difficult test than the Certified Cicerone test. It will take longer. That almost certainly means that it will be more expensive. The initial test for Certified Cicerone costs $395 to write. Let’s split the difference between that and the Master Cicerone cost and estimate that Advanced Cicerone will cost you $595 to write.
On an individual level, that means that to have a shot at attaining Master Cicerone status you’re going to pay not $895, but $1490.
What this means is that if every one of those 1878 Certified Cicerones want to climb on up the ladder, they’ll have to take that test and pass. That’s $1,117,410 dollars in examination fees that didn’t exist yesterday. That doesn’t include the fees for retaking either the written or tasted portions of the exam should you fail the first time around. That’ll bring in more annual revenue for the Cicerone Program because they’ll be able to invigilate many more exams in many more locations per year. 48 seatings for an exam per year no longer limits their revenue stream.
Remember: that’s just to reclaim the ability to take the Master Cicerone exam eventually. That’s a million dollar obstacle in front of an option you had yesterday for free. I feel like maybe people should demand exemptions.
Now, you may be worried about keeping up with the Joneses, but it seems to me that the prestige of Advanced Cicerone is not much of an improvement. Ask any Cicerone how many times they’ve had to explain what that term means. I’ll let you in on a secret: the ones who succeed are the ones who had enough hustle to do it without a credential they had to explain.
As for me, I think I’m going to hang my hat on Certified Cicerone. After all, they might add more levels, and I don’t really want to end up standing on street corners asking people to hold two Pilsner Schooners so that I can measure their beer related stress.
If you’re one of the Certified Cicerones who demanded an additional level of certification, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.