Beating the Sensory Skills Test
The SCAA Sensory Skills Test is out there. It’s touted as an objective test of your taste acuity, removing olfactory (aroma) to focus on your papillae. The problem is, the test is poorly designed and those who have the acuity often still fail. It was once required to pass this if you wanted to be a World Barista Championship taste judge, and it’s still part of the CQI Q-Grader exams. If you’re going to take this, study this guide first.
Part 1: Three different strength levels of Salt (table salt NaCL), Sweet (table sugar, sucrose), and Sour (citric acid) are presented in groups, for a total of nine solutions. Identify the strengths in order for each group (i.e., Salt 1, 2, & 3)
Part 2: The nine solutions from Part 1 are presented in random order. Identify the type (salt, sweet, sour) and the strength (1, 2, & 3).
Part 3: Eight mixtures of Salt, Sweet, and Sour are presented. Four are 2-part mixtures, four are 3-part mixtures. Identify each component type and the strength in each mixture.
If you can’t pass the test Parts 1 and 2, you’re on your own… you might be a non-taster and may want to consider this in your career choices.
Part 3, depending on how it’s presented to you, is likely a TRICK QUESTION.
The “trick” is that there are eight mixtures, four 2-parters and four 3-parters. That’s all fine. The misconception is that when you combine the tastes, your palate is confused by the mixtures somehow. THIS IS NOT TRUE.
THE PROBLEM :
What most instructors don’t tell you or don’t know themselves (and that the materials don’t explain), is that if you have a 2-part mixture, each component is now HALF the strength it was before. If Salt-1 is 1.0-grams-per-liter, and you dilute it with one part of Sweet 2 solution, the resulting solution is now 0.5-grams-per-liter… because the other half is the Sweet solution.
THEN, for THREE-PART solutions, each component is diluted by 66.6%. The 1.0 g/L Salt-1 is now 0.33 g/L. In other words, a “Salt-2″ will taste WEAKER in a three-part solution, than in a two-part solution.
The written instructions DO tell you to FIRST, separate the solutions into two-part and three-parters, and then analyze the components. This is a good tip. However, if you don’t realize the dilution is happening (which, frankly NOBODY does), then you’re going to find it much more difficult.
THE TIP :
The best advice is DO NOT use the test Parts 1 & 2 as any sort of reference except for calibrating yourself to the relative relation between various tastes and strengths. In other words, Parts 1 & 2 will give you a general idea about how different the strengths are from each other, and about what each component tastes like. Part 3 should be considered a COMPLETELY NEW test.
In other words, if during Part 3, you search for the Salt-2 or Sweet-3 or Sour-1 that you remember from test Parts 1 and 2, you’ve been tricked. They don’t exist anymore. Forget those. Write them a card if you miss them, but let them go.
First, taste each solution and for each, ask yourself, “Do I taste salt? Do I taste sweet? Do I taste sour?” and check each off on your worksheet. Then, separate the two-part solutions from the three-part solutions. You should have four of each. THESE TWO GROUPS SHOULD ALSO BE CONSIDERED SEPARATELY FROM EACH OTHER.
Start with the two-part solutions now. Find the strongest component you can find. It might be a sweet, sour or salt. This is going to be a level-3 strength. Now recalibrate your brain to think of that as the level-3, and extrapolate downwards in your mind, re-imagining the level-2 and level-1 strengths. There will be at least one or two level-3 components of some sort, but there might not be a level-3 for all three components. Don’t over-think it, but proceed through each solution.
Then, erase that experience from your mind, and proceed to the three-part solutions. Same thing: Find the strongest component you can find. It might be a sweet, sour or salt. This is going to be a level-3 strength. Now recalibrate your brain to think of that as the level-3, and extrapolate downwards in your mind, re-imagining the level-2 and level-1 strengths. There will be at least one or two level-3 components of some sort, but there might not be a level-3 for all three components. Don’t over-think it, but proceed through each solution.
This will set you up for the best chances to pass the dreaded Sensory Skills Test. Good luck!