The Niigata Sake Expert Test has three levels of certificates: the easiest Bronze Expert, the second easiest Silver, and the most difficult Gold Expert. To take the test for a certain level, you must have the certificate of the one-level lower than the target. For example, only holders of the Silver certificates can take the test for the Gold Expert.
In my case, I passed the Bronze in 2008, and Silver in 2009, and I took the test for the Gold this year, but, to my disappointment, I failed in it.
The tests for the Bronze and Silver Experts are paper tests, while the examinees for the Gold Expert are evaluated by their short essays and sake tasting ability. This sake tasting ability test is a so-called 10-item matching sake tasting test. (In this test, you taste 10 sakes in group A, and then taste the same 10 sakes in group B. The arrangement of sake bottles is different between group A and group B. Then, you must match each sake in Group A to the same sake in group B.) For a paper test, all you need to do is to study hard to increase your knowledge, but I think it is difficult to increase sake tasting ability.
Can the taste sensation and olfactory sensation be enhanced? I think these types of ability are inborn and difficult to improve. However, there might be room for improvement in terms of knacks and techniques.
After having thought the above, I am planning to again challenge to the Gold Expert certificate, which I have almost given up before. So, I think I should become more familiar with Niigata sake, and I started the sake tasting training in preparation for the test in March next year.