After you take the BJCP Exam you will receive an RTP and it’s actually pretty simple to decipher. At one time you would received a long essay focused on where you may need to improve, but over time that has been replaced with a grid system. The first thing you should do is realize that every shading corresponds to a score. If your shading is National that would mean your score on that question is from 80 to 87, if the score was higher than 87 but less than 90 the shading would encompass both Master and National. For improvement purposes assume the shading was the lowest possible outcome so a shading of National indicates an 80 and you can improve by another 20 points. So Certified shading would indicate a 70, Recognized a 60, and Apprentice is a failure. If Apprentice and Recognized are shaded then your score was 67-69, otherwise assume you blew it completely.
If it is a Taste exam there are five areas for each beer which are evenly scored at 20% each. If your result shaded Apprentice for scoring, you were far away from the proctors consensus score, if it was Master then you were right there where they were. Looking at your taste exam and the RTP side by side you can generally figure out where you were deficient.
The Written exam is a different bird. There are five questions which are worth 20% of the total score on the exam. Then each section is worth a percentage of the total question. For instance on the recipe question describing the Aroma/Appearance/Flavor/Mouthfeel of the recipe beer and how it meets style is worth 35% of the overall score or seven points if the total score is 100. So if you are shaded Apprentice on that area and answered that portion assume you lost at least half the points or 3.5 points. It you didn’t answer it at all or overlooked it your score should be assumed as zero for that so seven points were lost. If you are gunning for Master a flub like this will immediately take you to a 93 if everything else demonstrated your mastery of the subject matter, but in reality it would be rare for every response on the exam to be awesome, most of us screw the pooch here and there and even great responses can become mediocre with a flub.
So let’s look at a question where you are presented with a Sweet Stout, a Robust Porter, and a Foreign Extra Stout. You are asked to discuss an aspect of the ingredients worth 25% (5 points). You say “roasted barley” without any additional information. Since that response is weak for Sweet Stout and Foreign Extra Stout and just plain wrong for Robust Porter a lenient grader might allow that to pass at a Recognized level or a 60, so you would lose two points just for that poor response. Now let’s say on another style question you leave that response out altogether you now lose five points. So on just those parts of two questions you have already taken yourself down to a 93 due to a poor answer and skipping an answer.
If you are having trouble figuring out where you need to improve on your own try contacting the lead grader for your exam. If you know graders you might ask them to review your responses for improvement. You may be the most knowledgeable person or best judge on the planet, but if you can not demonstrate that ability on the written and taste exam you will not achieve the best score and rank possible.