Music Exams

Time once more for ABRSM exams. Lots of students worry about these - only natural, I did when I was taking them.

But here are a few things you should remember. Let’s imagine a grade 3 exam - there are a total of 150 points, but you only need a hundred of them to pass. That’s fairly generous. Here’s how it breaks down.

Scales: 21
Piece One: 30
Piece Two: 30
Piece Three: 30
Aural: 18
Sight Reading: 21.

Imagine now that you’ve just done this exam and it didn’t seem to go too well. Let’s say scales were ok, but you missed a couple of notes here and there and even played a ‘major’ when then asked for a ‘minor’. You may have got around 14 out of 21.

Now, something similar for the pieces, they went ‘ok’, but not spectacular. Let’s say you got 22 for the first piece, 21 for the second piece and 22 again for the third piece.

Then aural (which you probably hate) - this didn’t seem to go well and you got only 11 out of 18.

Then sight-reading (which you probably hate even more) - this was really hard. You forgot the sharps or flats, missed some of the left hand and only got 14 out of 21.

All things considered, you didn’t feel too good about that performance. But hey - you PASSED! All of those points add up to 104, so you still had 4 points you could have dropped before failing.

There are three or four really important points about these exams that you should remember.

1) The pieces and the scales really are your equivalent of being given the answers before a test. If you don’t go in with them being as fully prepared as possible, you may be throwing away valuable points. In theory, you can get over the pass mark just from the pieces and scales - make them as brilliant as possible.

2) If something doesn’t go well, you have to flush it out of your memory straight away. Forget about it and concentrate on the next thing - as you saw from the example above, you can do pretty badly on something before having to start worrying.

3) The examiner doesn’t want you to fail. Remember, they are musicians. They love music. They want more musicians in the world. They are not sitting there waiting for you to make a mistake they can pounce on. Their job is simply to give an honest reflection of what happened on the day and how you did in each section - nothing more.

4) Don’t be put off by the examiner constantly writing. They will be writing down whatever they see or hear whether it’s good or bad. Ignore it!

If you are taking an exam, good luck with it.