Preparation for exams

The teacher usually makes the first move in suggesting an exam, and once the pupil has been encouraged to practise hard, and really wants to succeed, the stage is set for the work ahead!

Experienced teachers are familiar with the length of time it takes to prepare for each exam and the care needed to ensure that the most appropriate and appealing selection of pieces is presented. The wide choice available in the syllabuses makes it particularly easy to choose a programme well suited to each candidate and so the time spent in preparation will pass enjoyably and productively.

Once the entry has been made, there is a real sense of purpose in the preparation for the big day. Parents are particularly important at this stage in giving continual support, encouragement and praise for regular effort. 

Teachers often arrange for their pupils to play to each other before exams come around, giving valuable performance experience.

Preparing for exams takes careful planning and an awareness of the importance of including all aspects of the exam in the lessons on a regular basis.

Guidance for teachers

  • Check all the requirements in the current syllabus, as details can change from time to time. View the current regulations and check the syllabus updates.
  • Choose suitable pieces for the candidate and make sure you have selected the right combination of pieces from the correct syllabus.
  • Try to incorporate at least a few minutes’ aural training and sight-reading into every lesson. Leaving them to the last minute will not help the pupil’s confidence or the marks achieved.
  • Give a mock exam to the candidate well before the actual event, and don’t forget to include walking into the room and setting up to perform, as these are often the most unsettling moments before the actual exam.
  • Encourage the pupil to perform the pieces to a friendly audience (family, relatives and friends) or perhaps hold your own exam candidates’ concert a couple of weeks before the exam.
  • Remind the pupil of how long there is to go before the exam date and plan out the work for the weeks ahead. Don’t forget to take into account holidays and school pressures so there is no last-minute panic.
  • Encourage pupils to experience all sorts of musical activity by playing in orchestras or chamber groups, singing in choirs and listening to a wide range of music. A trip to a live concert, particularly involving a piece by a composer they know, can really motivate them.

Music Theory exams

At Grades 1 to 5, we have created two different formats of sample papers. Paper versions of our online exams are available and it is a good idea for candidates to work through these before the exam so that they are familiar with the content of the assessment. Online practice papers are also available free of charge for candidates to practice answering questions using the multiple choice, matching, true or false and drag and drop methods. Both formats are equally as useful for preparing for the online exam experience and for working to a time limit.

At Grades 6 to 8, we provide sample assessment materials for candidates to use in their preparation for a higher grade Music Theory exam. Not only do these also include explicit example of the types of questions in the exams, they will also help candidates familiarise themselves with the creativity required within a given time limit

Guidance for candidates

  • With the help of your teacher, choose pieces that you really like. Practise them slowly at first. Careful preparation at this stage will make the final performance so much better.
  • After the initial stages, practise your pieces right through without stopping and get in the habit of going on immediately if you do make a slip. Be brave and play them through to family or friends to help build up your confidence.
  • Practise page-turns where these occur and try to memorise the first few bars of the next page to help your confidence. Difficulties with page-turning, however, will not actually affect the mark.
  • In most cases you are allowed to photocopy a page of your piece for the exam where it will help to overcome an awkward page-turn. Organise this in advance and practise putting the photocopy in the right position on the music stand.
  • If you are a string, wind or singing candidate make sure you are familiar with the accompaniment, particularly the introduction if there is one, and try to find time to rehearse with your accompanist beforehand.
  • Practise scales and arpeggios daily. Practising them should be as routine as cleaning your teeth! They help you build up reliable technique. For wind players they will also help breathing; for string players, bowing control; and for all instrumentalists, in developing general co-ordination.
  • Remember that keeping going is the key to a Pass; aim to keep a basic pulse, despite slips on the way, rather than stopping to correct them. Do feel free to try out any part of the test piece in the half-minute allowed before the actual test begins.

There are many ways to get in some aural practice between lessons. These might include:

  • Listening to as much music as possible on radio or recordings. If you can get to a concert, even better.
  • Downloading and working through our mock aural tests.
  • Joining a choir, band, orchestra or chamber group.
  • Clapping the rhythm of excerpts of music you don’t know before you play them.
  • Singing back parts of tunes which you have just heard for the first time, possibly on the radio or TV.
  • Singing through the notes of music excerpts or themes you haven’t seen before, or indeed of any music you may have in your music case. Singing just a few notes will be helpful, keeping the intervals in mind as you go.

Featured apps

Aural Trainer

An award-winning aural practice application from ABRSM, now available for Grades 1-8.

Find out more

Scales Trainer

Scales Trainer is an app that helps increase fluency with ABRSM scales and arpeggios requirements.

Find out more


A practice tool that allows you to vary the speed of audio without altering the pitch.

Find out more

Piano Practice Partner

Piano Practice Partner helps you by playing one hand so you can play the other as you learn.

Find out more

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