Exam Advice

Basic Information

Grade examinations begin at Grade 1 and increase in difficulty to Grade 8.

Exams take place each term. There is a closing date for entries, usually around the second or third week of term, by which time all fees must be paid. These are collected by the instrumental teacher who enters all students to the exam board.

It is often well after Half Term that the teacher will be informed of the examination dates. The day is chosen by the board within an examination period of 4-5 weeks during the term. N.B. Most boards will enter into negotiations concerning dates discussion only with the person who entered the candidates and not with parents.

Examinations are taken at approved centres and you will be expected to get your child to the examination centre at the specified time.

Part-refund may be obtained with a doctor’s note if a child is unable to attend the exam due to illness.



Grade Exams

When is my child ready for Grade Exams?

This depends on the amount and quality of practice, ability of student and ability to perform under exam conditions. The biggest step of all is from the very beginning to Grade 1, which is why many exam boards offer a preparatory grade or debut test as a preparation for the first real grade exam.

The average time for a good student to reach Grade 1 is 18 months for Woodwind and Brass but two years or more for strings and piano.

Why enter your child for Grade Exams?

Students who enter exams make better progress. It can often provide the incentive to motivate a child to practise and turn the corner. It is a way of quantifying their achievements, showing a good impression of willingness to work to prospective employers. However, it is never advisable to exclusively pursue exam work, which can be soul-destroying. A child should be at Grade 3 level before being entered, and not merely taught grade 3 pieces.

The Examination

This takes between 10 and 30 minutes depending on the grade and ABRSM/Trinity board exams contain the following:

  • 3 Pieces
  • Scales, chosen by the board to suit the level, listed in the syllabus for preparation by memory. 
  • Aural Tests - ear tests. These need preparation and practice with either the instrumental teacher or the accompanist
  • Sight Reading - an attempted performance of a previously unseen piece of music.

Recordings are now available to help with preparation and a piano accompanist will be needed for Orchestral instruments. Photocopies of music are not allowed in the examination. 

Details of the syllabus for RGT and RSL exams are available online.


Marking and Results

All boards have a basic pass/fail system depending on marks obtained. High passes will be awarded merits and exceptionally high passes will be awarded distinction/honours. All results are sent to the teacher and usually arrive between 1 and 5 weeks after sitting the exam. If this is likely to encroach on school holidays, an s.a.e. may be given to the child’s teacher and he / she will then send the result to the child’s home. The teacher also receives a comment sheet and certificate (if successful) for each candidate.

Exams are fully regulated by OFQUAL and are given a QCF level; Grade 4/5 are QCF level 2 (GCSE) and Grades 6/7/8 are QCF level 3 (A level).

Students with ABRSM qualifications at Grades 6 to 8 benefit from UCAS (University and Colleges Admission Service) points which can be used as part of a university or college application in the UK.

As an example Grade 8 Distinction earns 30 points which is approximately equivalent to a Grade C at A Level which earns 32 points


Theory Exams

For a student to progress to the advanced practical grades (6-8) of the ABRSM they must first pass Grade 5 theory of Music. This is a written paper covering the theory of written music and covers all the basic knowledge of keys, rhythm, harmony and instrumentation.

Many of our teachers offer theory lessons and classes in secondary schools.

Which Board?

There are several examining boards. The most widely-known and internationally recognised is the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) but most London colleges offer similar examinations ie Trinity College London and London College of Music). The teacher will select a board for a variety of reasons e.g. pieces chosen, exam period, optional sections such as improvisation. Jazz exams are the latest options to be offered to students.

RSL (Rock School) is a board specialising in contemporary music for Guitar, Bass, Drums and Piano. The word ‘rock’ is meant in a general sense incorporating many options including Blues, Pop, Jazz etc. The tutor books come with a CD so that the exam is taken with an entire band!

And finally, good teachers research all options and will give you the advice you need. However, syllabi are available from all music shops and directly from colleges.



Rock Schoolrslawards.com