In my music studio I will only offer exams to those pupils I know will benefit from them. For those who don’t want to sit them, or will not gain from doing so, there are other ways to help them progress in their joy and ability at their instrument.
Not all pupils will be positive at the prospect of an exam. If I’m honest, I’ve had my own negative exam experiences too. But I think that’s where I can help reluctant pupils. I know what not to do when it comes to preparing my pupils for a music exam. I have had enough experience to see how useful an exam can be if a pupil is prepared well. So here are a few pointers on how exams should not be used and how they work best. And in the next blog I’ll talk about what I’ve seen as real benefits to using them.
Exams should not be used
- as the only way to progress in music. There should be other music explored between exams.
- to see how a pupil does with a view to fixing the revealed problems.
- to progress to a level at which the pupil is not actually playing in their other music. If it takes longer than about 8 weeks to prepare for the exam, the pupil is not ready for that particular level.
- when a pupil is particularly nervous in a performance. It is better to explore other ways for them to perform confidently before doing an exam that may reinforce a sense of failure. Exams work for most pupils if handled well, but there is no sense pushing it for the truly nervous performer. Some will grow out of that as they get older and may be ready later on.
Exams work best
- when the pupil is really well prepared.
- when the pupil has played on the examination piano in a pre-exam mini concert.
- when the pupil can read the music. It is best not to play the piece from memory—nerves can throw it all off in a moment.
- when the attitude is to play well, not just to pass or hoping not to fail.
- when the teacher does not enter a pupil for an exam unless they are sure that there is a practice routine in place and know that the pupil is likely to not only pass but do well. This makes for a passing grade while allowing for upsets that can happen for even well prepared pupils.
- when the pupil prepares for every part of an exam. (I had a pupil working at a high grade level who just wanted to focus on getting the pieces and scales played really well. They didn’t want to put too much work into the sight reading or ear tests, and thought they didn’t mind just passing the exam. However, when they got 3 marks short of distinction there was an element of regret that they had come just short of an excellent mark, simply because they hadn’t prepared all the aspects.)
I hope this has been helpful in some way, especially If you have had a bad experience of music exams. In the next blog I will address the real benefits of using exams. I think you will find that useful too.