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Music Theory Exam update – session two

On the basis of government advice, we are cancelling the Music Theory exams due to take place later in 2020. We are sorry for any inconvenience and thank you for your ongoing loyalty and support.

Remotely-assessed graded music exams: update

3 months ago

In August, we are aiming to launch performance-focused graded music exams in the UK that will be assessed remotely, based on a recorded submission. These remotely-assessed exams will be available in the UK only to begin with. We will then start to roll them out in stages to learners in other countries later in 2020. Penny Milsom, our Executive Director of Products and Services, is leading the team developing these qualifications, and we asked her to provide a preview.

Firstly, how are preparations going?

It’s exciting that we are in the final stages of the design, which means we have some information to share, but not complete answers to everything right now. I hope this preview provides answers to some of the questions that teachers, learners, parents and schools may have. We are preparing further information about the exams and will share this as soon as we can.

By way of background, these assessments are very much part of our long-term plan to support teachers and learners, but we also hope that, once available ,they will provide an opportunity for learners whose plans have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Can you tell us more about the concept of the qualification?

For some time we’ve been working on a qualification that puts performance at the heart of the learning and assessment experience and is designed around the practical realities of the performance situation. These exams will provide an additional, robust and valid route for learners to have their achievements recognised and be awarded a regulated qualification.

Our performance-focused graded exams will provide a learning and assessment experience that focuses on the preparation and presentation of a ‘whole performance’ – from choosing the repertoire and creating a programme, to interpreting and communicating the music. They will offer learners the chance to represent their own musical interests, aspirations and personality. By being in charge of their own performance, candidates have both greater freedom of choice about the programme and increased personal responsibility.

For these exams, candidates will need to deliver a sustained performance of their chosen programme, demonstrating the focus and stamina necessary for effective musical communication across a range of repertoire. For this reason, the assessment will include a separate set of marking criteria, which take into account the performance as a whole, applied after the playing or singing has finished. This ‘dual lens’ approach to the assessment makes this a distinct exam, equivalent in demand to our existing practical grades.

These qualifications are unique in focusing on musical performance skills in this way, offering a related but separate progression path alongside our face-to–face practical exams. The recorded submissions will be assessed to the same high standards as our existing graded exams, by the same team of highly-trained ABRSM examiners.

The fact that they are examined remotely means that we will be able to offer these exams widely to candidates around the world while managing our carbon footprint. As a global organisation that delivered over 600,000 exams in 2019, we are purposefully moving our activities onto a more environmentally sustainable footing and remote examining means we will be able to reduce the amount of travel our examiners undertake.

What will taking a performance-focused grade involve?

The repertoire at the heart of the exams will be the same as that presented for our existing exams. Candidates prepare a programme of four pieces or songs. They choose at least three of the pieces/songs from our existing syllabus-listed repertoire for the grade – one from each list as for our existing exams. For the fourth piece/song, candidates can choose another item from the syllabus at the same grade or choose a piece/song from any other published source, as long as the level of difficulty is the same. For the exam, candidates present their pieces/songs in the order they choose and without a break, to create a whole performance that demonstrates their musical tastes, strengths and personality.

How will they be marked?

As with our existing grades, a total of 150 marks is available overall. The four pieces/songs will be marked individually using the same criteria as our existing grades, with a maximum of 30 marks for each item. A further 30 marks are then available for the ‘performance as a whole’. This part of the assessment will have its own distinct marking criteria based on the current ARSM criteria but adjusted to suit Grades 1 to 8.

Will these exams be available for all grades and subjects?

They will be available for Grades 1 to 8 for all our instrumental and singing syllabuses, except for Jazz subjects. We will also be offering our current ARSM diploma as a remotely-assessed exam, with no change to the requirements or marking scheme. Because these exams put the focus on performance and take place in the candidate’s chosen space, we also hope they will be an attractive option for learners with a range of specific needs.

Will learners be able to switch between these exams and ABRSM’s existing graded exams?

Yes. At any stage of their musical journey, learners will be able to choose between two graded music exam routes. They will be able to choose to do remotely-assessed, performance-focused exams entirely from Grade 1 upwards, or switch between these and our existing graded exams, depending on their preference at the time.

Remotely-assessed exams will be available in the UK only to begin with. We will then start to roll them out in stages to learners in other countries later in the year. Please continue to check our website for the latest information.

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