We receive a steady stream of questions covering a vast range of topics, from whether you can use an electric cello in an exam to whether we are considering assessments for drum kit (no and yes respectively).
Many of the most common issues are dealt with in the relevant syllabus, the Examination Regulations & Information or in Your guide to ABRSM exams. This resource is packed with good advice on all aspects of preparing for and taking an exam. With its thorough list of contents and clear explanation of the exam process Your guide to ABRSM exams should be the first place you turn to when you have a query.
- Visit our separate exam booking FAQs for queries about entering an exam
The syllabus I’ve been working on has changed. Can I use pieces from last year’s syllabus in my exam this year?
In the UK and Ireland you can play the pieces set for the previous year until the end of May. In other countries the overlap period for pieces is a full year (until the end of December).
You cannot mix pieces from the old and new syllabuses during these overlap periods. In all countries the overlap applies to pieces only: any changes to scales, sight-reading or aural tests come into effect on 1 January of the year the new syllabus begins.
New syllabuses are usually published around six months before their start date, to give candidates and teachers time to prepare.
Diploma candidates may bring a page-turner without asking permission, as can organists at all grades and accompanists for Grade 8 or diplomas. Grade 7 and 8 candidates need to make a request in writing at the time of entry letting us know which piece, or pieces, they would like to bring a page-turner for and what editions they will be using. Candidates for Grades 1 to 6 are expected to make their own page-turns. At any grade, pauses or difficulties with page-turning in the exam will not affect the marks.
Da capo (DC) and dal segno (DS) indications should be followed but other repeats (including first-time bars) should not be played, unless stipulated in the syllabus. However, very short repeats may be played at the discretion of the teacher or candidate.
Your pupil could either hum or whistle – the examiner will not be assessing vocal quality. Candidates with a limited vocal range should feel free to tell the examiner, who will endeavour (not guarantee) to find tests within the range specified.
Cadenzas should not be played, unless specified in the syllabus. Tuttis are not usually required, other than those specifically stated in the syllabus. Candidates should arrange in advance with their accompanists which tuttis might usefully be omitted.
I have a copy of a piece in the syllabus, but it’s a different edition from the one listed. Can I use my copy for the exam?
You can use any edition of the music unless the syllabus specifies a particular arrangement or transcription. Always check the syllabus.
No – all jazz syllabuses remain in force until further notice. We currently offer jazz exams at Grades 1 to 5 for piano, flute, clarinet, sax, trumpet and trombone. Also available are Jazz Ensemble exams and Performance Assessment in jazz.
I’m having trouble playing the ornaments as they are written in the music. Will I be penalized in my exam?
There is no single correct way to play ornaments and you should use your musical discretion. If you need to, it is better to simplify the ornaments. Examiners would rather hear a confident simplified version of an ornament than a performance that suffers because you are struggling to perform the suggested interpretation.
You should not make or use photocopies unless you have written permission from the publisher. You are allowed to photocopy individual pages in order to avoid a tricky page turn, but only if the publisher of the piece is signed up to the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) Code of Fair Practice. The Code of Fair Practice is available at www.mpaonline.org.uk and participating publishers are listed in Appendix B.
I would like to take a high-grade (6, 7 or 8) practical exam but I don’t have Grade 5 Theory. I do have O/A level Music/a Music degree/etc. Can I be exempt from taking the theory exam?
For enquiries of this kind contact the Syllabus Department.