Exam information

Our online Music Theory exams give candidates an opportunity to demonstrate and be assessed on their musical knowledge and understanding.

To support the format of our online exams, we have updated some of the Grade 1 to 5 questions to bring them in line with styles of assessment commonly used across the education sector.

Although Grade 1 to 5 exams now take place online and some of the questions have been updated, we are still testing the same musical knowledge and understanding to the same standards.

When can candidates take an online Music Theory exam?

Our on-demand service means that you can choose when to book and take an online Music Theory exam. There are no set booking periods or exam dates. Once a booking has been made, the candidate has 28 days to log in to their ABRSM account and take the exam.

There are a small number of dates when candidates will not be able to take exams. You can check these on our dates and fees page.

How do candidates take the exam?

Candidates take their exam in any location where they have access to a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam and an internet connection. You can find our detailed system requirements here.

The exam platform, proctoring and test delivery are provided by PSI who deliver over 15 million assessments every year.

What’s involved in proctoring?

Proctoring is a form of invigilation. It is similar to having exam invigilators in a face-to-face exam room, but adapted for online exams. Proctoring is necessary to check that candidates have taken their exams under exam conditions in accordance with our regulations and requirements.

The candidate is recorded for the whole exam via the webcam and exam software; this includes audio as well as the candidate’s desktop. Trained proctors review each exam video after it has been completed. If there is any suspicious activity, they let us know and we review this internally before issuing results.

More information is available in our Proctoring Policy.

Approved educational institutions, such as schools and colleges, can ask to invigilate the exams themselves without external proctoring from PSI. You can find out how to request this here under ‘Venues hosting un-proctored exams’.

Grades 1 to 5 – what’s new?

You can view the updated 'from 2020' syllabus here

Changes to questions and the syllabus are listed below.

There are no changes to the core musical understanding that we ask candidates to demonstrate or to the level, value or length of the exams.

There are now 75 marks available in total rather than 100. Candidates need 50 marks for a Pass, 60 marks for a Merit and 65 marks for a Distinction.

  • We have adapted the style of some questions for use in an online exam. You can try some questions here.
  • There are new question types, including more multiple-choice, to to ensure objective, reliable and robust, assessment.
  • The knowledge required for each grade will be tested in full in every individual exam paper.
  • Grade 2: candidates could previously choose between harmonic or melodic forms of minor scales. We’ve changed this to harmonic only.
  • Grade 3: we’ve removed questions about phrase structure.
  • Grade 5: we’ve removed identification of the progression 6/4 5/3 (Ic-V) on the dominant note.
  • Grade 5: we’ve added the requirement that candidates can recognise and name perfect, plagal and imperfect cadences, in addition to indicating chord progressions for two cadences. You can see some example questions here: Grade 5 Cadence Question Examples.
  • We have reduced the number of terms and signs, removing any that musicians are unlikely to experience in their practical/performance learning at the same grade. This supports better progression from grade to grade and ensures the required knowledge is more relevant and useful to learners. An updated list of terms and signs is available here: Terms and Signs for Grades 1 to 5 from 2020.
  • We’ve removed the requirement to transpose an entire melody between clefs, but still assess knowledge of transposition between clefs and keys.
  • We’ve removed the requirement to demonstrate accurate copying of music, but candidates still demonstrate their knowledge of how to write music.
Looking for more information?

Hear more from our Head of Learning & Qualifications:

What’s new?

How do the exams support learners?

How did we update the syllabus and assessment?

How have we ensured the exam is robust and maintains standards?

Why are we using multiple-choice questions?

How have we ensured the exam is accessible for neurodiverse learners?

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