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  • Writer's pictureRhona


Are exams necessary for progress?

In the past, it was considered important to take a music exam to show what 'grade' had been attained. Fortunately, this view has changed, and perhaps not surprisingly, the ABRSM Exam Board itself supports the belief that exams are only beneficial in the correct circumstances!

So, what are the pros and cons of taking an exam?


  1. Preparing for an exam provides a goal or challenge and incentive for practice, which could lead to excellent progress.

  2. Where the necessary requirements have been reached, a certificate is gained reflecting the achievement, and level of the pass.

  3. Where proof of attainment is required (e.g. for UCAS) the ABRSM exams are well-recognised, and can add substance to a student's CV.


  1. Exams can be stressful, and may not be helpful if the student is already unsure of their ability.

  2. The extra pressure of having an exam on the horizon could be counter-productive, instead promoting resentment and unhappiness at the instrument.

  3. A failure could be potentially damaging. In some cases the student may give up the instrument completely.

Whichever way, we have a choice. The good news is exams are not necessary for progress!


If your child prefers to potter at their instrument 'having fun', they will be making excellent progress already doing just that. No need to change that!

On the other hand, if you think your child needs a goal or challenge, an exam might be what is needed to spur them on!

What if we're unsure?

More good news. There is a 'middle-ground'. Very often I suggest preparing the syllabus for an exam, but deciding whether to sit the actual exam depending how the student gets on. We then have the choice of taking the exam, doing a 'pretend' (mock) exam in lesson-time, or missing it out completely and going on to the next grade's techniques.

Of course, the exam syllabus can be bypassed if this is not wanted. There is plenty of material outwith the exam system!

Every child is different.

Please feel free to discuss this issue with me. You can do this at the time of your child's scheduled lesson, or at an arranged time within my working hours.

One final note: if exams are taken, please do not ask to go from one exam straight to the next. There is a great deal of musicianship and technique to be explored and mastered between the grades!

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