Tips for a successful ABRSM exam


Deliver the MUSIC, not the notes.

Understanding the expectation of the exam board will aid you in your preparation for the exam, outlining a clear direction in the details of the pieces you've chosen to work on.

ABRSM’s marking method - focus on the musical outcome, not the technical means behind it - suggests that techniques are merely used as tools to express the meaning of the music.

1. Consistent practice plays an important role in exam preparation. Try your very best to hit the weekly goals set by your piano instructor. Build discipline practicing every day if possible or in a consistent regular routine. It helps you, the performer, to be familiar with the details of the pieces you are preparing for the exam. The more familiar you are with your pieces, the more confident you can be when you perform.

2. Practice effectively, restrain from practicing MISTAKES. Listen to your own playing, train your ears to be able to identify mistakes when you've made them, and to be able to hear how it should sound like in your head.

3. Do not get caught in mistakes already made. Focus on the prompt recovery of the piece, and the music coming ahead. Take time to prepare to shift from this piece to the next for changing of moods and to stay focused on the coming pieces. Refrain from thinking about the mistakes made in the previous piece(s).

Focus when you are trying to correct a mistake. If the same mistake occurred a few times in a row when you attempt to correct it, take a short break and come back after your mind is refreshed and can re focus. We do not want to build wrong muscle memory as it will come back to you as soon as you lose focus especially during performance.

4. Musicality and musical interpretation are two very important components for musicians, and they are highlighted in the ABRSM marking method. The ability to interpret a piece of music plays a significant role in deciding the different grades in ABRSM examination.

Every piece of music tells a story and delivers messages from the composer to the audience. As performers, we need to have a solid understanding of the pieces in order to deliver the same meaning to the audience. It is important to read the footnotes found in the ABRSM exam pieces. The background of the composer, explanation of the style of music and highlights of the expectations are provided under each piece of music. All three exam pieces chosen are usually contrasting in style, background and time line. Work out the identical characteristics of each piece and applying them in the music will help achieve a decent interpretation of the piece, which will help in achieving higher marks in the ABRSM examination.

5. Leading up to exam day, it is advisable to put in the effort to be in good physical health. Our bodies can be sensitive when we are nervous or overly excited. Get enough rest especially in the few days prior to the exam date, and restrain from consuming food or drink which might cause health problems.

Remember that your examiner is first and foremost your audience, and not merely a judge. Deliver your music, and they will respond to you with marks you deserve.

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Last updated: 19 November 2020

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