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Before the exam

Regular practice of all sections of the exam ensures the best preparation. Teachers are advised not to leave aural and sight-reading practice until the last few lessons.

Scales, arpeggios and studies might seem like hard work at first but the benefits of developing an accuracy of tuning, strong independent fingers or good vocal skills are quickly felt when tackling difficult passages in your pieces.

Make sure you know the feeling or mood you want to convey for each piece – the title of the piece will often give you a good clue. If you have a picture, story or emotion in your mind as you perform, you can make the music come to life for both yourself and the listener.

Successful candidates often have teachers who conduct small concerts for their students and their families prior to the exam and/or 'mock exams' in their lessons leading into the exam date. Providing these opportunities allows students to confront and address their areas of weakness and reduce excessive performance anxiety prior to their assessment. They also provide the student with some 'trial runs' to give both the teacher and student a realistic idea of a candidate's exam performance.


You will need to make all your own arrangements with an accompanist. If you have difficulty finding someone, a list of approved accompanists is available from the NSW Accompanists' Guild (phone 9476 6851).

Practice with your accompanist as much as possible before the day of your exam. You will need to balance carefully with each other and the pianist will need to know the exact speed you wish to play each piece. Ensure that you and your accompanist have each other's mobile numbers. Provide your accompanist with a copy of your Notice of Examination so they are very clear about your exam grade, venue, room and examiner so you both arrive punctually and well prepared for your examination.

On the day of the exam

Playing from memory

You are expected to memorise technical work. It is not a requirement in grade examinations to play pieces from memory, although this is a good practice and is certainly encouraged. The examiner will note where a piece has been memorised on the exam report. While memorising will not automatically mean an upgraded result, it will enhance the performance through greater confidence, and this will be recognised by the examiner.

Don't assume

Examiners are invariably also teachers themselves so they appreciate your efforts in preparing for your exam and they want to see you do well.

If your examiner asks you to cut a piece short or tells you that your second extra list piece need not be presented, don't assume that this is due to a poor performance on your part. It is far more likely that they have made this request due to time constraints or because your examiner has already heard enough of your program to form their examination assessment.

After the exam – don't take a 'bad' result personally

Examiners can only assess your performance and fulfilment of the syllabus requirements on a particular day, not on your general standard as a musician or your musical potential. Just as a photo doesn't always capture you at your best angle, your performance on the day may not accurately reflect your overall musical ability, so don't place too much importance on a single exam result.

Focus on the comments given rather than the grade. If you feel nerves affected your performance, work with your teacher to be better prepared for your next exam or learn to manage your nerves more effectively in your next assessment. Many talented performers (and perhaps even some teachers and examiners in their youth!) have stumbled in exams or performances on their path to greatness. Nevertheless, those who respond with a positive attitude, dedication, strength of character and a love of their craft will take the necessary steps to address their problem areas and ensure future success.

Exams needn't be scary

Parents and guardians should ensure that they don't transmit their own anxiety about examinations to their child. Be sure to provide unconditional support before the exam and encourage your child in a positive way regardless of the outcome.

The best advice for candidates is to practise sufficiently and know your pieces, and then relax and enjoy the examination experience. Examiners know you may be nervous and will take this into account. Remember that the adrenaline released by a little bit of nerves can release adrenaline, which might result in your best performance ever.

Above all, enjoy your studies and your performance opportunities, whether your goal is to become a professional musician, actor, a teacher or to enjoy the subject as a hobby and creative outlet.

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