Starting a Graded Exam

Here is lots of information for students that are starting a graded ABRSM exam. We hope you find it useful!

1) How Long To Prepare
Once you have successful completed the Prep Test, you will be ready to start working towards Grade 1. It takes around one year (minimum) to prepare fully for each level of examination. This is presuming you are putting in 30 minutes practice a day (see below).

2) Recommended Daily Practice time
Around 30 minutes for Grade 1, increasing to 2 hours a day for Grade 8. This is the time required to cover the three pieces, scales, sight-reading and aural.

3) Scale Practice Charts
These are available for Grade 1 to 4. Please ask your teacher if you have not already received these.

4) Online Aural Tests
These can be practised from the first lesson and are part of your 30 minutes a day practice session. You can even start working on these whilst you are on the Prep Test.

5) Sight Reading books
Before you start on the Specimen Grade 1 tests, try out these books first:

Joining the Dots

Improve Your Sight-Reading:

6) Beat the Nerves and Perform in Public
Many students lots of marks on exam day because they are too nervous and not used to performing under pressure. We offer the yearly student recital around Christmas for our pianists and also the Dulwich Piano Festival in June. This allows you to try out some or all of your pieces in readiness for your exam. You receive exam-style feedback and with each performance, you feel more confident and ready for the exam. Students that have not played at least once in public will not be advised as ready for an exam as past experience shows significantly lower results for students that struggle with nerves. We also have our annual student piano recital that takes place in December. You should be able to learn one graded exam piece per term so we advise all students working on graded exams to participate and play one exam piece at least.

7) Read all about the Exam process
This is a comprehensive document about exams. All parents must read this before embarking on the exam process:

8) Breakdown of the Marking Criteria:

9) Daily Practice Guide
How you should be practising about 5 months before the exam:

We have two exam sessions in March and November. The deadlines for entry are the beginning or January and September.

11) When Will I Enter?
It is your teacher’s decision to enter you when you are ready. If you are aiming for an exam session but not well prepared, we will not enter you. It is our decision to enter students when we feel they well-prepared and playing to the best of their ability. Here is the criteria we use to assess readiness:

12) Mock Exam
All students must sit a Mock Exam before the deadline for entry which is approximately 6 weeks before the dates in section 10. If you do not pass, then we will not process your exam entry and you will wait until the next session. We do not consider it reasonable to enter students that may fail an exam.

13) Where are the Exams?
The exams are held in Camberwell near King’s College Hospital.

14) Choosing a New Exam Date
You can call the Exam Board and see if there is an alternative date available if the one given is not suitable. 020 7636 5400

15) When is the Exam?
During the day on weekdays during school hours usually. Weekends are not offered.

16) Making the Entry
You can enter yourself online using the SE22 Piano School account. Details of this will be given to you at the time of passing your mock exam including a step-by-step guide. This allows you to log on and check your allocated exam date and also your result.

17) Allocation of Dates
These are allocated approximately 2 weeks before your actual exam date. Your teacher will pass this on as soon as it is received, or you can log onto the exam control panel and check.

18) Results
These are allocated approximately 2 weeks after your exam date. You can log onto the exam control panel and check for results any time after your exam. We do not know when they will be posted online. View our latest results online:

19) Starting the Next Grade
If you receive a low mark such as 100 – 115 out of 150, we will not consider you ready for the next grade and consolidation will be required on the areas marked as the examiner as needing attention. Once you can improve these areas, we are happy to move you onto the next grade. Ask your teacher for details of books required. We always advise learning fun pieces inbetween grades to build up sight-reading skills.

20) Syllabus Validity
The new syllabus has just been published and is valid until March 2017.

21) Watch an Actual Grade One examination

Click to watch an ABRSM Exam
Click to watch an ABRSM Exam


Daily practice guide to prepare for your ABRSM exam

In the final few days before your exam, here is some information for parents and students to make sure you are properly prepared for the exam. This is partly written as a guide for parents but it has information of relevance to adult students too.

1. Preparing for performance
You should perform all three pieces in a row to your family and friends. Make an occasion of it so that you feel under pressure as this will mimic the exam scenario. You can also record the performance of your three pieces and try to get them as good as you can in one take as you only get one chance to play them in the exam. Whatever happens – just keep going! Try not to restart – keep moving forward.

Also ask your school if you can play in assembly or in your music class. This is excellent preparation. We also provide termly performance opportunities including Scale Competitions, Masterclasses and the Dulwich Piano Festival. See our Events page to sign up for upcoming performance opportunities.

2. Listen to your pieces on Youtube
All your pieces are available to listen to on Youtube – just type in the name and composer and you will see lots of videos for your songs. Do you know where the louds and softs are, how fast or slow to play, whether you need to speed up or slow down anywhere? Do you know the character of your piece? Is it lively, melancholy? Listening to various recordings online can help assist learning of a piece. Your teacher will also play your piece to you regularly. Do your homework and make sure you have read the footnotes, looked up the composer (are they dead or alive, where are they from, what else did they write) and know the meaning behind the title of the piece.

Yohondo has a great YouTube channel with step-by-step help on some of the graded pieces:

3. Aural practice
This must be part of your daily practice for exams as this will help greatly with the aural section. There are several online resources or apps you can use to practice this every day.
Free Aural Tests
ABRSM App for iPhone/iPod/iPad

4. Sight-Reading
Sight-Reading is worth 14% of the marks – as much as the entire scale book! Keep working through the Specimen Sight Reading tests for your grade. If you have an iPad, then the excellent ABRSM sight-reading app is available for your grade.
ABRSM SightRead4Piano by Wessar

5. Scales
Ask your parents or friends to test you on the scales in a random order. Or you can make a ‘scale pot’ where you write out the name of every scale, broken chord, arpeggio etc and put these into a pot. Take one out of the pot and practice it until the pot is empty! As always, this must be done every day. We give all our students practice charts for their scales. These should be filled in daily – aim for ticks in all the boxes! Print a fresh chart each week. Students that work hard at their scales usually see a great improvement within just a few days. Practice your scales in random order so that you’re not always starting at the beginning of the book.


Grade 3 ABRSM Piano Scale Practice chart
Grade 3 ABRSM Piano Scale Practice chart

6. Daily Practice
In the run-up to the exam, daily practice is vitally important. To cover all the requirements for Grade 1, at least 30 minutes is needed and the time for practice increases by about 15 minutes daily for each grade. However, quality practice is of importance, so there is no point spending half an hour just practising your pieces but neglecting the other requirements. Make sure you practice your weaker areas first.

7. Parental supervision
It is important that parents supervise practice to ensure all the requirements above are covered thoroughly. Check the scale practice charts to see whether there are enough ticks in all boxes. Print these sheets out to fill in every day and bring to the lesson to show your teacher.

8. Mock Exams.
I have been doing mock exams each lesson. Please have a read through the mock exam to see what level your child is currently playing at and what grade they can expect on the day. The mock exam form will also highlight any weak areas that need particular attention. Please print some Mock ABRSM Exam Forms and bring to your next lesson.

9. Criteria used by the examiner in awarding a pass, merit or distinction.
Details of the exam marking scheme and what the examiner is looking for can be found here.

Safiya, Grade 3 ABRSM Piano, Distinction
Safiya, age 7 – Grade 3 ABRSM Piano, Distinction. Click here to view more exam results.