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ABRSM Testing: What to Know and How to Succeed

The ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) is an examination board, providing music exams worldwide. Each year, more than 600,000 candidates take the ABRSM exams in over 93 countries.

Currently, ABRSM includes four types of exams:

1. Music theory

2. Practical exam

3. Performance Grade

4. Diploma Degree

This blog will discuss exam updates and changes and how students can prepare for the various ABRSM exams during the pandemic. We have compiled a list of the grading systems for each exam, changes to the syllabus, updates of the exam, and a description of what each exam entails. Taking these exams is a milestone in itself, be proud of how far you have come to take these exams.

Music Theory Exam (Online)

Grading System: There will be a total of 75 marks available, and the online exams from Grade 1 to 5 will be marked automatically. Candidates will need at least 50 marks for a pass, 60 marks for a Merit, and 65 marks for a distinction.

Changes to Syllabus:

  • Grade 5: identifying the progression 6/4 5/3 (Ic-V) on the dominant note in any of the keys set for this grade is no longer required.


  • Due to the pandemic, the Music theory exam is now available online.

  • A link will be provided to candidates who have booked an exam, which will enable them to try-out the whole test experience. This gives them the advantage of being more prepared and ready for the test.

  • During 01/01/21-04/30/21, students can take Grade 6 to 8 Performance or Practical exams without first passing Grade 5 Music Theory.

  • Start from 05/01/2021, Candidates for Practical and Performance Grades 6, 7, and 8 must pass Music Theory Grade 5.

  • Online Music Theory Exam (Grades 1 to 5) – March 16th, 2021 Online Music Theory Exam was Cancelled. Exams in May and June will go ahead as planned.

Practical Exam (Postponed)

The practical exam includes performance skills through song or pieces, technical skills through scales and arpeggios, notation skills through a sight-reading test, listening skills, and musical perception through aural tests.

  • The Practical Exam is graded out of 150 points total. It includes:

  • Three Pieces assigned from the ABRSM syllabus (3 x 30 points)

  • Scales and arpeggios (21 points)

  • Sight-Reading Test (21 points)

  • Aural -Ear Training Test (18 points)

Grading System:

  • Total marks in all individual Practical graded exams are 150.

  • 100 marks are required to pass

  • 120 marks are required to pass with merit

  • 130 marks are required to pass with distinction


  • Due to the Coronavirus, the face- to face exams that are scheduled for April- June 2021 have been canceled and postponed

  • Currently, the booking periods are under review, for it remains conditional on COVID-19 restrictions being lifted.

  • The April 2021 Exam is currently canceled.

  • The booking period for October 2021 Exam: August 1-15, 2021

Performance Grade (Performance Exam-Online)

ABRSM provides a great opportunity for music performers to examine their performance level by submitting their video of the performance to their online exam booking service at the end of 2020. Performance Grades offer an additional way to musical progress, and you can also switch between the Performance and Practical exams as you progress through the grades. The Performance Grades and the Practical Grades are equivalent in demand and value to the existing graded music exams, but the Performance Grades has a different emphasis on performance.

About The Exam:

  • Remotely-assessed performance exam, available to Students Grades 1 - 8

  • Fully Online

  • The Candidate will submit the video on the date the book; they don’t need to perform on the scheduled date.

  • Four pieces or songs are required to perform: three from the syllabus, one from your own choice.

Grading System:

  • Total marks in all individual Practical graded exams are 150. The four pieces or songs will be marked individually with 30 marks each

  • 100 marks are required to pass

  • 120 marks are required to pass with merit

  • 130 marks are required to pass with distinction

Performance Exam VS. Practical Exam:

  • Performance Grades are an additional way for students to examine their performance skills.

  • There are four required pieces for the Performance Exam, yet only three pieces are needed for the Practical Exam.

  • Performance Grades mainly test students’ performance skills. There are no additional scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, or aural tests needed for the exam.

  • Since the Performance Exam is fully online with pre-recorded video submission, it may not be as challenging as the Practical Exam.

  • Additionally, the remote-assessed will give less live performance tension to candidates and examiners.

  • As a new exam, aspects of interpreting the marking criteria' requirements have caused thought and consideration.


  • Performance Grade exams will be held throughout 2021

  • Upcoming Session:

  • Booking period: March 1 - 8, 2021

  • Exam dates: April 6 - 26, 2021

Performance Grades Preparation Tips:

  1. Practice Slowly. Choose pieces you really enjoy playing. By playing the piece slowly, you’ll be able to detect any mistakes and improvements you may need to make.

  2. Practice your pieces through without stopping. Get in the habit of continuing, even if you make a mistake.

  3. Gaining experience of playing to the camera. Replay the practice recordings to see if there are any changes you need to make.

  4. Practice page-turns. Memorize where these occur in your piece, and try to memorize the first few bars of the next page to gain confidence in performing. However, difficulties with page-turning will not actually affect the grade of the performance.

  5. If you are a string, wind, or singing candidate, make sure you are familiar with the accompaniment, particularly if there is an introduction. Make sure to practice with the accompaniment so you feel confident on the day of the exam.

Performance Grade Exam Recording Tips:

  • Get Prepared to take the Exam:

    • have your instrument ready

    • As well as your speaker and music stand

    • the backing track device for your music is ready

    • You can use a chair to rest your instrument on, between pieces

  • Setting Up:

    • Stand in the middle of the camera.

    • Place recording device horizontally to have a bigger view of the room.

    • Please place the music stand on your left-hand side.

    • If you play Violin, make sure F-hole is facing the camera.

  • During the Exam:

    • State your name and grade

    • Show program form

    • Show exam book

    • Read the program to the camera.

    • State your accompaniment

    • Then begin playing your pieces, don't forget to say each pieces name before you play

ARSM (Diploma Degree)

ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music) is an exam for advanced students; it mainly focuses on students’ performance skills.

Exam Pre-Requirement:

Students must pass Grade 8 practical or performance exams.

About the Exam:

ARSM centers on the art and craft of musical performance through a 30-minute performance program, which students put together based on their individual musical strengths and passions. The exam lasts for 30 minutes and includes:

  • 20 minutes of music chosen from the ARSM repertoire list.

  • 10 minutes piece/pieces from your own-choice repertoire

Benefits of taking the ARSM Exam:

  • Bridges the gap between Grade-8 and DipABRSM.

  • Since ARSM is entirely focused on performance, this enables students to develop specifically these skills.

  • ARSM allows students to focus solely on building a program, putting together a musical sequence lasting half an hour, without the requirement to study for a written or oral test

  • ARSM could be seen as a preparatory step for the 3 components of DipABRSM and beyond because it focuses on the performance's central area.

ABRSM Syllabus:

Practical Exam:

To see the other syllabuses, visit:

Editor: Shelby Dictor

Contributors: Eliza Shaye; Shelby Dictor; Tina Wu; Kim Allen Lumbo

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