How we mark exams
Assessment in our graded exams for instruments and singing is based on our marking criteria. You can also find these in our printed syllabus booklets.
The marking criteria show what we expect for the three levels of pass – Pass, Merit and Distinction – in each element of the exam. They are designed to maximise consistency in our marking and to make our approach to assessment clear for everyone.
Understanding how our examiners award marks is not only helpful for exam preparation but also for learning and progression generally.
If you know what the ingredients of a good performance are then you also know what to work on to reach this goal.
Pieces and songs
The marking criteria cover the different aspects of playing or singing under five areas: pitch; time; tone; shape and performance. These can be applied to all instruments, including voice, and all types of piece or song. The marking criteria show what our examiners listen for under each of these headings.
- Pitch – accuracy, clarity, reliability of notes and/or intonation.
- Time – suitability of tempo, stability of pulse, sense of rhythm.
- Tone – control and projection of sound, sensitivity and awareness in use of tonal qualities.
- Shape – effectiveness and clarity of musical shaping and detailing.
- Performance – overall command of the instrument or voice, involvement with the music, musical communication.
Marking criteria for pieces
Grades 1-8 (except Singing)
Other exam elements
The marking criteria also show what examiners listen for in the other elements of our exams:
Examiners mark each candidate based on what they hear in the exam room. We do not have quotas, so our examiners do not pass or fail a certain percentage of candidates.
When awarding marks examiners assess the candidate’s control of the qualities and skills listed in the marking criteria. Candidates do not need to meet all the criteria to pass their exam as weakness in some areas is often balanced by stronger achievement in others.
The total number of marks available in an exam is 150. Candidates need:
- 100 marks to Pass;
- 120 marks to pass with Merit;
- 130 marks to pass with Distinction.
The total number of marks available for each exam element are listed here:
Grades 1 to 8
Grades 1 to 5
Grades 6 to 8
Piece / Song 1
Piece / Song 2
Piece / Song 3
Scales and arpeggios
Sight-reading* / sight-singing
*Includes a transposition test for Horn, Trumpet and Organ at Grades 6 to 8 and a figured-bass realisation test for Harpsichord
Examiners mark up or down from the pass mark in every section, rather than taking marks away from the maximum or adding them from zero.
For each element of the exam, candidates need to achieve two-thirds of the total possible marks to pass, but they don’t need to pass all elements to achieve an overall pass in the exam.
Next : What to expect
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Anyone considering taking the DipABRSM in Teaching will nearly always, after reading the syllabus, begin by preparing the written submission. As the submission has to be sent with the entry form, candidates often prefer to get this element out of the way before concentrating on the viva voce and quick study.
Which topic should I choose?
On pp. 30-31 of the current syllabus you will find 11 topics from which you can choose the title for your written submission. There are several things to consider when choosing:
- The word limit is tight at just 1,800 (+/- 10%) so the topic needs to be small enough so that you can write about it to a sufficient depth;
- You need to be interested in the topic as you will need to write authoritatively about it: it’s not enough to just summarise the research you’ve done as there has to be a good degree of analysis and critique;
- Choose a topic which will be accessible to research; consider whether you have access to the kinds of books and materials which will aid your research;
- Choose a topic which you can relate to your own teaching; the ability to give ‘real life’ examples is an important ‘bonus’.
It is surprising how many candidates choose to write on a topic of which they have little knowledge and experience. For example, do not choose the title ‘Discuss your choice of material for use with adult beginners’ if you only teach under-10s. It seems terribly obvious but you wouldn’t believe the mistaken choices people make.
How do I plan it?
Once you’ve chosen your topic, you need to think carefully about what you are going to cover in your essay, particularly considering the small word limit. Let’s say for example that you’ve chosen the topic ‘Discuss your approach to the development of technique in the early stages’. Firstly you need to think about what ‘technique’ means in the early stages – what techniques do you teach your pupils and why? How do you teach these elements of technique and why do you teach them in this way? What has influenced your decisions? As well as referring to your own teaching, you need to reference material in other books and resources. Your essay needs to have a logical progression and needs to flow easily through the material you cover.
What makes a bad essay?
It’s probably easier to tell you what makes a bad essay than what makes a good one! One of the most common problems is trying to cover too much which means your essay lacks sufficient depth. These essays tend to be summaries of books which the candidate has read without any analysis. Another common problem is repetition; I have seen a good number of essays where the candidate has repeated the same point three of four times. A common fault is to fail to give any examples or to back up the points made. Good essays are critical of the sources they cite.
What makes a good essay?
A clear progression with points made succinctly and clearly. Evidence to support points made with real-life examples, particularly from the candidate’s own practice. A critical and analytical approach to the question with clear arguments. Examples drawn from a wide variety of sources including books, the internet and music itself.
How can I maximise the marks?
In addition to the points above make sure you check for the obvious: spelling, grammar, layout, word count etc. Make sure that your sources are referenced correctly: this is a very common fault. Always keep in mind the marking criteria currently on p. 62 of the syllabus; highlight the key points.
The Written Submission and the Viva Voce
Remember that your written submission will be up for discussion in the viva voce element of the exam. You need to be prepared to expand on and defend the points you’ve made in your essay. Remember that the examiners are not trying to catch you out, but rather clarify points and allow you to expand on them further.
David provides comprehensive, flexible and cost-effective packages for supporting diploma candidates. If you have any questions about the Written Submission, or you want to find out more about the mentoring David offers, do send a message.
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