I have forwarded several recent questions on to our Syllabus Director Nigel Scaife as they relate more closely to his work than mine. I will edit this post once I have received his responses!
1. From the Theory exam statistics, it looks as if very few people see any benefit in taking the higher grades after Grade 5. What do the ABRSM see as the benefits of taking the higher grades of theory?
Interestingly, a huge number of people in South East Asia take the higher grades of theory! The higher grades are particularly important to anyone contemplating a teaching career in music as they significantly enhance understanding of musical structure.
2. Are there any plans to take the Jazz exams to Grade 8 on the wind instruments?
Not at the moment - but this may of course change and we are always responsive to suggestions.
3. Will a student be penalised if their accompanist isn't very good?
Candidates will in no circumstances be automatically penalised - the examiner marks the outcomes of the candidate's performance, not the accompanist. However, a candidate is of course extremely unlikely to produce his or her best performance with substandard assistance! I would highly recommend that accompanists are very carefully selected.
4. With the singing syllabus up for 'revamping' over the coming 3 years, how much consultation will there be with teachers at the 'grass roots' level about the repertoire that should be included, particularly in the lower grades?
There has actually already been a huge consultation process with 'grass-roots' teachers that has informed our selection of repertoire. The syllabus has in fact been finalised and we are confident that it will be well received in 2009!
5. I understand that Trinity candidates are told the results of their exam at the end of the exam. Why can't ABRSM do this?
The Associated Board feels that it is important that we take time to check the mark form for accuracy so that we can be as certain as possible that candidates have achieved the correct results. We also perform detailed statistical analyses of the forms in order to inform our future thinking. Our results are now released quicker than ever before.
6. I would like to ask whether a student doing an exam higher than Grade 5 would be penalised if they did not tune their instrument at all, or they did not tune their instruments properly leaving them slightly out of tune. Would it be better for an accompanist/examiner to mention that, for example on a violin, the E string needs to be sharpened slightly? Surely it would be better for a student to be given a helping hand than to have their whole exam penalised because their instrument is slightly out of tune?
Tuning is part of the skill required after Grade 5. Whilst accompanists may occasionally indicate discreetly that adjustment is needed, it is down to candidates to ensure that this is done. If the performance outcomes are affected a candidate may be penalised. Examiners cannot become involved in performances and cannot touch, adjust or mend instruments!
7. How much information are examiners given about the specific issues of particular instruments? I understand the Board's rationale for using non-specialist examiners, but I'd like to know to what extent they are briefed on the unique challenges of each instrument and to what extent they take that into account when marking.
The rigorous training of examiners incorporates information, DVDs and live presentations about the specific challenges related to each instrument. This helps us ensure that examiners are aware of the particular issues and quirks each individual candidate is faced with.
8. I was wondering how soon after the November exam the Theory papers for the year are published and what the "S" paper is when there are only 3 sessions during the year?
â€˜Sâ€™ stands for â€˜Specialâ€™ and refers to an extra paper used in an emergency exam session. I believe that flooding in Wales once necessitated the use of one of these documents! Theory papers are released in the first week of January.
9. Practical exam results are released 2 to 4 weeks after taking the exam if based in the UK. What actually happens during those 2 to 4 weeks?
Each mark form is logged in, checked by a reader and prepared for despatch. Certificates are then created. Statistical analysis of the candidate, applicant and examiner is performed. We also resolve the queries that we receive from candidates and applicants during this period. We are working to reduce the length of time that this process takes and it continues to decrease.
10. Will the board be bringing in any traditional music exams? At the moment I am using the London College of Music as they seem to have a much broader spectrum of subjects offered for examination, including both Irish and Scottish traditional music for a range of instruments.
There are no plans at the moment to introduce â€˜traditional musicâ€™ exams but we are delighted to support the efforts of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, who are introducing assessments of this nature.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!