We rather get the impression that because his notes weren't what the examiner expected that everything else got marked down.
However, possibly a lightbulb moment here, I've managed to find an article written by Mr Scamardella from Bedes Senior School here, http://www.bedes.org...fellowship.aspx in which he describes the process of choosing a topic for the thesis. My son has read this and now understands the requirement for the exam (hopefully now on the right track). It begins to make sense to us as to why the syllabus is so short as these pieces are 'starters' around which you choose a topic and then build a programme.
So, it now looks like we have a better grip and it looks like he will be playing Bloch's Schelomo, Crumb's Sonata for solo cello, Ligeti's Sonata for cello and Shostakovich's Concerto no 1 first movt. Strangely the topic embraces the experimentalist composer an area of composition he has found deeply repugnent in the recent past!