Latest exam updates

Exam refunds

To support customers affected by ongoing COVID restrictions, for Practical and Performance Grade exams from 1 January to 31 May 2021 any absent candidate will automatically receive a refund. This includes Performance Grades where the candidate has been unable to record and upload their video. You do not need to contact us to request a refund. However, it will help us if you can log in to your account and cancel the exam.

For Online Music Theory exams and any paper based exams taking place outside of the UK/Ireland we anticipate COVID restrictions will not prevent candidates from sitting their exam so absentee candidates will not automatically receive a refund and our normal Withdrawal, Non-attendance and Fee Refunds Policy still applies.

Music Theory exams – March 2021

  • Online Music Theory exams (Grades 1 to 5) – we are cancelling the online exams planned for 16 March. Exams in May and June will go ahead as planned.
  • Paper Music Theory exams (Grades 6 to 8) – the next exams will take place in June. Please note, dates and booking periods for Grades 1-5 and Grades 6-8 may be different from now on. For full details, see our dates and fees page.
  • Grade 5 Music Theory requirement - from 1 January to 30 April 2021 only, candidates can take Grade 6 to 8 Performance or Practical exams without first passing Grade 5 Music Theory. From 1 May 2021, the Grade 5 Music Theory requirement will return with flexibility about timing. If you receive an email asking for your proof of prerequisite, please ignore this. We will still release any results in line with the arrangements outlined here.

For more information click here.

Performance Grade exams

We will be offering Performance Grade exams every month for the remainder of 2021. Please check here for dates and fees. We are extending the introductory 15% discount for these exams so that it applies to all remotely-assessed Performance Grade and ARSM exams in 2021. Just enter code ABPG15NZ when you book using our online service. Please also read our discount information and terms and conditions here.

How do we mark exams?

ABRSM exams avoid the potential bias of instrument specialism by:

  • applying universal, non-instrument-specific criteria
  • focusing on the musical outcome, not the technical means behind it!

The marking criteria

The tables below show the marking criteria used by examiners (in all exams except Singing).

Marking principles

In each element of the exam, ABRSM operates the principle of marking from the required pass mark positively or negatively, rather than awarding marks by deduction from the maximum or addition from zero.

In awarding marks, examiners balance the extent to which the qualities and skills listed below (broadly categorized by pitch, time, tone, shape and performance) are demonstrated and contribute towards the overall musical outcome.

Total marks

Practical graded music exams are marked out of a total of 150, with:

  • 100 marks required for a Pass
  • 120 marks required for a Merit
  • 130 marks required for a Distinction

A Pass in each individual section of the exam is not required to pass overall.

Pieces

Grades 1-8

Mark

Pitch

Time

Tone

Shape

Performance

Distinction
27–30

  • Highly accurate notes and intonation
  • Fluent, with flexibility where appropriate
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed
  • Well projected
  • Sensitive use of tonal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping and detail
  • Assured
  • Fully committed
  • Vivid communication of character and style

Merit
24–26

  • Largely accurate notes and intonation
  • Sustained, effective tempo
  • Good sense of rhythm
  • Mainly controlled and consistent
  • Good tonal awareness
  • Clear musical shaping, well-realised detail
  • Positive
  • Carrying musical conviction
  • Character and style communicated

Pass
20-23

  • Generally correct notes
  • Sufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Suitable tempo
  • Generally stable pulse
  • Overall rhythmic accuracy
  • Generally reliable
  • Adequate tonal awareness
  • Some realisation of musical shape and/or detail
  • Generally secure, prompt recovery from slips
  • Some musical involvement

Below Pass
17-19

  • Frequent note errors
  • Insufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Unsuitable and/or uncontrolled tempo
  • Irregular pulse
  • Inaccurate rhythm
  • Uneven and/or unreliable
  • Inadequate tonal awareness
  • Musical shape and detail insufficiently conveyed
  • Insecure, inadequate recovery from slips
  • Insufficient musical involvement

13-16

  • Largely inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Erratic tempo and/or pulse
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Musical shape and detail largely unrealised
  • Lacking continuity
  • No musical involvement

10-12

  • Highly inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Incoherent tempo and/or pulse
  • No tonal control
  • No shape or detail
  • Unable to continue for more than a short section

0

  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered

Other exam elements

Grades 1-8

Mark

Scales and arpeggios

Sight-reading*

Distinction
19–21

  • Highly accurate notes/pitch
  • Fluent and rhythmic
  • Musically shaped
  • Confident response
  • Fluent, rhythmically accurate
  • Accurate notes/pitch/key
  • Musical detail realised
  • Confident presentation

Merit
17–18

  • Largely accurate notes/pitch
  • Mostly regular flow
  • Mainly even tone
  • Secure response
  • Adequate tempo, usually steady pulse
  • Mainly correct rhythm
  • Largely correct notes/pitch/key
  • Largely secure presentation

Pass
14-16

  • Generally correct notes/pitch, despite errors
  • Continuity generally maintained
  • Generally reliable tone
  • Cautious response
  • Continuity generally maintained
  • Note values mostly realised
  • Pitch outlines in place, despite errors
  • Cautious presentation

Below Pass
11-13

  • Frequent errors in notes and/or pitch
  • Lacking continuity and/or some items incomplete
  • Unreliable tone
  • Uncertain response and/or some items not attempted
  • Lacking overall continuity
  • Incorrect note values
  • Very approximate notes/pitch/key
  • Insecure presentation

7-10

  • Very approximate notes and/or pitch
  • Sporadic and/or frequently incomplete
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Very uncertain response and/or several items not attempted
  • No continuity or incomplete
  • Note values unrealised
  • Pitch outlines absent
  • Very uncertain presentation

0

  • No work offered
  • No work offered

* Includes Transposition for Horn, Trumpet and Organ (Grades 6–8) and Figured bass realization for Harpsichord (Grades 4–8).

In these cases, of the total 21 marks, 12 are allocated to Sight-reading and 9 to Transposition (or Figured bass realization), and one combined mark is recorded.

Grades 1-8

Mark

Aural tests

Distinction
17–18

  • Accurate throughout
  • Musically perceptive
  • Confident response

Merit
15–16

  • Strengths significantly outweigh weaknesses
  • Musically aware
  • Secure response

Pass
12-14

  • Strengths just outweigh weaknesses
  • Cautious response

Below Pass
9-11

  • Weaknesses outweigh strengths
  • Uncertain response

6-8

  • Inaccuracy throughout
  • Vague response

0

  • No work offered

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