Why you should take the ABRSM exam (2023)

Why is it worth taking the ABRSM exam?

A comprehensive guide to the ABRSM piano exams

ABRSMis one of the most respected examsRecordGreat Britain. Founded in 1889, it is today one of the leading organizations for the evaluation of music education in the world. ABRSM offers a comprehensive range of graded exams and diplomas in several musical disciplines, includingpiano, violin, singing, theory and much more.

ABRSM exams are renowned for their high standards and rigorous assessment of musical and technical skills. So-called "grades" give students a framework for progress and goal-setting, while also offering a way to measure their musical ability. These exams are respected and accepted worldwide and have significant value in the music industry. They are often required when applying for scholarships to demonstrate specific skills in a musical discipline such as piano, and are an important milestone to strive for.

Preparing for the ABRSM piano exam is a difficult task, but it is up to us to turn this difficulty into an enriching experience that will propel us forward in our musical journey. In this article, we cover everything you need to know before taking the ABRSM piano exam, including exam types, their structure, preparation tips and some ideas on how to get the most out of your learning experience.

Introduction to ABRSM piano exams

ABRSM offers a range of exams including practical exams, performance exams and music theory exams. They cater to different disciplines, learning styles, strengths and preferences, allowing students to choose the one that best suits their goals.

(Video) ABRSM Graded Piano Exams Pros and Cons | Is it worth it? Should you do it?

For most disciplines, such as piano, violin or singing, the offer consists ofeight different degreesandthree or four degreestaken after assessments.: ARSM(employee at The Royal Music Schools),DipaBRSM(diplom fra Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music),LRSM(Bachelor at The Royal Music Schools) iFRSM(Association of Royal Music Schools).

Learning through exams? (Common misconception)

While preparing for the ABRSM exams can certainly improve a student's musical abilities, it is important to understand that the exams themselves are not intended to be a comprehensive curriculum. A common misconception is that by following the ABRSM grading system, a student will learn all the concepts and techniques necessary to pass each level. In fact, these exams are primarily designed to prove one's musical level.

Consider a simple analogy: we wouldn't take a math exam without first studying the necessary concepts, just as it's important for students to attend regular lessons to develop extensive musicality outside of the exam area. A regular lesson will provide students with the necessary foundation, guidance and skills to improve their musical abilities and achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

Types of ABRSM Piano Exams

Practical exams

ABRSM practice tests are traditional face-to-face exams where the examiner assesses the student's ability to perform pieces, play scales and arpeggios, read sight notes and demonstrateListening skills. These tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 8, with grade 1 being the most basic level and grade 8 being the most advanced. Practical tests are held in person at the ABRSM exam centre, where the examiner assesses the student's behaviour.

A tick is required to apply for the examABRSM exam dates and fees, and register first during the online booking period. There are three editions of the exam during the year: March, June and November. Usually this reservation period is one month before the actual exam. You can also select the date, time and location, subject to availability.

Tips for exam day (for practice exams)

  • Come early and make sure you have all the necessary supplies such as notes, pencil and exam plan.
  • Take some time to warm up and calm your nerves before entering the exam room.
  • When you enter the room, listen carefully to the examiner's instructions. When going through the technical phase (scales and arpeggios), it's always better to ask again if you didn't understand the instructions than to play the wrong scale or arpeggio. Otherwise, the examiner may assume that you do not know the required scale.
  • During the exam, focus on your performance and try not to get distracted or nervous. If you have problems with this, we advise cautionthis article to learn how to overcome it.
  • Take time between songs to regroup and mentally prepare for the next song. It is always better to spend a little more time preparing the next song than to rush and not give enough time to separate the two performances.
  • Be sure to thank the examiner for his time and show good etiquette.

condition test

ABRSM fitness examsthey are an alternative to practical tests and focus solely on the student's performance skills. They were introduced during COVID, due to the impossibility of face-to-face testing. These exams are also graded on a scale of 1 to 8 and require students to upload a video of their performance, which is then graded externally by an examiner. Performance exams are ideal for students who prefer to focus on their performance skills without the added pressure of other, more technical tests. It should be noted that there is no qualification difference between the exams (practical and executive).

(Video) What ABRSM "DON'T" tell you about their Performance Exams 😉

According to the ABRSM website:

There are no appointments or exam deadlines. Instead, you can make an entry and, after confirmation, upload your video exam as soon as you receive it. You can upload your video during booking or anytime within the next 28 days.

Recording and uploading of ABRSM performance exams

According to ABRSM's official website, from March 8, 2023, candidates will no longer need to show the application form to the camera at the beginning of the exam intake. Instead, they will be asked to provide program information when they upload a video.

For students taking ABRSM exams, it is very important to follow the guidelines of ABRSM regarding video recording and uploading. Failure to meet the requirements may result in lower grades or, in the worst case, complete rejection of the application. For this reason, make sure the video is of high quality and clearly shows the performer (including hands and feet) and the instrument. Enter each element correctly and make sure the video flows continuously without editing or stopping.

Take the time to prepare your recording space and make sure it is tidy and free of distractions. Dress appropriately for a live concert to show professionalism and respect for the audition process. Be sure to say your vows at the end, as you would during a regular performance, and thank the interviewers for their time and attention. After all, there will be someone at the computer who will listen to your interpretations.

Theory exams

ABRSM theory testsassess the student's understanding of music theory, including notation, harmony and composition. These tests are available from grades 1 to 8 and are usually taken in conjunction with practical or physical fitness tests. Theory exams are written and can be taken in person or online, depending on your level. Grades 1-5 online and grades 6-8 in person.

It is important to note that if you plan to continue your 6th grade piano studies through ABRSM, you must meet the prerequisite: take the 5th grade theory exam.Always remember to plan ahead and we always suggest an integrated approach to learning music.

(Video) What is ABRSM & Everything You Should Know

If you need help preparing for the theory exam, we are always ready to helptheoretical music courses!

Our approachaccording to WKMT-u

When we talk about an integrated approach, we mean a complete and comprehensive approach that covers various aspects of musical development. This goes beyond simply practicing an instrument or learning to read sheet music. An integrated approach involves nurturing many aspects of musicianship, such as technical skills, theoretical knowledge, creative expression and musical interpretation. That's why at WKMT we regularly arrange concert meetings with students, music nights where we encourage them to play in an informal atmosphere, and once a year music festivals where they can perform in front of an audience. Therefore, we believe that the ABRSM exams should be treated as an opportunity to improve ourselves as musicians and push the boundaries of what we are capable of.

Structure of the ABRSM piano exam

ABRSM piano exams follow a structured format that is consistent across all levels. The exam structure is as follows:

Practical and performance tests:

  • Art: Students must prepare and perform selected works from the ABRSM programme. Students prepare for practical examsthree pieceswhile fitness tests requirefour pieces.

Only mandatory for practical tests:

  • Scale the arpeggio:Students will demonstrate their technical skills by playing different scales and arpeggios appropriate to their level.
  • Sight reading:Students are given a short, never-before-seen piece of music to play and have 30 seconds to prepare in real time.
  • Hearing test:The examiner assesses the student's listening skills through a series of listening exercises, including "echoing" (singing or playing a short melody), clapping to the beat, recognizing differences in pitch or rhythm, and describing musical characteristics.

ADVICE:A convenient way to prepare for these tests is to use some of themABRSM: Official Practice Apps and Tools.

(Video) ABRSM Grade 1 Theory Online Exam ( Walkthrough with Answers and Explanations)

Understand your ABRSM exam results

ABRSM exam results are usually available within a few weeks of the exam date. Points include a total score out of 150 divided by grades for each part of the exam. Students must achieve min100 markIt doespass,120 markto receiveProfit, Lub130to receiveDifference.

After the exam, it is important to review the feedback from the examiner and use it to guide future practice and learning. Celebrate your achievements but also identify areas where improvement is needed and work with the teacher to address these in future lessons.

Make the most of ABRSM learning opportunities

Preparation for the ABRSM piano exam is a fantastic opportunity for personal and musical development. How to get the most out of your learning experience:

  • Practice consistently and take the time to develop your technique, musicality and understanding of the fundamentals of music. Understand that it takes time and effort to improve any instrument, but always know that the reward is just around the corner.
  • Accept challenges that arise during preparation and use them as opportunities for development by identifying your weaknesses.
  • Remember that the exam is only one aspect of your musical adventure and the skills and knowledge you gain during it will benefit you far beyond the exam itself.


ABRSM piano exams are a great way to get a structured and internationally recognized framework to develop and demonstrate our musical skills. By understanding the different types of exams, their structure and following preparation tips, you will be able to make informed decisions and have the confidence to pursue your goals. With the support of a qualified teacher and consistent practice, you should complete the ABRSM piano exam process and enjoy a rewarding and enriching musical journey.

In case of doubt betweenABRSM eller Trinity, feel free to check out our post discussing the key differences.

If you are considering preparing for the ABRSM piano exam, it is important to know that at WKMT we have been providing piano lessons to students in London since 2010 with great success. Our students consistently achieve excellent exam results, demonstrating our commitment to their musical development and achievement. I praycontactwith us and our team of experts will help you conquer your musical aspirations.


What are the benefits of the ABRSM exam? ›

The advantage of studying and qualifying with the ABRSM exam system, is the access to a high quality, progressive music education. ABRSM is the most prominent system of its kind in the world, and will benefit you as a musician on an international level.

What is the purpose of ABRSM? ›

ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) is the UK's largest music education body, one of its largest music publishers and the world's leading provider of music exams, holding over 650,000 assessments in more than 90 countries every year.

Do you have to memorize for ABRSM? ›

Memorising for exams

Interestingly, regardless of the level, the ABRSM does not require you to play from memory – notwithstanding the fact that you will be performing pieces on which you have worked long and hard.

Is the ABRSM exam hard? ›

Grade 8 ABRSM is not all that difficult, and yet people do struggle with it. The actual performance level is not that high in terms of the pieces, but you have to be secure in all of your scale work, arpeggios, and that takes a bit of time to learn if you're not used to doing it all the time.

Is ABRSM Recognised in USA? ›

Yes, ABRSM exams are internationally recognized by performing arts high schools, colleges, conservatories, universities, and music teachers.

What is the highest ABRSM score? ›

Awarding marks
  • 100 marks to Pass;
  • 120 marks to pass with Merit;
  • 130 marks to pass with Distinction.

What is the ABRSM controversy? ›

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, on 15 July, 2020, the ABRSM syllabus came under public scrutiny for the lack of BAME representation in the 2019/20 syllabus. Over 4,000 people signed a petition which found "255 pieces in the new piano syllabus" to not include any black composers.

What grade is ABRSM equivalent to? ›

1. ABRSM and Trinity grades are accredited at the same level.
GradeBoardEquivalent to
4TrinityGCSE B/C or 4-6
5ABRSMGCSE A*-B or 7-9
5TrinityGCSE A*-B or 7-9
14 more rows

Can you skip ABRSM exams? ›

The only grade that you can't skip is the theory exam (Grade 5 theory, or an equivalent - see http://us.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/information-and-regulations/prerequisite-for-grades-6-8/) which is a prerequisite for practical grades 6-8.

How long does it take to finish ABRSM? ›

Bearing in mind all the points above, (and the obvious fact that some people are quick learners and others are less so), in my experience the average time it takes most people to pass ABRSM grades 1-5 music theory is around 3 months per grade.

Can you self study ABRSM? ›

It is certainly possible to teach yourself using the ABRSM books. For up to grade 5, there's the pink book "The ABRSM Guide to Music Theory", which has all the stuff you need to learn, but in completely the wrong order.

When should I take ABRSM exam? ›

5 more rows

Can you fail ABRSM? ›

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.

What is the hardest grade of music? ›

Grade Levels
  • Grade 1 - For beginners.
  • Grade 2 - For junior high school level musicians.
  • Grade 3 - For high school level musicians.
  • Grade 4 - For university and professional level musicians.
  • Grade 5 - Challenging for professionals.
  • Grade 6 - Some of the most difficult music available anywhere.

What is the pass rate for ABRSM? ›

Tremendous Results for ABRSM Exams Students scored a 92% pass rate!

What is Grade 8 music equivalent to in the US? ›

Completing Grade 8 in music theory is equivalent to completing undergraduate music theory requirements at most schools. Equivalent to an American Associate degree. An ATCL plus the Licentiate is equivalent to a Bachelor degree.

Is Grade 8 music advanced? ›

Grade 8 is the final graded exam available from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). This advanced level exam is an enjoyable challenge for most students.

How long does it take to get to ABRSM Grade 8? ›

Children who get to piano grade 8 have often been playing for around 10 years. Some adults and older teenagers can do grade 8 piano in 3 years if they really want to, but will miss some of the technical foundations. 5 – 8 years is more typical.

How good is a Grade 8 pianist? ›

Remember: Grade 8 is the equivalent of an A-Level. Those who received their professional training at a Music College at postgraduate level hold a Master of Music in Solo Piano Performance.

What is the average age for Grade 5 piano? ›

This also states that the 'typical Grade 5 practical candidate is 14 years old'.

Does Grade 8 piano count as an A level? ›

There are 8 grades. Depending on your instrument and how much you practise, you can probably expect to take your Grade 1 exam within a year or two of starting lessons. Grade 5 is roughly equivalent to GCSE standard, and Grade 8 is about A level standard.

How hard is ABRSM Grade 5? ›

Grade 5 truly is bordering the intermediate to advanced level of piano playing and reaching this level is a massive triumph so you should take a moment to congratulate yourself!

Is RCM better than ABRSM? ›

Ultimately, RCM grade 10 is roughly equivalent with ABRSM grade 8, and right in the middle is where things start to split. In general, grade 4 ABRSM is a little more difficult than grade 4 RCM (though you don't have to learn as many pieces). Pieces at a grade 4 ABRSM level range from a grade 4-7 level in the RCM.

How hard is ABRSM level 8? ›

Grade 8 is more complex and is the last of the amateur grades. Players would then be considered advanced and move into much more technical playing and way more advanced pieces. They may take music diplomas (professional qualifications).

Is Grade 8 piano advanced? ›

Grades 2 and 3 are early intermediate. Grades 4 and 5 are intermediate levels. Grade 6 is late intermediate, Grade 7 is early advanced. Grade 8 is advanced.

What is the difference between Trinity and ABRSM? ›

The two main differences are: Trinity uses a single phrase or piece of music around which several questions are focused, whereas ABRSM uses different musical extracts within the same set of tests for a candidate. ABSRM tests require some sung responses at each grade, whereas Trinity aural tests do not.

What is after ABRSM? ›

Our diplomas

ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music) DipABRSM (Diploma of The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) LRSM (Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music) FRSM (Fellowship of the Royal Schools of Music)

What is the hardest grade on piano? ›

Grade 8 is the highest and most difficult grade for piano. The repertoire list for this grade includes several challenging pieces by composers such as Bach, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy.

Is it worth taking piano exams? ›

Not only do you have to learn and play three pieces, you are also tested on scales, sight reading, and aural tests (examiner plays and asks questions). An exam also puts that added pressure on you to succeed and pass, which is a great way to learn and test yourself, and progress.

How do I not fail a piano exam? ›

Donna Symons, an experienced examiner, to discuss nine things that could help improve your overall exam experience and achieve a higher mark.
  1. Be prepared. ...
  2. Tempo, tempo, tempo. ...
  3. Rhythm is key. ...
  4. Avoid correcting any mistakes or mishaps. ...
  5. Just keep going. ...
  6. Memorize your repertoire. ...
  7. Remember the technical requirements.
Jan 2, 2021

Can you get good at piano in a year? ›

In general, piano students can reach Level 1 after a year of dedicated study, Level 2 after two years, and so forth, but this is only a rough guideline. Check out the sample videos below to see what kind of music you'll be able to play at each level.

Who is the youngest person to pass the Grade 8 piano exam? ›

Curtis Elton, eight, is thought to be one of the youngest people in the country to pass a Grade 8 level music exam on the piano.

Is there an age limit for ABRSM exams? ›

There are no age restrictions and students can start with any grade or skip grades if they want to.

Has anyone taught themselves piano? ›

Two famous pianists who self-taught piano and their approach. The two self-taught pianists that will be explored are Lucas Debargue and Paul Lewis.

How do I prepare for ABRSM? ›

7 Must-Know Tips to Ace the ABRSM Piano Examination
  1. 1.Practice, Practice, Practice. Ultimately, practice is key. ...
  2. 2.Listen to the CD. ...
  3. 3.Train with a Metronome. ...
  4. 4.Add Musical Variation to Scales & Arpeggios. ...
  5. 5.Play with Poise. ...
  6. 6.Overcoming the Common Nemesis: Sight-Reading. ...
  7. 7.Building the Foundation for Aural Tests.

Can anyone get to Grade 8 piano? ›

Learning piano is about learning a skill, and skills need to be trained over time. Even though you might be able to finish learning theory and theory of the technique required to play piano, it is almost impossible to learn to play piano from scratch to grade 8 in 1 year (unless you practice 12 hours a day).

How many levels are there in ABRSM? ›

There are nine levels of assessment for Piano – Initial Grade and Grades 1 to 8. Select a grade using the links below to view the syllabus and supporting materials. Find out about our Performance Grades, an alternative route to a graded music exam.

What is the average age for ABRSM Grade 1? ›

ABRSM suggests 1.5 years to be ready for the exam, but this is only for an average child starting at around primary school age who has sufficient practice and parental involvement.

What is the highest score on ABRSM grade 8? ›

Practical Piano Grade 8 exams consist of three pieces, scales and arpeggios, sight-reading, and aural tests. Total marks in all individual Practical exams are 150. You need 100 marks to achieve Pass, 120 marks to pass with Merit and 130 marks to pass with Distinction.

How hard is it to get a distinction for Grade 1 piano? ›

It is not enough just to get the notes and the rhythm correct. It is shown that the average number of wrong notes played by a (grade 1) distinction candidate is about one is 150. In carefully prepared examination work, candidates often play fewer than five wrong notes in every thousand.

How many points do you need to pass ABRSM theory? ›

Each Music Theory paper carries a total of 100 marks, 66 are required to achieve a pass, 80 to receive a merit and 90 for a distinction. At Grades 6 to 8, each exam consists of five extended questions.

What is a passing grade for ABRSM theory? ›

Assessed through a paper-based exam. Marked out of 100 - 66 marks for a Pass, 80 for a Merit and 90 for a Distinction.

What is the easiest grade in music? ›

Hal Leonard describes the grade levels below, and we've expanded their guide for you here:
  • Grade 1: Very Easy.
  • Grade 2: Easy.
  • Grade 3: Medium.
  • Grade 4: Medium Advanced.
  • Grade 5: Advanced.
  • Grade 6: Very Advanced.
Oct 12, 2022

What is the hardest instrument to play in a band? ›

The 11 Hardest Musical Instruments to Learn
  • Violin. The violin is a wooden stringed instrument that's part of a larger family of similar instruments. ...
  • The French Horn. ...
  • The Organ. ...
  • Bagpipes. ...
  • Accordion. ...
  • Oboe. ...
  • Harp. ...
  • Guitar.

What grade music do college bands play? ›

Band Grading Systems

In general, the lower end of the system (0.5-2) is played by elementary and middle school bands. The middle range (3-4) can be played by high school bands and the high range (4-6) by collegiate bands.

Why take the ABRSM exam? ›

In the US, the ABRSM is known to effectively prep students for the AP Music Theory Test, covering important aspects of Theory, Aural Training, and Music Analysis. Passing the AP Music Theory Test provides course credit at universities all across the U.S, so ask your teacher about the exam today!

Is Grade 8 piano impressive? ›

Grade 8 piano is a momentous achievement for many who have committed years of practise to the instrument, and achieving a Distinction at Grade 8 is widely respected amongst pianists of all ages and abilities – and for good reason.

Can you skip ABRSM grades? ›

There are no age restrictions and students can start with any grade or skip grades if they want to.

Which music exam board is the best? ›

ABRSM provides internationally respected music assessments for learners of all ages and levels of attainment. Each year 700 examiners deliver over 600,000 assessments in more than 90 countries. As a regulated awarding organisation ABRSM assessments are valued and trusted measures of musical progress.

How hard is ABRSM Grade 4? ›

In general, grade 4 ABRSM is a little more difficult than grade 4 RCM (though you don't have to learn as many pieces). Pieces at a grade 4 ABRSM level range from a grade 4-7 level in the RCM. For Grade 4 RCM exams, you need to prepare 5 pieces: 2 etudes (studies), and 3 repertoire pieces.

Is ABRSM Grade 5 difficult? ›

Grade 5 truly is bordering the intermediate to advanced level of piano playing and reaching this level is a massive triumph so you should take a moment to congratulate yourself!

What is the average age for ABRSM Grade 5? ›

This also states that the 'typical Grade 5 practical candidate is 14 years old'.

How long does it take to reach grade 8 piano ABRSM? ›

Children who get to piano grade 8 have often been playing for around 10 years. Some adults and older teenagers can do grade 8 piano in 3 years if they really want to, but will miss some of the technical foundations. 5 – 8 years is more typical.


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