So you're taking an Exam...

Good for you! Taking an RCM exam is a challenging yet rewarding experience. Just like studying for an exam at school, you will have to focus, work hard and practice daily to do well. You cannot leave your studying to the night before and expect to get a good mark. Although exams are a challenging task to undertake, with the right amount of preparation and discipline, you will succeed! 

Here are some tips from Katherine Fraser  and Melanie Spanswick to guide you on your journey to your RCM Exam. 

The weeks before your exam: 
Practice slowly! Your pieces are learned now and you are likely tired of them. Look at your music and freshen up dynamics and articulation. Sing them in your head but play them slowly and carefully.

Don’t neglect your sight-reading. This is an important part of the exam but many students seem to leave it to the last week to start their preparation. The sight-reading element should really be incorporated into your practice schedule months before your exam. When practising, focus on two or three exercises a day playing at a very slow speed so that you are able to observe all the details in each exercise. The most crucial part of this test is to keep going right until the end. Once you stop and correct yourself you will probably fail this element of the exam.

Work on all things minor. The scale of G major, though fun to play, is nicely organized. Perhaps F-sharp minor is not so organized. Know where your fourth fingers go in each scale. This makes them easier. Remember that third fingers always play C sharps in F-sharp minor!

Part of your exam will consist of a melody which you will playback for the examiner. Don't forget which notes it can start on. They are different for each grade so get that straight. Sing your intervals and practice sight reading. Remember, if a piece is in D major it will likely be centered on D and A.

Play your pieces in order and up to speed for your parents or friends.  

The day of your exam:
Play through everything once, slowly, and then practice scales and sight reading. Try not to play too much. Spend your time thinking about what you are going to do. Go for a walk, read a book, go shopping! 

Choose your clothes carefully! Avoid short skirts and shorts. Your legs will stick to the bench. Check your footwear, especially if you are using the pedal. If your heels are too high your legs might not fit under the keyboard – awkward! Dress comfortably, as you would for school.

Get your books organized and fill out your timetable. Leave for your exam in plenty of time. You don’t want to feel hurried.. 

At the exam:
Have your books ready. The examiner doesn’t really want to fish them out of your book bag! Leave your cellphone in the waiting area or turn it off. 

Remember: You have worked hard to get to the exam room so be happy and proud of what you are going to present. Enjoy sharing your pieces with someone new. Accidents may happen and that is the nature of the process. If you have difficulties stay calm and it will get sorted out. Remember that the examiner is a teacher and has heard these kinds of accidents, if not the exact same ones, many times.

Listen carefully for the examiner's instructions. If you are unclear ask for the requirement again. Before you launch into it, think! Remember: you play the piano with your head before your hands. Take time to think – always. Head before hands.

Listen carefully to the melody playback. If you get the first three notes you will likely get the rest!

After the exam: 
Treat yourself to an iced tea or a good cup of coffee and relax.

You will now truly enjoy your old pieces! Keep playing them, but look forward. The exam is over and you can change nothing about it. Forget about it! Get your new books and start exploring new pieces and challenges.

When the report comes read it, think about it and move on. You ultimately have to decide how you felt about things. Take from the report anything you find useful for future study and leave it at that. You have accomplished a great deal preparing for the exam and you should feel good about that!