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ABRSM examiners

John Holmes, Chief ExaminerAll ABRSM examiners understand what it is like to learn to play or sing and the time and effort it takes to progress in music. Their motivation in being an examiner is to encourage developing musicians. They are people skilled in providing a supportive atmosphere in an exam and giving a fair, independent assessment.

ABRSM examiners are all highly qualified, experienced musicians. They might be teachers, performers or conductors. Over 700 examiners combine their own skills, abilities, knowledge and understanding with those developed through our comprehensive and rigorous examiner training.

Generalist examiners

Our exams are music exams first rather than instrumental or singing exams and because of this we use generalist music examiners. ABRSM examiners assess all instruments and singing as generalist musicians rather than as instrumental or vocal specialists. They use our marking criteria to assess the musical outcome, not the technique used to achieve it, and this allows consistent marking across all instruments.

However, we do use specialists to choose the pieces and songs for our syllabuses, to create our sight-reading and sight-singing tests, and to make decisions about technical requirements.

Selection and training

Our recruitment and training programme for examiners includes an initial interview and practical tests, followed by group and one-to-one training. We then closely monitor and support all new examiners to make sure they are working to our high standards.

Our training is based on three fundamental aspects of examining: manner, method and marking. We know that an examiner’s manner has a big impact on the way candidates feel about their exam, so this influences all aspects of our examiner training. We train our examiners to:

  • provide a warm welcome;
  • create a positive atmosphere;
  • put candidates at ease;
  • be calm and encouraging;
  • show empathy and understanding;
  • treat all candidates kindly, fairly and with respect.

Inside an ABRSM exam roomOur training also focuses on the method of examining. This covers the practicalities of the exam and making sure everything runs smoothly for candidates.

Finally, we train our examiners to use the ABRSM criteria. Examiners make all their marking decisions and write up the mark forms during the exams. Our training gives them the skills to make reliable and consistent assessments and to write helpful, sympathetic comments.

Maintaining standards

We expect all our examiners to work to consistently high standards, and we have thorough quality assurance processes in place to ensure this happens.

  • Moderation - a team of highly experienced examiners act as moderators. They sit in with examiners as they work to check they are examining to the required standards. This happens for all examiners at least every two to three years.
  • Mark form reviews – we review each examiner’s mark forms every two to three years.
  • Statistical reviews – we regularly record, monitor and review the marks awarded by all examiners. We also provide continuing professional development for our examiners through annual conferences, regular seminars, observation and mentoring.

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