Interpreters for deaf and hearing-impaired candidates in ABRSM exams

The term ‘interpreter’ will be used throughout for sign language interpreters, lipspeakers, oral language modifiers and other interpreting aids. Lipspeakers and oral language modifiers provide access for hearing impaired candidates who use English. Sign language interpreters provide access for deaf candidates who use British Sign Language. When items apply only to sign language interpreters, this full title is used.

This pack contains information for candidates, their teachers and interpreters who are taking or assisting in an ABRSM exam. In the majority of cases this provision will be required for a practical exam. However, if you require an interpreter in a Music Theory exam please contact the Access Coordinator for further advice. It is the applicant’s responsibility to provide their interpreter with a copy of these guidelines, as a signed agreement is required in order that the exam be validated. This should be passed to the interpreter as soon as possible to give them time to prepare.

We advise everyone concerned to read all the guidelines, even those that are not directed at them.

You are welcome to bring an interpreter with you to your exam. We will advise the examiner on how best to conduct your exam, and will also pass on any extra advice or information you can provide at the time of entry. It is important to let us know as soon as possible whether you intend to use an interpreter. This should be no later than the closing date for entry. 

Finding an interpreter

  • Interpreters should be independent, so should not be your music teacher or someone related to you.
  • It is strongly recommended that your interpreter be suitably qualified to assist you in accessing your exam.  They ideally, therefore, should be qualified to Level 3 in the relevant access skill e.g. lipspeaking or sign language interpreting, and have experience of working in the assessment environment. In addition, they must be able to demonstrate sufficient musical knowledge, to the standard of Grade 5 Practical and Theory, or to the level or above the exam being taken.
  • It is probably best to use an interpreter that you have worked with before, who you think is familiar with interpreting the musical terms that will be needed. Alternatively, you can engage a musically qualified professional interpreter, in which case ABRSM will pay their fee and travel expenses up to an annually reviewed maximum.
  • ABRSM does not endorse any particular interpreters, although we do have a list of CACDP-registered sign language interpreters and lipspeakers who feel that they also have the appropriate musical qualifications for the job. ABRSM will be happy to put you in touch with the nearest person we know of in your area.

Using an interpreter in the exam

  • The areas of the exam which will require the most detailed communication are the scales and the aural tests.
  • It is important that you and your interpreter are able to communicate musical terms and ideas that are on a level with the grade of exam you are taking and that the interpreter communicates the assessment appropriately. If you are using a lipspeaker then you will be expected to lipread the musical terms as they are spoken. This may be with the help of fingerspelling initial letters to help with lipreading.  If you use BSL the interpreter will only be allowed to fingerspell and not sign the musical terms.
  • To help you to communicate in the best way possible it is important that both you and your interpreter understand how to approach different aspects of the exam.  You should refer to the Specimen Aural Tests and, for further information, to Aural Training in Practice to ensure you are familiar with the sort of questions that can be expected in the exam for the required level.
  • Your interpreter will be given the option of talking to the examiner during the first few minutes of the exam so that they are both clear on the content of the exam, and the best way to proceed.  Again, this should be useful in ensuring that the exam runs smoothly.

During the exam

The interpreter will:

  • interpret everything that is said during the exam, by both you and the examiner, as closely as possible.
  • communicate all technical terms such as scales, dynamics, articulation, tempo, etc. by the use of finger-spelling when using sign language.

The interpreter will not:

  • give any undue assistance in answering any of the questions.
  • explain or re-word anything said by the examiner.  If you do not understand, the examiner will re-word the question and the interpreter will then interpret this.
  • physically demonstrate any of the technical instructions unless copying that of the examiner.
  • alter your response in any way when interpreting it back to the examiner.

What to do if you are not happy with your interpreter

  • Please note that ABRSM, your HLR (Honorary Local Representative) and your steward cannot accept responsibility for any problems between you and your chosen interpreter. 
  • ABRSM does not endorse any interpreters and cannot intervene in any disputes.
  • If you are not happy with your interpreter or the service you have received from them, you must take this up with them or their agency directly.  If you have used a CACDP-registered sign language interpreter or lipspeaker, you can make a complaint to CACDP.  In the case of sign language interpreters, the complaint will be passed to the Independent Registration Panel. 

Your result

  • ABRSM is committed to finding solutions to help you access our exams.  However, when it comes to marking, all candidates are treated equally and you will be marked in the same way as any other candidate.
  • It is accepted that your performance may be affected by the effectiveness of communication between you, your interpreter and the examiner.  However, it is your responsibility to ensure that you and your interpreter have worked through any potential problems and are ready for the exam.

Your qualifications

  • To interpret an ABRSM exam, we ask that you should be qualified to minimum of Level 3 in your particular access skill and be experienced in working in the assessment environment. 
  • It is strongly recommended that sign language interpreters should be fully qualified Members of the Register of BSL/English Interpreters , but if an MRSLI is not available, a registered TI (Trainee Interpreter) or registered JTI (Junior Trainee Interpreter) may be acceptable.
  • Due to the specialist nature of our exams, it is essential that you have musical knowledge at least to the level of Grade 5 Practical and Theory and, for candidates taking the higher grades, equal to, and preferably above, the level of the exam being taken.

The syllabus

  • ABRSM examines candidates in graded music exams, Prep Tests, diplomas, Music Medals, Jazz, choral singing, ensembles and the Performance Assessment.
  • Most of our candidates take graded music exams which include the following sections:
    • Pieces
    • Technical requirements (or traditional song for singers)
    • Sight-reading
    • Aural tests
  • We ask that you make sure you are familiar with the syllabus before the exam takes place
  • You should also refer to the Specimen Aural Tests and, for further information, to Aural Training in Practice to ensure you are familiar with the sort of questions that can be expected in the exam for the required level.

The exam

  • To make the interpreting from the examiner to the candidate as clear as possible we recommend that you position yourself next to the examiner.
  • Most of the interpreting needed will be quite simple, e.g. greetings, or “Would you like to begin?”  Here the instructions can be signed.
  • The scales section of the exam will require some technical musical terms, e.g. “C harmonic minor, contrary motion”.  In this case, the instructions must be finger-spelt.
  • The part of the exam which will require detailed interaction between the examiner and the candidate will be the aural tests in graded music exams and the Viva Voce in the diplomas.  For further details on how to conduct this part of the exam please refer to the Interpreter will/will not section.
  • The examiner will be prepared to re-word questions using different language if necessary.

Interpreting the exam

  • Where the candidate uses BSL, it is important that all technical terms are finger-spelt as it is part of the exam requirements that the candidate is familiar with these terms in English.
  • You should interpret the words of the examiner as closely as possible, and should not explain or re-word anything.
  • If the candidate does not understand something, the examiner will re-word what he or she has said, and you should then interpret this to the candidate.

Quality assurance

  • As part of our quality assurance procedures we moderate a set percentage of our exams each year, and may record them.  Such recordings remain the property of ABRSM and may be archived but will remain strictly anonymous. 
  • Any moderator in attendance will just be there as an observer and will not interfere with the exam process.

Signed agreement

  • As an interpreter of an ABRSM exam you are required to sign an agreement confirming that you have read and understood this guidance.
  • You must make sure you have read, signed and dated the agreement, and have it with you on the day of the exam to hand to the examiner.

Contact details

Access Coordinator

4 London Wall Place

T +44 (0)20 7467 7342
T 18002 +44 (0)20 7637 2582 (textphone)
E [email protected]


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Piano Exam Pieces 2017 & 2018

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For large print editions of ABRSM materials:

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