Exam information

Same standards. Different format.

With a focus on creating a more reliable and accessible assessment, online Music Theory exams give candidates the best opportunity to demonstrate their musical knowledge and understanding.

To support the format of these new online exams, we have updated some of the Grade 1 to 5 questions to bring them in line with a style of assessment commonly used across the education sector.

Although the way in which you take your exam has changed, and some of the questions have been updated, we are still testing the same musical knowledge and understanding, to the same standards.

When can I take this new assessment?

From August, we’re introducing a new flexible service for online Music Theory exams at Grades 1 to 5. Instead of having set booking periods and exam sessions, you’ll be able to choose when to book and when to take an exam. 

We’re also introducing some other changes to make the exam process simpler for candidates, parents, teachers and schools:

  • Candidates will be able to log in to take their exam from their own ABRSM online account, rather than needing separate login details.
  • Approved educational institutions, such as schools and colleges, will be able to invigilate the exams themselves without external proctoring.  In these situations, you will not need to download the RPNow proctoring software.

Full details of the new service, including when you can start booking exams, will be available soon.

How will I take this new assessment?

Candidates take their exam in any location where they have access to a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam and an internet connection. You can find our detailed system requirements here.

The exam platform, proctoring and test delivery are provided by a third-party supplier called PSI who deliver over 15 million assessments every year.

This policy provides information about the proctoring for our online Music Theory exams.

Proctoring is a form of invigilation. It is similar to having exam invigilators in a face-to-face exam room, but adapted for remote assessment. Proctoring is necessary to check that candidates have taken their exams under exam conditions in accordance with our regulations and requirements.

The candidate will be recorded for the duration of the exam via the webcam and exam software; this includes audio as well as the candidate’s desktop. Trained proctors review each exam video recording after it has been completed. The proctor is the person who views the video recording and alerts us to any suspicious activity which we then review internally before we issue results.

Grade 1 to 5 – what’s changing?

You can view a summary of the updated syllabus here. This applies from 2020 for online exams, where they are available. All paper-based exams in 2020 and 2021 will continue to use the ‘from 2018’ syllabus.

  • We have adapted the style of some questions for use in an online exam. If you are familiar with our paper exams, the online version of some questions will look different. Candidates can try the new format here.
  • There are new question types including more multiple-choice. This is to ensure objective, reliable and robust, assessment.
  • The knowledge required for each grade will be tested in full in every individual exam paper.
  • We are removing the requirement to demonstrate accurate copying of music. Candidates will still demonstrate their knowledge of how to write music.
  • There will be a total of 75 marks available rather than 100 marks. Candidates will need 50 marks for a Pass, 60 marks for a Merit and 65 marks for a Distinction.
  • Grade 2: candidates currently have a choice of the harmonic or melodic form of minor scales. This is changing to harmonic.
  • Grade 3: questions about phrase structure are no longer included.
  • Grade 5: identifying the progression 6/4 5/3 (Ic-V) on the dominant note in any of the keys set for this grade is no longer be required.
  • Grade 5: we are adding the requirement that candidates can recognise and name perfect, plagal and imperfect cadences. Currently candidates have to indicate suitable chord progressions for two cadences – it makes sense that they should also be able to name those cadences. You can see some example questions here: Grade 5 Cadence Question Examples.
  • We have reduced the number of terms and signs, removing any that musicians are unlikely to experience in their practical/performance learning at the same grade. This supports better progression from grade to grade and ensures the required knowledge is more relevant and useful to learners. An updated list of terms and signs is available here: Terms and Signs for Grades 1 to 5 from 2020
  • We are removing the requirement to transpose an entire melody between clefs, but are still assessing fundamental knowledge of transposition between clefs and keys.
  • We are not making any changes to the core musical understanding that candidates will be asked to demonstrate in their exam at Grades 1 to 5.
  • The level and value of the exams is staying the same.
  • We are not changing the duration of the exams.
  • We are not making any changes to the questions or syllabus at Grades 6 to 8.

Got a question?

Hear more from our Deputy Head of Learning & Qualifications:

What are the changes?

How do the updated exams better support our learners?

What is ABRSM’s process for updating the Music Theory syllabus and assessment?

How have we ensured the exam is robust and maintains standards?

Why are we using multiple-choice questions?

How have we ensured the exam is accessible for neurodiverse learners?

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