Your questions answered
At the end of 2011 and 2012 we held three teachers’ conferences around the UK. The Question and Answer sessions at each, hosted by conference presenters and ABRSM staff, provoked some interesting discussions, a few of which we are sharing here.
Exams and examiners
How does ABRSM monitor its examiners?
We monitor the work of our examiners thoroughly and continuously to ensure that they examine consistently and to the highest standards. All examiners are regularly moderated in a process that involves a specially trained ABRSM examiner or ‘moderator’ sitting in and observing all aspects of an examiner’s work. We also carry out statistical analysis of marks awarded – with results recorded so that we establish a profile for each examiner – and, periodically, we arrange for our panel of expert ‘readers’ to check and analyse an examiner’s mark forms. In addition, all ABRSM exam mark forms are checked for accuracy and consistency before we issue results.
How can we give feedback to ABRSM after an exam?
We are happy to receive feedback on any aspect of an exam. For concerns about the exam itself we ask you to get in touch within seven days of the exam, so that we are able to look into the matter before issuing mark forms. For other feedback and concerns about marking and results you should contact us as soon as possible, and no later than six weeks after the exam.
Should we encourage pupils to do things that a composer hasn’t written?
Interpretation of the music will always be personal. As long as the integrity of the music is maintained you can change things such as bowings and dynamics. However, if the interpretation is inappropriate for the style of music, this may affect the marks awarded.
If students can’t play a certain fingering, can we change it?
Yes. Examiners mark what they hear as a musical outcome – not the way in which a performance is achieved. However, if an alternative fingering leads to a loss of musicality, then the result would be highlighted. For example, the examiner might comment on problems with phrasing.
Can teachers make suggestions for syllabus repertoire?
Yes. We are always pleased to receive repertoire ideas – together with a suggested grade – especially for pieces that haven’t been set on a syllabus previously.
One of my early grade pupils failed their exam. I take responsibility for this. Do you have any tips on how to move on from failure?
Try not to overemphasise the importance of exams and don’t dwell on the matter. Draw a line and move on to activities that are not exam oriented. Try to boost your pupil’s confidence by arranging other performance opportunities such as informal concerts and masterclasses. It might also be worth talking to fellow teachers, who have probably been through the same experience, to exchange ideas.
Is it possible to be too nice as a teacher? Do those who are tougher get better results?
It’s a question of balance. There are times when you need to be tough but it depends on the pupil and the situation. It’s for teachers as professionals to judge – and on an individual basis.
How do you make learning scales fun?
Scales are the physical grammar of what we do. They condition your hands, physiologically, to fall into a certain shape when playing in a certain key. Learning this physical geography of a key can help with all aspects of playing, and especially with sight-reading. There are many ways to make scales interesting. Here are just a few ideas.
- Add accompaniments using the piano or your own instrument. This provides a challenge for teachers too. You can also buy duet books for scales.
- Play scales in different styles: latin, groove, rock, baroque.
- Some schools offer ‘scale circles’ first thing in the morning – a 15-minute run through with friends.
This article was originally featured in the January 2012 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.