Latest exam updates

Performance Grades: Booking for June Performance Grades is open now until 13 May.

Performance Grade exams

We are pleased to confirm that we will be offering Performance Grade exams every month for the remainder of 2021. Please check our Dates and Fees page for details.

Grade 5 Music Theory waiver (not applicable in the UK & Ireland)

We are extending our Grade 5 Music Theory waiver until 23 May 2021. This means that candidates with a Grade 6 to 8 Performance Grade exam submission date up to and including 23 May can take their exam without first passing Grade 5 Music Theory. We are making this exceptional arrangement to allow candidates who have been unable to take an exam in recent months to progress with their learning. From 24 May, the Grade 5 Music Theory requirement will return. For exam dates/exam submission dates after 23 May, all candidates taking a Grade 6 to 8 Performance or Practical Grade must first pass Grade 5 Music Theory.

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?

Online Music Theory exams at Grades 1 to 5 are now available worldwide. From May onwards we will also be introducing a more flexible service so that candidates have more choice over when they can take their exam.

The next opportunity to take an exam is between 26 May and 23 June 2021.

  • Candidates can take their exam on any date and at any time during the 26 May to 23 June exam session. All grades are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week between May 26 and 23 June 2021.
  • You do not have to select a specific date when you book.
  • To maintain the security of the assessment, candidates will be randomly assigned different sets of questions.
  • Please make sure that all preparations are made well in advance of the chosen exam date, including checking the system requirements and running the system compatibility This is particularly important if candidates are planning to take their exam towards the end of the four-week session.
  • Candidates can take their exam in any location where they have access to a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam and the internet that meets our requirements.
  • All exams will be online and no physical paper will be provided, unless it is required for access arrangements or reasonable adjustments. You can find out more here.

The booking period for this exam window is from 26 April to 4 May 2021.

  • This is when you can book an online Music Theory exam at Grade 1 to 5 using our online booking service.
  • Each candidate will only be able to book one exam during this exam window.

At the moment, we can only offer these exams in English in all territoriesand Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. We plan to provide translations into other languages in the future and will provide an update on this when we can.

From August 2021 we will be introducing further improvements to the way we offer online Music Theory exams and will provide more information about this as soon as we can.

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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