As we near the end of the exam season there will be a lot of nervous students waiting to hear their results. As happens every year, there will be some people who didn’t get the results they wanted. And some will sadly have not passed. Failing a music exam can feel like the end of the world to some students. After months of hard work, it can seem like a really unfair result. While it may be tempting to tear up that results sheet and never touch your instrument again, there is a lot to be gained from this experience.
Most fails happen because it was just a bad day. The student may have been feeling unwell. Perhaps a single mistake was distracting enough to cause problems for the rest of the repertoire. These things happen. An examination is difficult enough without things going against you on the day. Take a look at the examiner’s remarks. What do they say?
Examiners will make a point of highlighting what they enjoyed. And they will also detail why you didn’t make the grade on that day. It’s important to remember that’s only what went wrong on that single occasion. But it’s worth working on those few problems. If they happened once under exam pressure, you want to make sure they don’t occur again. Extra work on these areas will help secure the technical requirements.
More practice under the extreme conditions of an examination can help you feel better prepared and less nervous next time. Use a video camera. Use a sound recorder. And really listen to it. The presence of a recording device can certainly add to your nerves. Perform regularly. Perform for family, friends, strangers, and even your pets. And don’t forget to perform in lots of different places. A strange acoustic, different light, and layout of the room can all be distractions you need to feel comfortable with.
Have another look through your examiner’s marks. Check the components of the exam that had low marks or fail marks. These are the areas to concentrate on. Scales and aural are common problem areas for lots of students. They are not enjoyed as much as the pieces. This means they are often neglected. However, they should be considered as free marks. All you need to do is master them. For the most part, they are either right or wrong. The pieces have a more complicated marking criteria.
Sight reading can be hit or miss for some students too. Practice is essential to pass this section well. Sight read every day. Sight read pieces in a group and on your own in private practice. Sometimes you only need to read and vocalise what you see in the score to get a good idea of what it sounds like. Books like ‘Joining The Dots’ are excellent resources to better your sight reading.
Not all of us are cut out for exams. If they’re not for you, then don’t feel they are necessary for you to progress or prove your worth as a musician. They are handy qualifications to have however. They can boost your points needed for University entry. They also look good on your curriculum vitae. Best of all, they give you valuable experience of performing under pressure. Exam experience can be very useful throughout your academic and professional life.