Seven Essential Exam Tips

With the May written exam series fast approaching, here is a series of tips that will help students and parents prepare for the big day…

1. Avoid cramming

We all know that knowledge quickly gained is knowledge quickly lost. Take these last two weeks to do steady revision each day – don’t leave it all to the night before!

2. Arrive at least half an hour early

The supervisors start calling the students in well before the allotted starting time. There’s a lot of sitting around to do so it’s best to expect this and have strategies for coping, like some mental revision.

3. Have adequate materials

At least 3 pencils and a good eraser are the absolutely essential materials, in a small clear zip lock bag. It’s also very important to bring the exam notice with your candidate number on it!

4. Use the reading time

This is a really important one. There is 10 minutes of reading time before the exam starts. In my opinion this is the most important 10 minutes of the whole exam.

Back in 2007 when I sat the Music Craft exams to see what they were like, I was really eager to see the exam content. As soon as the 10 minutes of reading time began, I was able to satisfy my curiosity! I read every question very carefully, thinking about the style of questioning and how my students might cope. Looking around, I could see that almost every other student in the room was sitting looking bored, not reading the paper, just waiting to be told to start writing.

Once we were allowed to start writing, it felt like I was having a second chance at answering the questions because I had already done them in my head. I found that there was much less chance of me misreading the question or making a silly mistake, and that I was able to ‘correct’ things along the way, sort of like proof-reading or checking, but different because I hadn’t actually written anything down the first time around. The students who had not read through the paper did not have this advantage.

5. Don’t rush

It’s not a race to see who can finish the exam the fastest. Also, don’t think that completing it quickly and giving yourself more time for checking at the end is a good strategy. It’s NOT. The more you rush, the more careless errors you will make, and it’s very difficult to pick these up (see tip no. 6).

6. Check your work

The really important things to check are that you’ve answered every question on the paper, that you haven’t accidentally skipped a page, and that all of your notes and words are clearly legible.

Checking all of your answers is important but will only work up to a certain point. Don’t we always ask someone else to proofread our own work? That’s because it’s very hard to see our own mistakes. By all means read over your paper at the end, but a much better strategy is to read the question carefully first (see tip no. 3) and complete each task slowly and thoughtfully (see tip no.4). This will give you a much better chance of getting a high mark.

If you find that you have finished early, even after having taken time to check your paper three times, you may ask to leave early if you are done. Some supervisors will not let students leave early no matter what time they finish, so you’ll just have to sit quietly. A more standard rule is to not let anyone leave within 15 minutes of the official end time – this is to avoid major distractions for people working right until the end.

7. Try not to hum in the aural exams

I have always told my students that they may not hum in the aural exams, that humming is definitely not allowed and that nobody else will hum. However, when I sat the Music Craft aural exams in 2007 I found that this was not the case. After every question was played it sounded like a swarm of bees had entered the room! This can be quite off-putting and sometimes it was necessary to hum softly just to overcome the sound of everyone else doing it. But if you can manage to block this out and hear everything in your head, this is a much better way to complete the exam.

Good luck for later this month!

Samantha Coates

Samantha Coates is a professional pianist and teacher with over 25 years experience in both private and group tuition. She is the author and publisher of BlitzBooks, the music education series that has captured the imagination of students across Australia and transformed the teaching of music theory, sight reading and general knowledge.

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