Latest exam updates

Exam refunds

To support customers affected by ongoing COVID restrictions, for Practical and Performance Grade exams from 1 January to 31 May 2021 any absent candidate will automatically receive a refund. This includes Performance Grades where the candidate has been unable to record and upload their video. You do not need to contact us to request a refund. However, it will help us if you can log in to your account and cancel the exam.

For Online Music Theory exams and any paper based exams taking place outside of the UK/Ireland we anticipate COVID restrictions will not prevent candidates from sitting their exam so absentee candidates will not automatically receive a refund and our normal Withdrawal, Non-attendance and Fee Refunds Policy still applies.

Performance Grade booking

We will be offering Performance Grade exams every month for the remainder of 2021. Please check here for dates and fees.

Music Theory exams – March 2021

  • Online Music Theory exams (Grades 1 to 5) – we are cancelling the online exams planned for 16 March. Exams in May and June will go ahead as planned.
  • Paper Music Theory exams (Grades 6 to 8) – the next exams will take place in June. Please note, dates and booking periods for Grades 1-5 and Grades 6-8 may be different from now on. For full details, see our dates and fees page.
  • Grade 5 Music Theory requirement - from 1 January to 30 April 2021 only, candidates can take Grade 6 to 8 Performance or Practical exams without first passing Grade 5 Music Theory. From 1 May 2021, the Grade 5 Music Theory requirement will return with flexibility about timing. If you receive an email asking for your proof of prerequisite, please ignore this. We will still release any results in line with the arrangements outlined here.

For more information click here.

Face-to-face practical exams, session 1 - USA

Due to current COVID restrictions, we will not be opening our normal booking period in January for face-to-face practical exams in April-June. We hope to provide a practical session later in the year, but need to keep all dates under review as we can only accept bookings if COVID travel and government restrictions are lifted. We will provide an update nearer to the next booking period.


The marking scheme

The marks for ARSM are allocated as follows:

Maximum marks

Pieces/songs presented


Performance as a whole




Pieces/songs are first marked out of 30 using the marking criteria, which are the same as those used in our graded music exams. These criteria guide the examiner’s approach to writing comments, piece by piece, while listening, and are used to award a single mark out of 30 to cover all works presented.

After it has finished, the performance as a whole is then marked out of 20, using a second set of criteria. Here the examiner assesses the entirety of the performance in terms of overall musical communication, interpretation and delivery.

The combination of the two marks awarded (one out of 30 plus one out of 20) provides a total mark out of 50, giving a result in one of four categories, as follows:

Result category

Mark band


45 – 50


40 – 44


34 – 39

Below Pass

17 – 33

The total mark determines the ARSM result; there is no need to achieve a pass in each assessment area to pass overall.

Our approach to marking

In all ABRSM exams, our examiners mark upwards or downwards from the pass mark, rather than deducting marks from the maximum or adding marks from zero. When awarding marks, examiners balance the extent to which control of the qualities and skills listed in the marking criteria is demonstrated and contributes towards the overall musical outcome.

Using the two sets of marking criteria, our examiners assess the quality of the performance as generalist musicians, rather than as instrumental or vocal specialists, enabling examiners to mark consistently across all instruments (including voice). Using the approach outlined above, they assess and mark the musical performance, not the technical means used to achieve it.

Other requirements

If ARSM exam requirements are not adequately fulfilled, we may have to make mark deductions or disqualify candidates. Examples include:

  • Offering an inappropriate standard of own-choice repertoire (should be ABRSM Grade 8 standard or higher).
  • Presenting a programme that is too short or too long.
  • Presenting a programme containing less than 20 minutes of music from the ARSM repertoire lists.
  • Presenting ARSM-listed repertoire, but not as specified, e.g. incorrect number of movements.

Candidates who present a performance that is more than two minutes shorter, or that contains less than 20 minutes of repertoire from the ARSM syllabus, may be subject to a penalty. This could range from a one-mark deduction to disqualification from the exam, depending on the length of the performance.

Explanatory videos

To hear from our Chief Examiner about the ARSM assessment and marking criteria, watch these videos.

The marking criteria

Criteria for the pieces/songs presented








  • Highly accurate notes and intonation
  • Fluent, with flexibility where appropriate
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed
  • Well projected
  • Sensitive use of tonal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping and detail
  • Assured
  • Fully committed
  • Vivid communication of character and style


  • Largely accurate notes and intonation
  • Sustained, effective tempo
  • Good sense of rhythm
  • Mainly controlled and consistent
  • Good tonal awareness
  • Clear musical shaping, well-realised detail
  • Positive
  • Carrying musical conviction
  • Character and style communicated


  • Generally correct notes
  • Sufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Suitable tempo
  • Generally stable pulse
  • Overall rhythmic accuracy
  • Generally reliable
  • Adequate tonal awareness
  • Some realisation of musical shape and/or detail
  • Generally secure, prompt recovery from slips
  • Some musical involvement

Below Pass

  • Frequent note errors
  • Insufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Unsuitable and/or uncontrolled tempo
  • Irregular pulse
  • Inaccurate rhythm
  • Uneven and/or unreliable
  • Inadequate tonal awareness
  • Musical shape and detail insufficiently conveyed
  • Insecure, inadequate recovery from slips
  • Insufficient musical involvement


  • Largely inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Erratic tempo and/or pulse
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Musical shape and detail largely unrealised
  • Lacking continuity
  • No musical involvement


  • Highly inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Incoherent tempo and/or pulse
  • No tonal control
  • No shape or detail
  • Unable to continue for more than a short section

Criteria for the performance as a whole






  • Consistently well-projected and involved, showing strong performance commitment and conviction
  • Effective sequence and pacing of chosen programme; consistently good performance awareness and control
  • Consistently effective stylistic characterisation; interpretative demands of the programme well met
  • Consistently good awareness and control of textures and ensemble, with effective blending and balancing


  • Consistently assured and controlled; technical challenges of the programme well met
  • Consistently effective instrument management, fully responsive to the performance situation



  • Mainly well-projected and involved, showing positive performance commitment
  • Largely effective sequence and pacing of chosen programme; mainly good performance awareness and control


  • Mostly effective stylistic realisation; interpretative demands of the programme largely well met
  • Mainly good awareness and control of textures and ensemble, with appropriate blending and balancing


  • Effectively controlled; most technical challenges of the programme well met
  • Mostly effective instrument management, mainly responsive to the performance situation



  • Projection and involvement sufficient to maintain an overall sense of performance
  • Sequence and pacing of chosen programme shows adequate performance awareness and control


  • Sufficient stylistic realisation to meet the interpretative demands of the programme
  • Adequate awareness and control of textures and ensemble, with sufficient blending and balancing


  • Generally controlled; technical challenges of the programme securely met overall
  • Sufficiently reliable instrument management to meet the demands of the performance situation

Below Pass

  • Insufficient projection or sense of involvement to maintain a sense of performance
  • Sequence and/or pacing of chosen programme shows inadequate performance awareness or control


  • Stylistic realisation not equal to the interpretative demands of the programme
  • Insufficient awareness or control of textures and ensemble, and/or unsuitable blending and balancing


  • Consistency of control insufficient to meet the technical challenges of the programme
  • Insufficiently reliable instrument management to meet the demands of the performance situation



  • Sense of performance largely absent
  • Stylistic realisation and/or control of textures and ensemble largely absent
  • Very insecure technical control and/or instrument management

Further information about ARSM

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