Frequently Asked Questions
Moving online is the result of long-term development to ensure that we can offer greater flexibility of exams dates and convenience in an increasingly blended learning environment. Due to the impact of COVID-19 on in-person exams everywhere, and potentially into the future, we have brought forward our plans to introduce online Theory exams. We are offering a Grade 5 Theory exam in summer because we want to help as many learners as possible to progress with their music and on to higher grades, including those learners preparing to apply to further education. We are extending the online exam format later in the year to include Grades 1-5, and in future we will be able to offer several dates during the year to take the exam.
ABRSM continues to value and strongly support the teaching and learning of Music Theory. The knowledge and skills tested, and for which marks are awarded, remain the same, with some very minor changes to some details in the syllabus. We have produced a sample paper for the exam in August, and there are a new series of workbooks that support the teaching and learning of Music Theory in the pipeline soon.
The safeguarding of young people is of paramount importance to us, and we are entirely confident that PSI’s policies and systems uphold this fundamental principle. The proctoring service is one that records and reviews videos for potential issues of malpractice. There is no live monitoring, nor does a proctor have access to the candidate’s computer. PSI proctors will review the videos for behaviour that could call into question the security of the exam, and provide a report to ABRSM for further investigation. Access to the videos is tightly controlled, restricted to the corporate VPN, and monitored. All proctors are subject to background checks that are commensurate with our own safeguarding policy, including criminal record checks.
Please see our remote proctoring guidance here which tells you more about it.
The Responsible Adult can be present for the duration of the exam if desired but for venues hosting multiple candidates this is required. For candidates under 18 or vulnerable adults the Responsible Adult must be present at the beginning of the exam to aid with the necessary room scans and ID checks.
ABRSM remains the data controller for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 2018, which means that we remain directly responsible to you for all the personal information you share with us in order to do the exam. PSI is our supplier, and the data processor, and is bound contractually to meet not only the requirements of European data protection law, but also our service levels. PSI’s own security infrastructure is maintained to the highest international security standards, including adherence to the US-EU Privacy Shield principles, holding ISO27001 industry standard accreditation for information security management and GDPR compliance.
During the exam, candidates will download a secure browser and go through an ID authentication process in order to access the exam. The whole session is then recorded via webcam and a proctor reviews the recording after the test has taken place to flag and report any incidents. Only one recording is reviewed at a time by certified proctors looking for any violations that could compromise the integrity of the exam. This blog piece may be helpful for those with concerns about security and proctoring.
We intend to produce a demo of the site so that candidates can see how the exam will look on screen, and what contrast, font and layout features can be adapted to make the questions easier to follow and answer. Please note that the sample exam paper is a paper representation of an online exam and therefore doesn’t properly explain the way in which the layout will be presented and can be modified for the user.
Where the site is not suitable for some candidates, we can provide an alternative format. Further information can be found on our Accessibility Statement. Please also note that we have a special considerations policy in the event that your exam experience is affected by circumstances beyond your control.
We have undertaken comprehensive due diligence, compliance and risk assessment exercises to ensure that we can deliver an online exam experience that is secure, safe and accessible. Our selection process included an evaluation of safeguarding, data protection, exam security, ease of use and global customer service. PSI has a world leading company with extensive experience of providing certification through online exams. You can find out more about them on their website, but please check the procedures and guidance that we have published on ABRSM’s website for specific information about these exams.
Eventually online exams will replace paper-based exams for Music Theory at Grades 1 to 5 worldwide. Once online Music Theory exams are available in your territory, paper-based Music Theory exams will no longer be available (except in very limited special circumstances).
We recognise that not everyone has a suitable computer in their home.
These exams can be taken in groups at a school, or arranged by an applicant or group of applicants who can provide access to computers. Moving online means we are aiming to give candidates more exam dates throughout the year and they will not need to travel to public centres. Overall the online exam will be more easily accessible for tens of thousands of learners, and through this summer’s exam, we have prioritised those students who are eager to take their Grade 5 Theory exam as soon as possible and move on to higher grades or apply for further education.
It is a central tenet of our approach to music education that we continually explore ways to improve access and lower barriers to our musical progress. We are absolutely committed to making sure that no learner is left out and are working to ensure that this is the case.
As a regulated awarding organisation, we regularly review and refresh all of our exams and syllabuses to ensure their continuing quality, reliability and authority. Our aim is to maintain our standards, conform to best practice in assessment design and make sure our exams meet the needs of teachers and learners. We have made these changes to our Music Theory exams in consultation with experts. 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. In addition, there are a few minor changes to the syllabus itself and we have adapted the style of some questions so that they work for an online exam.
No. Where online Music Theory exams for Grades 1 to 5 are available, all Music Theory exams at these grades will be assessed online (except in very limited special circumstances) using the updated exam papers and new syllabus. In 2020, any paper-based exams at these grades will use the old style of paper. From 2021, any paper-based exams will also use the updated exam papers and new syllabus.
Yes. As the core musical understanding required for the exams is not changing, our existing books will still be helpful along with the new Sample Papers and Model Answers. To help exam preparations, we are sharing free Music Theory Sample Papers and Music Theory Sample Model Answers for Grades 1 to 5 so candidates know what to expect on the exam day. The Grade 5 paper is available now. Grades 1 to 4 will follow. We are also publishing new books in October, which will provide the best and most up to date preparation materials for Grades 1 to 5. We recommend candidates use these resources once they are available.
No. The core musical understanding required for the new Music Theory exams remains the same, so you don’t need to change your teaching approach. However, it is important that candidates are familiar with the different style of exam questions that will be used in the new exams.
To help, we are providing free Music Theory Sample Papers and Music Theory Sample Model Answers for Grades 1 to 5. The Grade 5 paper and answers are available now. The Grade 1 to 4 papers will be available soon. In addition, all candidates entered for an online Music Theory exam will be given access to a small selection of online sample questions around two weeks before the exam, to help them prepare.
Finally, in October we will be publishing books of Music Theory Sample Papers and Music Theory Sample Model Answers for each of Grades 1 to 5, as well as a new series of music books designed to support teachers and learners as they prepare for exams at these grades.
We have adapted the style of some questions so that they work for an online exam format. These are small changes, and candidates who have been entered for the exam will have the opportunity to try an example practice question for each question type before taking the exam. The question types are:
- Multiple Choice: where the candidate selects the correct answer(s) from a list of given answers. This also includes True/False questions.
- Fill in the blank: where the candidate types an answer into an answer box. This is usually used to complete a sentence.
- Matching: where the candidate selects answers from a pull-down list of options.
- Drag and drop: where the candidate drags an image onto another larger image. An example is dragging a note-head onto a stave.
We are removing the requirement to demonstrate accurate copying of music. Candidates will demonstrate their knowledge of where, on the stave, music sits by using the drag and drop feature. They will be able to familiarise themselves with this by practising with our test questions before the exam.
Using multiple-choice questions will not make these exams easier. We first introduced multiple-choice questions to the 2018 syllabus. We are now including more as they are an accessible, effective and reliable way to test knowledge. They are widely-used in many different types of assessment, including school tests and exams, so are familiar to the majority of candidates.
Our online exams at Grade 1 to 5 will be marked automatically. There will be a total of 75 marks available rather than 100 marks.
Yes! We have not changed the value of the marks or the grade bands available. The new qualifications will still be awarded at a Pass, Merit or Distinction - just like the current versions. What has changed is the total number of marks available and the grade boundaries.
In order to accommodate the new style of assessment the marks required for each fixed grade boundary are as follows:
- Total marks available : 75 (instead of 100)
- Distinction: 65 marks (instead of 90)
- Merit: 60 marks (instead of 80)
- Pass: 50 marks (instead of 66)
Yes. Candidates will take this exam under real exam conditions. They will be awarded a mark and certificate in the same way they would for paper-based exams and the qualification will have the same value.
Yes. Candidates can take their exam in their own home or in any other suitable location that meets our requirements. It will be possible for multiple candidates to take their exams at a suitable venue, for instance an educational institution which has previously hosted exams, as long as this can be done safely and in line with government guidelines. More information is available in our Online Music Theory Guidelines.
We will have rigorous processes in place to ensure that we can identify candidates and that exam conditions meet the requirements set out in our regulations. At the start of the exam, the candidate will be required to display their Candidate (photo) ID, take a photo of themselves using the exam software and film a scan of the room. They will then be able to sit their exam. A responsible adult should be in the room to help the candidate with this if they are under 18.
All candidates sitting an online Music Theory exam will be required to show their ID when prompted. We accept a wide range of ID, including a completed ABRSM Candidate Identification Form. You can find out more in our Candidate ID Policy. This policy is currently for the UK only. We will provide policies for other territories later in 2020.
We have rigorous processes in place to ensure the security and validity of our online exams.
The candidate will be filmed for the duration of the exam via the webcam and exam software, and each exam will be reviewed by trained proctors. Further information can be found in our Remote Proctoring in ABRSM Online Theory Exams Policy and our Online Safeguarding Policy Statement. The online exam platform, proctoring and test delivery are provided by a third-party supplier called PSI who deliver over 15 million assessments every year. After the exam PSI will supply us with the candidates’ results and inform us of any concerns raised by the exam proctors. We will investigate any potential infringements in line with our Malpractice and Maladministration Policy.
Proctoring is a little like remote invigilation and is designed to check that individual candidates take their exams in accordance with our regulations and requirements. The candidate will be filmed for the duration of the exam via the webcam and exam software, and trained proctors will review each exam. The proctor is the person who views the video recording of the assessment and is responsible for alerting us to any suspicious activity.
No. The changes to the exam format will have no effect on the level or value of this qualification. If a candidate achieves a Pass, Merit or Distinction having taken the new exam, this will be equivalent to a Pass, Merit or Distinction for existing exams.
Our graded Music Theory exams are progressive assessments. Each grade builds on the skills, knowledge and understanding gained at the previous grade. Candidates who are successful in achieving Grade 5 in Music Theory will have gained all the understanding needed to embark on studying at Grade 6 level. This will be no different for the new Grade 5 theory exams.
We have no immediate plans to make any changes to Music Theory exams at Grades 6 to 8 and these exams will continue to be assessed through a written paper.
We have no immediate plans to make further changes to the Music Theory syllabus at Grades 1 to 5. If any future changes are made, they will be to ensure assessments best support candidates – and will follow thorough review and expert consultation.
Can candidates use scrap paper and a pencil or pen to work out their answers during the online exam?
Yes. Candidates can use their own blank paper in the exam (manuscript or plain). Candidates must show any paper to the camera at the start of the exam to confirm that it is blank. At the end of the exam they must hold up the paper to the camera and destroy it, ideally by tearing it into pieces.
We encourage candidates to use the toilet before their exam. However, if it is essential, candidates are permitted to have one toilet break lasting no more than five minutes. Candidates should let the proctor know they are having a toilet break by speaking or holding up a written note to the camera. Candidates will not receive any additional time to complete their exam. If a candidate needs additional toilet breaks as part of alternative arrangements for their exam, they should contact our Access Coordinator to discuss this.
We are confident that the exam software will function correctly throughout the exam but do appreciate that candidates may experience difficulties with their own computer or internet connection.
- If the internet temporarily drops out entirely the candidate will lose access to the exam. However, they can log back in and start where they left off once the internet is back up and running.
- Candidates can request support on the exam day either by phoning the telephone number or using the chat function on the online exam platform. ABRSM staff will also be available to support with any problems. Please note that for the pilot on the 26 August only ABRSM will be able to help with retrieving a password.
- If a candidate is unable to complete the exam due to technical difficulties on the exam day then they should contact us.
The room is expected to be free from notes, books of any kind, any depiction of musical notes or any representation of a piano keyboard. If this is not possible then all books should remain closed and out of reach, and any depiction of musical notation or representation of a piano keyboard, including an actual piano, should be covered so they are not visible.
The room must be free from visible keyboards, or any representation of a piano keyboard. If it’s not possible to remove the keyboard altogether, it should be covered so it is not visible.
Water and other drinks are allowed during the exam. Candidates just need to ensure their drink is in a transparent container, with no writing or design on it
We encourage candidates to use the toilet before their exam. However, essential toilet breaks are allowed, but they should not be frequent and shouldn’t last more than five minutes. If a candidate will need frequent toilet breaks, they should contact our Access Coordinator to discuss this. Candidates should let the proctor know they are having a toilet break by speaking or holding up a written note to the camera. Candidates will not receive any additional time to complete their exam.
We know exams can be daunting, and we certainly don’t want to add to candidates’ anxiety. Due to the uncertainty around gathering in public venues, we have prioritised moving exams onto this online platform so that we can offer exams more safely and reliably.
The exam will be recorded via the candidates’ webcam and watched at a later time by a proctor (the exam invigilator). No candidates will be watched live. Recording in this way allows us to maintain the integrity of the exam as we can identify those few people who are not following the exam regulations. This ensures the exams are fair to all, and candidates achieve the results they deserve.
Access to the videos is tightly controlled, restricted to the corporate VPN of our exam supplier, and monitored. All proctors are subject to background checks that are commensurate with our own safeguarding policy, including criminal record checks. The exam recording is securely stored and will be deleted after 60 days. The Responsible Adult (for candidates under 18) can be present for the duration of the exam if desired.
Yes. In the week commencing 10 August Online Music Theory Practice questions will be available and candidates who have booked an exam will be provided a link to download the browser software, RP Now, enabling them to try out the whole test experience, including the remote ID check and proctoring of the exam. We are also developing step by step guidance, which will take you through the exam process.
In advance of the exam, you should check the compatibility of your systems by going to https://systemcheck.rpexams.com. We recommend using Chrome as your browser for this. This check must be done prior to exam day in order to reduce interference with the live exam.
You can do a system check now by going to https://systemcheck.rpexams.com. We recommend using Chrome as your browser for this. This check must be done prior to exam day in order to reduce interference with the live exam.
ABRSM is producing a step by step guide for these exams, which we will share in the week commencing 10 August.
Candidate’s passwords will be emailed to the applicant after the Booking Period and it is their responsibility to forward this on. There is no ‘Retrieve Password’ function for the pilot on 26 August so if customers do not have their password on the day they should contact [email protected].
For candidates who require a paper based exam for accessibility reasons, this should be made clear at the time of entry by choosing the necessary ‘Access Arrangement’ or by emailing [email protected]. This does need to be done by the end of the Booking Period