What you need to know about ABRSM exams

What you need to know about exams (ABRSM)

Exam Registration

The practical and theory exam are conducted as two separate exams and students are registered for these exams separately. Practical exams are usually held in February to March or July to September but registration starts as early as half a year before the exam. Click here for exam dates and fees. You can register for exam through a music school, a private teacher, or by yourself – simply register as an applicant through the ABRSM website first before registering for an exam online.

Registering as an applicant and/or a candidate

An applicant refers to the person registering for the exam. An applicant can be a music school, music teacher, parent, or yourself. A candidate is the person represented by an applicant for an exam. So, if you are registering for exams yourself, you can both be an applicant and a candidate. If your teacher is registering for you, you are the candidate and your teacher the applicant. All correspondences of the exam are sent to the applicant only and any changes with regards to the exam can only be made by the applicant.

Face-to-face Practical exams vs Digital Performance grade exams

As of 2020 onwards, digital performance grade exams are made available by ABRSM as an alternative to face-to-face practical exams. The difference between practical exams and performance grade exams is that performance grade exams are available all year round and candidates can register, record and submit their exam recordings anytime, anywhere. The supporting tests for practical exams (scales, sight-reading, aural) are also replaced by an own-choice piece and a mark for the performance as a whole. 

Paper based theory exam vs online theory exam

As of 2020 onwards, all theory exams from grade 1 to 5 will be replaced with the online exam. Theory exams grade 6 to 8 will remain paper based. 

Exam Dates and Venue

With the new booking system, you can now choose the exam date and venue for your practical exams. Of course, if you are taking the digital performance grade exams, there is no need for an exam date and venue, but you will be given a 28-day dateline to submit your video once you registered for the exam. For the practical face-to-face exams, the date and venue is only available at a first-come, first-served basis. These exams are usually conducted in a music school. Paper based theory exams are usually conducted in classrooms, multipurpose halls or function rooms. For online theory exams, you can take it in the comfort of your own home anytime within 28 days after you register for the exam. 

Practical exams are only held on weekdays 9am-5pm whereas theory exams are usually held on Saturdays. Paper based theory exam dates are fixed and if the candidate is not able to make it on that day, he/she will have to re-enter for the exam on the next period. Re-entry voucher may be given if the candidate has valid proof of his/her absence.

Exam Results

Face-to Face practical exam results are usually released about one month after the exam. Digital performance grade exam results are usually released about 3 days after submission of video, but can be as quick as 24 hours or as long as 1 month. Paper based theory results are released after about two months as they are sent to UK for marking. Online theory results are released 28 days after the exam. The marking schemes for both exams are as follows.

Marking Scheme

Face-to Face Practical Exams

Practical exams are marked out of a total of 150, with 100 marks required for a pass, 120 for a merit and 130 for a distinction.

There are four parts in the piano exam.

  • Prepared Pieces
    Candidate needs to play 3 prepared pieces from a set list.
  • Scales and Arpeggios
    Candidate needs to memorize and play out scales and arpeggios.
  • Sight-Reading
    Examiner will provide an unseen short piece for the candidate to play.
  • Aural
    Candidates are tested on pulse or rhythm clapping, echo singing, and for grade 4 and above, sight-singing and general questions after listening to a short piece.
Practical Exam Marking Scheme
Category Passing Mark Full Marks
Pieces 1   Piece from List A 20 30
1 Piece from List B 20 30
1 Piece from List C 20 30
Scales and Arpeggios 14 21
Sight-Reading 14 21
Aural 12 18
Total 100 150

For more information on practical exam marking criteria, click here

Digital Performance Grade Exams

Performance grade exams are also marked out of a total of 150, with 100 marks required for a pass, 120 for a merit and 130 for a distinction. Candidates are required to play 4 pieces, with 3 pieces from the existing syllabus and one own-choice piece at the same level/standard as the grade taken. All 4 pieces will also be marked out of 30 each, with the last 30 marks given to the performance as a whole. 

Theory Exams

Online theory exams are marked out of a total of 75, with 50 marks required for a pass, 60 for a merit and 65 for a distinction. Paper based theory exams are marked out of a total of 100, with 66 marks required for a pass, 80 for a merit and 90 for a distinction.


For practical and performance grade exams from grade 1 to 5, there are no pre-requisites to taking these exams. Candidates registering for grades 6, 7 and 8 must have already passed one of the following qualifications:

• ABRSM Grade 5 Theory (or above)

• ABRSM Practical Musicianship Grade 5

• ABRSM Solo Jazz subject Grade 5

• Grade 5 Theory (or above) from any of these exam boards: Trinity Guildhall, London College of Music (LCM), Australian Music Exam Board (AMEB), University of South Africa (UNISA)

There are no pre-requisites for taking any music theory exam.

Important notes for students taking the face-to-face practical and paper based theory exams:

• Do arrive 15-20mins earlier than your scheduled time. This will ensure that there are no last minute panics. Sometimes examiners might finish examining the previous student earlier so you might have to go in slightly earlier than your scheduled time.

• Do check the exam venue correctly. Different buildings and streets might have similar names.

• Remember to bring any form bring ID – student pass, birth cert, passport, IC, driving licence, etc.

• Remember to bring your exam pieces book for the practical exam and writing materials for the theory exam

• Do bring a jacket to the exam room in case it is cold. Also for theory exam do wear a (non-smart) watch as there may be no clock in the exam room. 

For those who have never taken an exam before, here is a video of what to expect on the exam day
You might also be interested to read my article on
When will my child be ready for the Grade 1 Piano Exam?
Tips on creating the best recording for ABRSM Performance Grade exams
How to get a distinction for ABRSM Performance Grade Exams

Also, check out my student’s achievements for past year ABRSM exams.