If you have come across the name, ABRSM, in your music pursuits, and are not sure what it is, fret not! This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about ABRSM
What Is ABRSM?
ABRSM stands for the Associate Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and it is most popularly known as an organization that conducts music examinations, and awards graded music qualifications from beginner up till diploma level. The ABRSM exam board is based in the UK, but the music examinations conducted by ABRSM are widely available in many parts of the world. ABRSM examinations are available in Singapore, and its graded music qualifications are popularly pursued by many piano students, with many piano teachers in Singapore preparing their students for the ABRSM music examinations.
What music examinations does ABRSM offer?
ABRSM conducts the following examinations, arranged in order of level (first on the list being the lowest level of qualification, and last on the list being the highest level of qualification):
Practical Initial Grade
Grades 1-8 (Performance Grades and/or Practical Grades*)
Amongst the above, the Grades 1 to 8 examinations are the most popularly applied for. *Read further for clarification on what is Performance Grades and Practical Grades.
Furthermore, ABRSM also conducts music theory examinations from Grades 1-8, and these are as popular as their Performance Grades and Practical Grades examinations.
Here's a list of instruments that ABRSM conducts exams and awards music qualifications for:
Music Theory (non-instrument specific)
E Flat Horn
Baritone & Euphonium
Harp (Non Pedal)
What are ABRSM Performance Grades?
It might escape one's notice initially, but ABRSM Performance Grades are to be distinguished from ABRSM Practical Grades. What is the difference between ABRSM's Performance Grades and Practical Grades? ABRSM Performance Grades refer to its online examinations, whereas ABRSM Practical Grades refer to its face-to-face examinations. While these examinations share some similarities, they are not entirely the same. Refer to the list below to understand the different components to the exam
Practical Grades consists of 4 exam components
3 Exam Pieces
Scales & Arpeggios
Performance Grades consists of 1 exam component
4 Exam Pieces in video recording
ABRSM Practical and Performance Grades are considered equivalent qualifications.
How does ABRSM's Online Exams (Performance Grades) work?
To recap, ABRSM's performance grades consist only of 1 component, and that is to perform 4 exam pieces in an uninterrupted and unedited video recording.
As with the face-to-face Practical Grade examinations, the online Performance Grade exam candidates are required to choose their pieces from the same ABRSM exam repertoire list that we mentioned previously. To recap, this exam repertoire list changes every two years, and is divided into 3 further lists, commonly known as List A, List B, and List C. Candidates of the online Performance Grade examinations are required to choose one piece from each list.
The fourth piece is a piece of the candidates own choice, but it should be of similar level as the other pieces chosen. To avoid any potential confusion on what constitutes 'similar level', most candidates simply choose their fourth piece from ABRSM's exam repertoire list for the same grade. And as the fourth piece is the candidate's own choice piece, candidates are free to choose from any of the lists in the same grade (List A, B or C)
Before the performance of the 4 pieces, candidates have to do two things:
1. Show to the camera these 3 things (Be sure that the details on each of the following items are clearly visible in the footage before moving on to the next)
An official photo ID (eg, NRIC/Passport for Singaporeans)
A completed program slip (available for download on ABRSM's website)
The opening of the own-choice piece/song score shown to the camera before the performance begins. If the candidate chose their own choice piece from ABRSM's exam repertoire list, then this would not be necessary.
2. Make an introductory announcement. This is essentially a verbal read-thru of all the details in the completed program slip shown to the camera earlier. At the end of the performance announcement, it would be advisable make it clear to the camera that the candidate is about to begin the performance by saying out verbally "I will now begin my performance".
For candidates under the age of 18, it is permissible for an adult (referred to by ABRSM as 'responsible adult') to show the above forms and documents to the camera, and also make the introductory announcement
Thereafter, the performance of the 4 exam pieces begins.
Other important requirements include:
For keyboard instruments such as the piano. The whole of the keyboard must be visible, and where possible, the pedals should also be in view.
If a responsible adult not actively involved in the performance is in the room, they should remain still and silent during the performance and be situated out of the camera view.
Video file must be one of the following formats: MP4, WMV, MOV or MPG, and the file size must not exceed 2 GB.
What to expect for ABRSM Singapore Practical Grade Exam ?
Due to COVID restrictions, Practical Grade (face-to-face) exams in Singapore are currently not available until further notice. However, should it resume at a later date, ABRSM Practical Grades examinations consists of 4 components. Just to recap what these 4 components are:
3 Exam pieces
Scales and Arpeggios
Exam piece: Candidates are expected to choose 3 pieces from ABRSM's exam repertoire list which changes every two years. So if you are taking the exam in 2022, for example, the relevant year of syllabus is 2021-2022. ABRSM also divides its exam repertoire list into 3 lists, commonly known as List A, List B and List C. In choosing their 3 pieces for the examination, candidates are required to pick one piece from each list. ABRSM publishes exam repertoire books for such as this, which clearly states the year of syllabus and grade on the cover page.
Sight Reading: During the exam, the examiner will present candidate with a never-seen-before music piece. Candidate will be given half a minute to prepare before performing it to the examiner.
Scales and Arpeggios: Scales and Arpeggios are technical exercises, and they are to be played from memory. Examiners will test at least one scale/arpeggio from each grade’s category.
Aural Test: This a test of the candidates listening skills. The examiner will play the piano, and based on what the examiner plays, the candidate is expected to perform various tasks or answer questions based on what he or she hears the examiner plays. Questions tested will vary from basic recognition of rhythm, singing short phrases by memory to answering of questions from a piece played by examiner depending on the grade.
In order to pass the ABRSM Exam, candidates are required to score a minimum of 100 marks to pass; 120 marks for merit and 130 marks for distinction. After the exam, candidates will receive a breakdown of their examination scores by each component and a certificate for passing the exam. This is received via mail, approximately six weeks after the exam date for Grade 6 to 8 paper based exams
During the exam, it is required to bring an Identification Card/ Passport for verification purposes. Candidates are expected to show up at least 15 minutes before their allocated exam slot to register and have enough time to get ready for the exam. Even if pieces are going to be performed by memory, it is still a requirement to bring the official copy of the exam pieces book.
There is no restriction of age for ABRSM exams and candidate can also choose to begin at any grade. However, for Grade 6 and above, candidates will be required to have attained a Grade 5 ABRSM Online Theory Exam Certificate or its equivalence upon application.
After completing Grade 8, candidates may choose to pursue further qualification taking ABRSM’s Diploma Qualifications. There are 4 different level of diploma qualifications available namely ARSM, DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM exam. (In order of progression)
How do I apply for ABRSM examinations (Singapore)?
ABRSM accepts submission for online exams (Performance Grades exam) every month. Typically, if you are trying to get your video submitted in a certain month, the application would take place in the first half of the month before, and the application window typically lasts for a week. For example, at the time of this writing, if you are trying to get your video submitted for exam grading in May 2022, the actual application window is from 06 April (15:00 Local) – 13 April (07:59 Local). It is also advisable to book it as early as possible within the application window, as the number of exam submissions that ABRSM accepts in each submission period is limited. Furthermore, application is done through an online portal where candidates would have to book specific deadlines within the submission period, which means to say, if one were to make a booking later in the application period, he or she may find that only the slots with earlier deadlines are left.
Before COVID, ABRSM typically conducts face-to-face examinations thrice a year (called 'Session 1', 'Session 2' and 'Session 3'). However, given the current COVID regulations in Singapore, application dates for face-to-face examinations (Practical Grades) are still under review. ABRSM intends to hold examinations in late June, with the application period starting from 11 April (07:00 Local) to 21 April (23:59 Local).
ABRSM Online Music Theory Exams (Grades 1-5)
ABRSM now offers online music theory exams for Grades 1-5 on demand. Candidates are able to book an exam anytime and are required to complete the exam within 28 days of making the booking. To take the exam, candidates must register for an ABRSM account using the link and Contact ID provided by ABRSM via email immediately after booking of the examination. It may take up to three hours for the exam link to appear in the candidate's ABRSM account. Thereafter, the candidate may take the exam on any date and time within 28 days of the exam booking.
The examination is administered through a specialized proctoring software called RPNow, which is downloadable on ABRSM's website. It is very important to take note of the following things before taking the exam.
Items To Prepare For the Online Music Theory Exam
Blank paper (plain or manuscript) and pen or pencil
Candidates are required to show these items to the camera during the exam set up procedure. For the blank paper, there must be no text, notation, or images on the paper, and the both sides of the paper must be shown to the camera during the exam set up to confirm that they are indeed blank. At the end of the exam, candidates must hold up the paper to the camera and destroy it, ideally by tearing it into pieces.
As part of the exam set up procedure, candidates are required to do a room scan. The exam room should not have any open books or open notes; these must remain closed and out of sight and out of reach of the candidate. There should be no depiction of musical notation or representation of a piano keyboard, including an actual piano. If any such depiction are present, they should be covered and out of the candidate's sight.
Online Music Theory Exam Set Up
To launch the exam, log in to the candidate's ABRSM account and click 'Start Music Theory Exam' on the dashboard. This will launch and install the RPNow Proctoring software. Before the online music theory exam starts proper, the proctoring software will guide candidates through an exam set up procedure, which consists of the following:
Make sure all other apps, softwares, and browsers are closed; the proctoring software will not allow the exam to proceed until this is done.
Show the candidate's Photo ID to the camera
Perform a room scan - candidates will need to show the entire room, including the floor and underside of the table that the candidate is using. Any blank paper (plain or manuscript) has to be shown to the camera as part of the room scan.
Take a photo of the candidate
See the video below from ABRSM on an example of how the exam set up procedure works.
After the exam set up procedure is complete, the online music theory exam will then commence, and the session will be recorded (desktop, webcam and audio) until the exam window is closed at the end of the exam. Before closing the exam window, do not forget to tear up any paper used in the exam and this should be done in front of the camera where it can be seen clearly.
Disclaimer: The time of this writing is 30 Mar 2022, please check with ABRSM's website if procedures have changed or if details defer from region to region. The author of this article assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site