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Blog posts of '2018' 'June'

Exams: What *is* the examiner looking for?

Exams: What *is* the examiner looking for

 

Now, I know there’s no real answer I can give you to ensure you get a distinction in your exams (sorry!). And although the exam boards have a strict marking scheme that can tell you boundaries and what examiners should be awarding marks for, I thought I’d just dedicate this blog post to my experiences as a teacher, student and trainee examiner to what I’ve found that this means.

 

The examiners are LOOKING FOR REASON TO GIVE YOU MARKS

 

YES! Yes they are!

 

It’s so easy to concentrate on the bits you’re not so sure about, the tiny mistakes, the bits you’re not confident about, the missed dynamics. But actually the examiners are always wanting to find reasons to give marks (partly because they don’t want to fail you – otherwise they’ll have to hear you play the same pieces next term!).

 

So – don’t worry about any mistakes you make, concentrate more on giving it a positive spin.

 

One area they really concentrate on is intonation and tuning. Now this is a bit of a tricky area, because when you get anxious you might find that you note control is harder to maintain. So do remember to keep listening while you’re playing.

 

DYNAMICS!!

 

This isn’t just a bug bear of mine (my students will be pleased to know!) but it is one of the more commented on aspects in the report sheets.

 

Examiners are looking for colour and depth to a performance – not just note accuracy. They want a performance. So that means ensuring the articulation is precise and that the dynamics are there.

 

I hope this helps calm the nerves a bit.

 

Remember: they want to award marks, not take away. So give them reasons to give you more!

 

 

 

Exam Prep: What to do, what to do...

 

Exam Prep: What to do, what to do

 

Exam season is on us once more and once again – practice becomes that little bit less enjoyable and that little bit more fraught.

 

So – how do you prepare for an exam…

 

Well, the easiest thing to say is – you practice.

 

You do the same as you would in a normal lesson in a normal week in a normal moment of your life. Exams are easier if you make less of a big deal of them (easier said than done I know).

 

When you’re on the run up to the exam you really do need to make sure that you’re working on all elements of the exam – obvious I know, but I do know a lot of students that leave sight-reading and the aural tests practice to happen only during their lessons. And I also know many, many students who leave the scale practise until the last minute too!

 

DON’T!

 

Make all elements of the exam elements of a normal practice routine. They they will become something that you do, rather than something that only happens in exams (so therefore something to worry about).

 

DO:

 

Make your practice session a really effective one.

 

Warm up – long notes, dexterity exercises, octave jumps, articulation work, see how fast you can play, see if you can work over tricky jump sections without getting extra ‘blup’ notes in between.

 

Scales: Make sure you work on all of them (not just the ones you like – the tricky ones won’t get any easier!), make flash cards or just write their names on a piece of paper and pull them randomly out of a hat. Mess around with the articulation, add some rhythms… do you know the scales inside out and back to front?? (For more practice ideas see our Scale Blog Post)

 

Pieces: Don’t feel you need to practice all three *every* session – split them up over the week (maybe keep notes to remind yourself which you practised and when).

 

Sight-reading: Find an old piece, turn the book upside down. Play it backwards. Try a couple of lines of the other exam pieces. Just look at something new!! If you want a super sight-reading boost – check out the Horrible Sight-reading for Lovely People Course

 

Aural Tests: Don’t just leave it to the lesson time to practice. Ask your teacher for a list of what you need to work on. There’s loads of great aural test clips available on youtube! Including mine!

 

DON’T

 

Just play through your pieces. Play through once but then isolate the sections that need working on. Do slow practice to ensure your fingers know what they need to do. Start in the middle of the piece so your mind’s fresh for when you get to the challenging section. Be really, really fussy!!

 

DO

 

Remember to focus on your dynamics. Examiners love dynamics! Make them really, really obvious.

 

DON’T

 

Worry about the singing bit of the aural tests. It’s not worth stressing over – and remember everyone hates it, it’s not just you!

 

DO

 

Have a mock exam. Get your teacher to give you a practice exam so you know what to expect. Get a parent, grandparent, friend, partner, whoever to listen to you while you play. Get them to pretend to write things down as you play (as this is what usually makes people feel the most nervous about).

 

DON’T

 

Don’t forget – your scales, aural tests and sight-reading etc. are easy extra marks – they really can make the difference between the results you get. So do remember to practice them in your own time as well as your lesson time. (I know I said this a second ago – but it’s so important it needs mentioning twice!!).

 

DO:

 

Have fun – try and relax and enjoy it! It’ll be over before you know it!

 

Good luck!