I have compiled a list of questions below that I hope parents will find useful in their deliberation process.
- Is your child motivated to prepare the exam?
Each child may have his/her own reason to prepare for a music exam e.g. personal challenge, getting required credits for university entrance, etc. Whatever the reason is, it has to be personal so your child will be personally motivated to prepare for the exam.
A child may be entered for exam against his/her wish at parents’ or the teacher’ behest. This may result in a reluctant student who will find the exam preparation a chore. At best, this will produce less than ideal exam result. In the worst case scenario, your child may lose interest in the instrument. Conversely, a self-motivated child will need little if any coercion and may even put in additional practice because his/her desire to achieve.
- Is your child’s teacher qualified to teach the exam syllabus?
Preparing a student for an exam is a complex process that requires careful thoughts and planning. Not all teachers will be able to prepare music exams effectively even if they may have stellar paper qualifications. Any teacher who plans to enter his/her students for exams first and foremost must believe in the validity of the exam process and the benefits it will bring to students. The teacher should know the requirements of the syllabus thoroughly even if he/she may not have taken the same exam before. He/she should also be able to set a realistic timeline and come up with a list of tasks/goals to be completed during the course of the exam preparation. The teacher should also be able to perform/demonstrate the exam repertoire to required standard. If the teacher is unable to prepare an exam component properly, he/she will need to be honest with you regarding his/her limitations and find alternative solutions e.g. engaging other teacher for aural training.
- Are you or your child aware of what is being tested in the exam?
It is a good idea to be familiar with requirements of an exam before considering to register for the exam. Your child’s teacher should be able to explain fully the requirement of a particular exam grade; the exam board’s syllabus booklet is a good source of info as well. Your knowledge of the exam syllabus should go beyond the rudimentary; you should also be familiar with the specific requirement of each component of the exam e.g. the minimum tempo required for the scales component.
Knowing the requirements of the exam thoroughly will help you make the decision whether your child can realistically prepare the workloads required or if the exam is appropriate for your child. You will also be able to assist your child in practice more effectively should the need arises.
- Do you or your child has a realistic expectation of what is achievable?
It is tempting to think your child as a wunderkind who could ace anything as long he/she works hard. In reality, this may not be always the case. Ideally, a student would be thoroughly well versed in all aspects of music learning and therefore acing all the components of the exam. Unfortunately, most students often have one or more deficiencies e.g. weak finger technique, sight-reading etc. These deficiencies may be caused either by uneven teaching or simply lack of practice.
If your child has deficiencies that may cause him/her to do less than ideal for an exam component, he/she may not be able the get the desired result. If this is the case, deferring the exam may be a good idea so your child can fix the deficiencies first. If your child insists to go through with the exam, he/she will need to adjust his expectations accordingly.
- Will your child have sufficient time to complete outstanding tasks?
Usually it takes approximately 4-6 months from the time a student is registered to the actual execution of the exam. During this time frame, a typical student may still need to juggle his/her exam preparation with academic study and miscellaneous activities e.g. family holiday. So, in reality, your child may not be able to maintain the ideal practice schedule.
Before registering for the exam, it is a good idea to calculate the approximate amount of practice time your child will have until the first possible exam date taking into account all possible disruptions to the practice schedule. You should then evaluate together with the teacher if your child’s approximate remaining practice time is sufficient to cover the remainder of the exam preparation.