NB: While reading this series, it can be helpful to keep a copy of the ABRSM Singing syllabus to hand. The syllabus can be downloaded here http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/singing/
In this series, we’ve talked about choosing repertoire, and we’ve looked at how to prepare the repertoire, and we’ve covered the supporting tests. Now it’s time to look at the last few details.
Booking the exam
ABRSM offer online applications, so booking your exam has never been easier. Teachers with more than 3 hours of examining can organise a private visit, hosted at their own venue. However, the vast majority of candidates use a public centre. ABRSM has plenty of centres, so there should be one near you. You can apply online and pay by card. ABRSM currently only offer a choice of which week you’d prefer the exam to be and a choice to say “not Saturdays”. Hopefully, this will change in the near future, but in the meantime, be prepared for the possibility that you might end up with a strange or less-than-convenient time!
To use the online booking system, you’ll need to register for an applicant number. Once you have that, make sure you have all the details about your candidate ready, including the name they want on their certificate, their date of birth (for under 18s wanting UCAS points this is vital) and you know which exam you’re applying for. The process is a piece of cake!
ABRSM send through appointments in plenty of time and they even give an estimated date for results to be available – it’s by far and away the best exam board in terms of this part of the exam process.
In the month before the exam
By the time you’re booking the exam, you should have got to a point where the candidate knows what they’re singing and has some idea about the supporting tests. In the weeks before the exam, the focus should be on memorising the pieces, and doing plenty of practice of the supporting tests. There are lots of good resources for the aural tests, and the more sight-reading practice the better. Now is the time to start using the official sight-reading practice tests.
Once you have a date, make sure you know where the venue is and how to get there. You’ll also need to book an accompanist and arrange a rehearsal with them (if it’s not the teacher who is accompanying).
Make sure you have proper, legal copies of all the music available, and if you are singing an unaccompanied traditional song in a foreign language you’ll need a translation of the lyrics for the examiner.
The syllabus has full details of all the rules and regulations. Now is the time to go through them and make sure you’ve covered everything!
Two weeks before the exam
By now, the learning and memorising process should be over, and it’s time to really shine up the performance. Practice singing your songs for an audience so that you are used to singing for someone other than your teacher. Think about where to look while you’re singing – you don’t want to stare at the examiner, but you also need to make sure you make eye contact with them occasionally.
Take some time now to think about the meaning of the song. You should have been doing this all the way through the learning process, but it’s much easier to focus in on the acting once you know the notes. Who is singing this song? Why are they singing it? What do they want to happen? Who are they singing to? Click over to the resources page to find a copy of my Understanding Repertoire worksheet and use this to help you think about the emotional content of the songs.
As you go into the final week, make sure you have everything ready! Think about what you’re going to wear – the right clothes and especially shoes can make a huge difference to how you feel on the day.
The night before
I know everyone says it, but getting a good night’s rest is vital for any exam – even more so when it’s your body doing the work! Diet is important too. Make sure you drink plenty of water and cut back on caffeine and dairy in the 24 hours before the exam.
Do one last check that you have everything ready, including your list of songs for the examiner, your sheet music and anything else you might want, like a bottle of water.
Don’t do a big sing session the day before. Just focus on gentle exercises and mark your songs rather than going at it full-force. You don’t want to overdo it and then have trouble the next day.
On the day
Warm-up before you leave home – it will help you relax and feel prepared.
Arrive at your exam centre in plenty of time. There’s supposed to be a warm-up room at the centre too, if it’s a public one, so do a little more warming up. Don’t sing your pieces now, just sing exercises or another song you really like.
Remember, you can do your exam in any order you like, so if you want to start with the sight-reading, aural tests or unaccompanied song, you can. Normally, however, candidates do their pieces first as it means the accompanist can come in with the candidate play and then leave the room for the rest, rather than waiting to be called.
Examiners with the ABRSM tend to be very formal in their behaviour compared to other boards. I am sure that this is mainly so that it is clear that they are being fair to everyone. Examiners are always polite and clear about what is happening, such as when they’re writing notes in the gaps between songs. For the aural tests, they will use the exact wording given in the specimen test books. Don’t be put off by the formality, it’s actually meant to be reassuring because it makes it clear that everything is under control and going smoothly.
Enjoy singing your songs – you know them well, and have hopefully come to like (or even love) them. Make use of introductions to think about the content of the song – focus on the emotional story and let yourself become the person singing the song rather than thinking about the fact you’re in an exam and someone is scribbling away at a desk a few metres from you. Singing is more about what goes on in your mind than anything else, so really let yourself get absorbed in the music.
Once the exam is over, try not to dwell on what you did or didn’t do. Do talk it over with someone if you need to, and then enjoy the freedom of it being over!
After it’s over
he ABRSM publishes approximate dates for results to be released, and they go up online first if you booked that way. Certificates are posted out and should arrive within a week of the results being put online.
Whatever the result, the most important thing is to read the comments carefully and discuss them with your teacher. Pay attention to the compliments as well as the criticism! Talk with your teacher about what you’re going to do together to do even better next time.
If (and I say if not when!) you fail the exam, it’s not the end of the world, and nor do you have to retake the same level. Yes, you might have work to do, but there’s no requirement to take and pass every grade so you and your teacher can still talk about where to go next.
Whatever the outcome, you can feel very proud because taking an exam is a daunting process and you survived! Hopefully, you even had fun doing it and you will want to do it all again soon.
–> The End
Thanks for reading this series. I hope you’ve found it helpful. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer as best I can. If you’ve been inspired to take an ABRSM singing exam, and live in the Edinburgh area, why not get in touch with me about starting singing lessons?
If you’re not so local, you can still stay tuned for a new series on the History of Music for Singers coming soon on the Wednesday series slot. In the meantime, there’s Friday Favourites, Repertoire Corner, and a whole host of other posts to keep you inspired to Discover Singing.