As an awarding organisation, monitored by official regulatory authorities, we take our responsibilities very seriously. These include reviewing and refreshing all our assessments on a regular basis.
We wanted to improve the exam experience for candidates and ensure that we are assessing the essential knowledge and understanding needed at this level. So, we’ve modernised the exam papers and put more focus on the ‘building blocks’ of music theory.
The revised Music Theory exam papers are the result of consultation and research, and reflect best-practice in question design and assessment.
Overall there is a greater focus on assessing the basic principles of music theory, with some modernised and updated exam questions.
- We are introducing multiple choice questions for testing knowledge of musical terms and signs.
- We are updating some questions. Examples include:
- Reducing the amount of information on the page for time signature questions (Grades 1 to 3)
- Simplifying the layout of intervals questions (Grades 4 and 5)
- Simplifying the layout for Grade 5, Question 7 (chords at cadence points), with candidates asked to describe chords only using roman numerals.
- We are removing questions involving rhythm-writing, melody-writing and word-setting, and the Grade 5 SATB short/open score question.
- We’ve refreshed the design of the papers to ensure they are clear and easy to understand. We’ve done this for all grades (1 to 8).
The revised exam papers are based on our existing Music Theory syllabus and continue to assess the same broad areas of music theory to the same standards. However, they do not include rhythm-writing, word-setting, melody-writing or the Grade 5 SATB short/open-score question.
The exams still cover:
- Knowledge of western music notation, including common terms and signs
- Understanding of fundamental musical elements, such as intervals, keys, scales and chords
In more detail, this includes:
- Note and rest values
- Bars, time signatures, grouping of notes and rests
- The stave: clefs, pitches and letter names
- Scales and scale degrees
- Keys and key signatures
- Primary triads: chords, inversions, and basic progressions
- Ornaments terms and signs
Although we’ve made some small changes to the skills needed in certain parts of the exam, the underlying knowledge you need to cover and understand has stayed the same. Candidates do not need to learn anything new to take their exams.
No. We’ve taken care to provide continuity for teachers and students. The underlying knowledge needed to take Theory exams at Grades 1 to 5 is still the same.
Following research into best practice in question design, we have modernised the assessment of musical terms and signs by using a clear multiple-choice format. Multiple choice questions are an accessible, effective and reliable way to test this kind of knowledge. They are widely-used in many different types of assessment, including school tests and exams, so are familiar to the majority of candidates.
At Grades 1 to 5 our main focus has always been to ensure that students are developing fluency with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of music theory. As a result, these questions were never designed to assess creativity. Our research and analysis suggests that rather than encouraging creativity or inventiveness these questions were often completed in a way which implies a formulaic or space-filling approach.
So, following consultation, we decided to replace these questions with more effective methods of assessment, which focus more clearly on the foundations of music theory. In this way, we’re giving candidates additional opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge while increasing the objectivity and consistency of the assessments.
At Grade 6 to 8, there is a shift towards applying knowledge through creativity and invention. The exams for these grades have not changed and candidates will still be asked to write melodies and harmonies. However, at this level candidates will be developing greater musical fluency, making this kind of question more appropriate.
Whatever level students are at, we would always encourage teachers to build creativity into learning whenever possible so that it becomes a normal part of everyday musical activity.
This question wasn’t a fixed part of the Grade 5 exam, and only appeared in some papers. The marks available for this question are now allocated to other questions. This allows us to focus more on the core knowledge we are encouraging at this level. Candidates also have less copying out to do, reducing the likelihood of copying mistakes.
At Grades 1 to 4, replacement questions are based on existing question-types with a clear focus on specific areas of theory knowledge. They cover familiar topics and teachers and candidates do not have to prepare anything new.
At Grade 5, we have transferred the 15 marks currently available for melody-writing or word-setting to an additional question on the features of a musical extract. In questions like this, candidates need to apply their knowledge in a wider musical context and use the same kind of ‘higher-order’ thinking as the melody-writing question.
Some musical extracts are shorter and specially written. This reduces the amount of unnecessary information on the page and gives more consistency across papers.
We’ve also simplified the layout of the interval questions at Grades 4 and 5, and the ‘chords at cadence points’ question at Grade 5 (Question 7). For Grade 4, Question 7, we’ve adjusted and improved the way we allocate marks.
Finally, exam papers for all grades, including 6 to 8, uses a font that’s clearer and easier to read.
No. None of the changes are about making the exams easier. The level of knowledge and understanding needed has stayed the same.
When multiple-choice questions are well-designed, the likelihood of being able to give correct answers through guesswork is very small. We are continuing to assess a full range of terms and signs, and candidates still need to learn these thoroughly to do well in this section of the exam.
At Grade 5, while we've removed the melody-writing/word-setting question, we are still asking candidates to apply their knowledge in a wider context when they answer questions about musical extracts. This calls for the same ‘higher order’ thinking as the melody-writing question. So the assessment method has changed, but standards are staying the same.