Exam Preparation

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England with some tips on Exam Preparation.

Well the summer Exam season is nearly upon us which is often a time of anxiety for a lot of students – but it need not be. In this article I’m going to share some useful tips on Exam Preparation that will reduce your anxiety and make you feel confident in the Exam – in fact a lot the tips also apply to not music exams.

Tip 1: The secret of passing any Exam is to know your subject so ensure you do enough practising of Scales, Chords, Set Pieces etc. and read your Set Books very carefully to make sure your are clear as to what you have to do in the Exam. Make sure you know what the Pass Mark is.

Tip 2: Do lots of Practice Exams” with your Teacher. This way you’ll get into the routine of what’s needed on the day and it will reduce “surprises”. As a Teacher I tend to make my Practice Exams a little more stretching than what you might meet in a real life Exam so that you are well prepared.

Tip 3: The day BEFORE the Exam make sure you don’t go out partying or have a busy tiring day. Make sure you get a good nights sleep. Also, go over the times and details of where the Exam is and make sure you know how to get there.

Tip 4: On the day of the Exam try to get up early and take some light exercise (to get some oxygen into your blood). Have a slow release carbohydrate breakfast (or lunch if your Exam is in the afternoon). I also recommend you take along to the Exam a glucose drink and some water. Before you go into the Exam drink about half the glucose drink (to get an energy boost) and after the Exam drink the other half (helps to stop the adrenalin “shakes”).

Tip 5: Arrive at the Exam venue at least 30 minutes before start time. Relax – get your guitar in tune, have a “noodle” and play a few scales or chords to get your fingers “warmed up”.

Tip 6:  When you enter the Exam room – stay calm and remember to breathe. Introduce yourself and say “hello” to the Examiner – they are human after all. Get yourself settled and be ready for the “off”. If asked a question, say “play a C major scale two octaves”, restate the question back to Examiner – this way it will help you focus and gives you a little extra thinking time. Count yourself in and remember to breathe.

Tip 7: During the Exam try to keep going and not stop if you make a mistake. If you do make a mistake politely ask if may repeat that section.

Tip 8: On the Aural Section, which most students find challenging, listen carefully and go with your “gut instinct” – avoid thinking about your answer too much (“paralysis through analysis” can occur). Most Aural Sections come at the end of the Exam and only account for a relatively small percentage of the total marks (say 10 to 15%) so even if you do badly (and you will pick up some marks) it should not stop you Passing the Exam on the basis that you will already have enough marks in the bank.

Tip 9: At the end of the Exam thank the Examiner and leave quickly – Examiner usually have busy schedule so they are under pressure to keep to their timetable.

Tip 10: Once you’ve taken the Exam stop thinking about it – you can’t change the result so don’t torture yourself worrying. Everyone tends to rate themselves down and think that they have done worse than they actually have.

Well good luck and I’m sure you’ll be successful!

Exam Tips – In the Exam

Well you made it – you’re in the Exam room!

First things first – introduce yourself to the Examiner (and smile – they are human like us!). Try to relax and just take a few moments to get yourself organised. Remember the Exam day is a very busy day for the Examiner (so he or she is under a lot of time pressure to keep things moving along).

A good tip: to double check that you have understood an Examiner’s question – quickly re-state the question. Misunderstandings do happen.

The first section is typically Scales & Arpeggios: take a second or two to get yourself in place on the fingerboard and take a deep breath before you start. Even if you make a slight slip – try to keep going. If you make a real hash of it ask the Examiner if you can repeat it. Stay calm and don’t over focus on a small slip or mistake.

The next section is usually Chords – again take your time and if need be say aloud the name of the chord or arpeggio you have been asked to play (it will help trigger your long term memory – after all you already know all the chords it will be just stress that makes you forget; stay relaxed!).

If you have a set piece to play (for say a Specialism section) remember to take your music with you and if it’s not one suggested by the exam board take a spare copy for the Examiner. Take your time getting started and always try to start & finish well – first & last impressions are important. Again if you make a mistake – keep going!

For a Rhythm Test always take 20 or 30 seconds to scan through the chord chart and make sure you take in what’s required – note the time signature and plan what rhythm patterns you will use, the format (repeats etc), playing descriptor (With a Blues Feel, Lively etc) plus the dynamics. Don’t worry about the actual chords as you should know these from the hours of practice you have put in!

Lead playing – the main point is to identify which scale (or scales) and arpeggios to use for your improvised solo over the presented chord chart. The first chord is the “key chord” and will tell you which scale (or scales) to use. Remember – “like goes with like”. So if the first chord is an Am then you can use an A minor scale of some kind – for example, A natural minor or A pentatonic minor, or both. Use phrases you have pre learned and keep it simple. Try to leave some “space” and don’t just go all out for “pace” – let your solo “breathe” and make it sound musical (not just a series of scale based runs).

Very often there is a Spoken Test which involves knowledge of the fingerboard. As a musicican it’s important to know what notes you are playing so you can effectively communicate with other non guitar playing musicians – a key board player will not know that the 3rd fret on the 3rd string is a Bb. This section is usually straight forward – just read the book and learn the facts (simples!).

The final section is normally the Aural Test and is often looked upon with anxiety by Candidates. The best advice here is to relax and go with your 1st answer – once you start dithering as to what you think the rhythm or interval is you will more than likley get it wrong. Also, remember even if you if do badly in the Aural section as long you have done well with all the other sections you will still Pass – which is after all the basic aim; getting a Distinction or a Merit is fantastic but a Pass is still a Pass.

So stay calm, keep focussed and do your best!

Exam Tips – On the Day

So, what’s the best way to prepare for your Exam? Well it starts the day before – make sure your get a good night’s sleep (save the party until after the Exam!). Also, plan how to get to the Exam (Google maps are helpful). Work out how you are going to get there, check on parking if you drive and estimate how long it will take you to get there (and if need be allow for the unexpected – like traffic!). A good piece of advice is to get all you need for the Exam ready the day before to avoid the last minute panic – check your guitar is OK (get it restrung if necessary), tune it up, pack your tuner and a lead, check you have supply of picks, take a some spare strings and pack your Grade Handbook. Finally, fill out the admin paperwork you were sent.

On the day make sure you get up in plenty of time and take some light exercise – a relaxed run or even just a walk; get some fresh air and blow the cobwebs away. If you want to have a light guitar work out session – just to get your finger working. Remember you already know the material inside out so there’s no need to stress your self out by last minute cramming.

If your exam is in the morning have a light breakfast of slow release carbohydrate – cereal is perfect. Avoid fresh orange juice (you don’t want to have to dash to the loo) and strong coffee (avoid the caffeine shakes) pilule viagra prix. Drink at least two glasses of water – to hydrate yourself (rememeber the human brain is over 90% water – and you want it to function at it’s best). If it’s in the afternoon then have a light lunch of slow release carbohydrate – pasta is ideal.

Leaving for the Exam – obvious statement but go to loo! Give yourself plently of time. If you think it will take 45 minutes allow 90 minutes – don’t get yourself stressed out becuase you think you are going to be late. Take some water with you and also a glucose based drink (like Lucozade) – take some sips of both but don’t drink the lot!

When you arrive at the Exam Centre find out where you have to go – it will usually be sign posted but you may have to ask at reception if it’s in a univeristy campus or large school. Once in the waiting room you’ll probably meet other candidates – relax and say hello (they’re just a nervous as you!). Get your guitar out, get tuned up and run through your scales (which is the always the first section in an RGT Exam – or most exams in fact). Relax and have few more sips of the glucose drink but again not too much – you don’t want to be hyper on sugar, just nicely fuelled.

Next time I’ll share some tips for During the Exam.

Keep practising!


Exam Tips

June is a busy month for everyone sitting their RGT Grade Exams. I have had over 450 students all pass their Grades – about 80% setting Distinctions (so far no failures!). What’s the secret? The “Three P’s” – Practice, Patience & Perseverence viagra a. In fact there is a fourth “P” – Preparation.

Practice – the key is structured practice. Start with an aim (“polishing” scales or working out Lead Playing fills etc) and focus on your weaker areas. For beginners 20 – 30 minutes will do but for more advanced students you obviously need to put in more time (say around 45 – 60 minutes). Too long? Well you enjoy playing don’t you?

Patience – give your self some time! Take things slowly at first and let speed come naturally.

Perseverence – keep at it! Don’t get stressed if you don’t pick it up first (or second) pass. It has been said that to learn any complex skill takes 10,000 hours! Remember – guitar is for life!

Preparation – look after the simple things…….Tune your guitar, don’t loose your pick or study books, change your strings regularly (about every 4 – 6 weeks). Plus, “Read the Book”! Take time to go through your study books – they are full of tips (and the’ve been written by Examiners).

Also, talk to your RGT Teacher – we’re here to fix problems and keep you moving forward.

Good luck and be successful!