The changing exam landscape
19 March 2017

David Barton | Teacher, Composer and Author

When I started teaching, just over 15 years ago, there was very little option available in terms of external exams and assessments. As a learner I’d gone through the system of standard graded exams, all of which consisted of a mix of set pieces, scales and arpeggios, sight-reading, and aural tests. It’s little surprise then that when I started teaching, I initially began to follow the same pattern.

Over a decade on, what a lot has changed. The music education landscape has changed dramatically, and the breadth of exam options available now is broader than at any point in the past. London College of Music Examinations has led the way in developing a wide variety of assessments, all designed to offer something different to the diverse range of pupils whom we teach.    

In this article I shall be focusing particularly on piano, but it should be noted that the majority of options are available for all instruments - and for some others even more options are offered.

Let’s start where most of us began our experience, with the standard graded exam. As with most boards, LCM offers piano exams at Grades 1 to 8. Pupils perform three pieces, undertake aural tests, sight-reading and a viva voce assessment, and make a choice between a selection of scales and arpeggios or performance of a study. 

LCM graded exams don’t stop there though, for pupils can instead opt for the Recital option — here there are no aural tests, instead pupils perform four pieces and can choose between a fifth piece, sight-reading or the viva voce assessment. A similar assessment offered is found in the Leisure Play syllabus, where candidates undertake to perform a selection of pieces, which may or may not include an own choice item — with no other requirements.  Furthermore, for those unable or unwilling to be examined in person, LCM offer the option of a Performance Award, again, assessed at Levels 1 to 8.  Similar to the Leisure Play syllabus in being a purely performance examination, here the candidate’s performance is submitted digitally for assessment.

LCM’s strength possibly lies in its pre-Grade 1 assessments, available at Pre-preparatory, Step 1 and Step 2. It’s these exams which I’ve been particularly impressed with as they lay an especially strong foundation for the development of the all-round musician. 

Beyond Grade 8, LCM offer a range of diploma options at DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM and FLCM levels, both in piano performance and piano teaching. Like the graded exams, a range of options are available, and performance diplomas can be sat as both Standard and Recital assessments. I sat the DipLCM Recital option last year and found it to be a hugely positive experience.

I estimate that LCM offer nearly 20 different options for pianists at 15 different levels, right from the earliest stages of learning, through to the Fellowship of the London College of Music (FLCM). The range of options now available is fantastic; I feel enormously lucky to be teaching at a time when the needs of a diverse range of learners of all ages is finally being met by examination boards, led, in my view, by LCM. We live in exciting times, and it will be interesting to see what options continue to develop in the future.

David has taught flute, piano and singing from his home-based studio in Lichfield, Staffordshire, since 2001. He is active as a piano accompanist, and as a composer and arranger, has over 100 publications in print worldwide. He is currently researching for a PhD in Music Education at the Royal College of Music.