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Guidance on HMS staff preparing pupils for external music exams

Hampshire Music Service has developed highly structured Schemes of Work for instrumental and vocal teaching in schools. These are based on National Curriculum principles and encourage the development of all aspects of a child’s musical development – from the first lessons up to Stage 8 level. In conjunction with these schemes, pupils’ achievements can be recognised through school-based Certificates of Achievement which are assessed by HMS staff during normal lessons as and when pupils are ready. No additional charge is made to schools or parents for these certificates which are often presented in assemblies and added to pupils’ individual records.

Occasionally parents may wish to receive an additional assessment of their child’s playing (or singing) in the form of an external graded music exam, and HMS staff will support this where possible.

Some schools make arrangements for their pupils to be entered for these exams, although individuals can also do so. Detailed information about syllabus requirements, fees and exam dates is available from examination board websites – for example, and . HMS teachers are not able to submit entries for pupils taught in schools.

The person making the entry is responsible for providing an accompanist for the exam and also at least one prior rehearsal. It should be noted that exams generally take place in central places (e.g. Winchester, Portsmouth, Basingstoke), and it is the parent/carer’s responsibility to ensure that candidates are able to get to the venue and are also capable of tuning up their own instrument if required.

Much of the content of graded examinations is similar to aspects of HMS Certificates of Achievement, although pupils are likely to need additional music books containing the set pieces. In addition to playing these pieces, candidates are required to learn specific scales and/or exercises, and to prepare for tests such as sight-reading, improvising and aural training. Booklets and CDs are available from the examining boards to help candidates prepare for these tests.

Unlike HMS certificates, an external music exam will be conducted under strict conditions, with little or no opportunity for having a second attempt at any pieces or tests. Whilst some children may rise to the occasion, others may respond better to assessment by someone familiar to them.

It is important that sufficient time is allowed for exam preparation in case any music lessons are missed due to school events, and pupil or teacher absences. Parents/carers  should also be aware that requests for specific days are not always granted by the music exam boards, so pupils should be ready by the earliest possible date.

Importantly, both HMS Certificates of Achievement and graded music exams are an assessment process only, and should not detract from pupils learning a wide range of other pieces and musical skills.