My top tips
Practise performing Perform your pieces several times for different people before the exam date. If you suffer from high level performance anxiety, get professional help. Know which repeats, if any, you will make in the exam.
Prepare all elements of the exam Confident aural, fluent sight reading and accurate scales are all ways of getting extra marks. Use internet resources to help you and to make learning more interesting, but be sure to choose only high quality websites.
Be ready on the day Arrive in good time, but not so early that you start to build up anxiety. Before you walk in the exam room, take your instrument out of its case (unless you are a pianist!) so you are ready to begin. Find your reading glasses if necessary!
Smile and be polite When you walk in, give the examiner a big smile – it will not make any difference to your mark but it will make you feel positive and confident. If the examiner asks you which part of the exam you would like to do first (or next), answer politely and say, ‘please’. If you have an accompanist, thank them for playing for you.
Know where to stand for the aural tests Stand side by side with the piano, facing ahead so that the examiner can see your face to talk to you and watch your hands when you clap.
Make a good sound Create a beautiful, positive tone when singing or playing. Record yourself before the exam, so you know how you really sound.
Be fluent Keep the continuity – if you make a mistake, pretend it didn’t happen and keep going in pieces, songs and sight reading.
Be accurate Accurate intonation is very important in singing and playing. Listen to whether you keep in tune with the accompanist and whether you stay in tune when unaccompanied. Making a slip or two on the day sounds very different from misreading notes or rhythms.
Be expressive Give the examiner reasons to award extra marks by using varied dynamics, articulation and also pace changes if appropriate. Show the phrasing of the music with crescendos and diminuendos. Have a clear idea of the mood or meaning of the music – is it cheerful or sad and does this show in the pace and musical detail? What do the words of your song mean and do you show this in your voice and face?
Be stylish Play or sing in keeping with the style of the music, according to when it was written and who was the composer – your teacher will help you with interpretation of style. It’s easy to find videos of pieces and songs on the internet but do ask your teacher which are the best ones.
These ten tips are my own personal recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of any examining board.
Sandy Holland is a music teacher, examiner and director of E-MusicMaestro: online music education resources.
Piano exam piece videos https://www.youtube.com/user/EMusicMaestroChannel
Aural Test Training http://e-musicmaestro.com/auraltests/