Frequently Asked Questions

On this page you’ll find answers to some of the questions we’ve received about the online Music Theory exams. We've broken these down into the following sections: Online Assessment; Exam questions and syllabus changes; Preparing for the exam; The online exam process; Setting up the exam; Taking the exam and Carrying out the System Check. We’ll regularly add more questions to this page. So if we haven’t answered your question yet please keep checking back for the latest updates.

Online assessment

Moving online is the result of long-term development to ensure that we can offer greater convenience and flexibility for candidates. Due to the impact of COVID-19 on in-person exams we brought forward our plans to introduce online Theory exams so that we could help as many learners as possible progress with their music and education.

Yes. For exams from May 2021 onwards candidates will be randomly assigned different sets of questions to ensure that the security of the exam is preserved. Different candidates will be allocated different sets of questions throughout the exam session to so that each exam experience is unique to the candidate.

Candidates will be able to access a demo of the site so that they can see how the questions will look on screen as well as explore how they can alter the 'look' of the exam system with different sizes and coloured backgrounds to make the exam experience the most suitable for them. They can also get a feel for navigating the exam system, moving from question to question, flagging questions and submitting their answers. Please note that the sample exam paper is a paper representation of an online exam and therefore doesn’t properly explain the way in which the layout will be presented and can be modified for the user.

Where the site is not suitable for some candidates, we can provide an alternative format. Further information can be found on our Accessibility Statement. Please also note that we have a special considerations policy in the event that your exam experience is affected by circumstances beyond your control.

We have undertaken comprehensive due diligence, compliance and risk assessment exercises to ensure that we can deliver an online exam experience that is secure, safe and accessible. Our selection process included an evaluation of safeguarding, data protection, exam security, ease of use and global customer service. PSI has a world leading company with extensive experience of providing certification through online exams. You can find out more about them on their website, but please check the procedures and guidance that we have published on ABRSM’s website for specific information about these exams.

Online exams are replacing paper-based exams for Music Theory at Grades 1 to 5 worldwide.  Physical Paper based Music Theory exams at these grades will only be available if a candidate requires one due to Access Arrangements or Reasonable Adjustments. More information can be found here.

It is central to our approach to music education that we continually explore ways to improve access and lower barriers to musical progress. We are absolutely committed to making sure that no learner is left out and are working to ensure that this is the case. However, we recognise that not all candidates will be able to meet the necessary technical requirements in their home to sit an online Music Theory exam.

By moving to an online exam, available on-demand, we are aiming to give candidates the complete flexibility of being able to choose when they take their exam. They can take it at any point throughout the year and will not need to travel to public centres.  We also hope that this flexibility will allow candidates to source a computer at a suitable date and time by asking a friend or relative if they can borrow a laptop, or take the exam in their home. Applicants and candidates may also consider approaching local schools, colleges and universities, as well as local music services to ask if their candidate or group of candidates could use the IT facilities there.

We understand however that this may not be a viable solution for all candidates and therefore we are also considering additional ways in which we can make our Music Theory exams as accessible as possible

Yes.  Candidates can take their exam in their own home or in any other suitable location that meets our requirements. It will be possible for multiple candidates to take their exams at a suitable venue, for instance an educational institution which has previously hosted exams, as long as this can be done safely and in line with government guidelines. More information is available in our Online Music Theory Guidelines.

We will have rigorous processes in place to ensure that we can identify candidates and that exam conditions meet the requirements set out in our regulations. At the start of the exam, the candidate will be required to display their Candidate (photo) ID, take a photo of themselves using the exam software and film a scan of the room. They will then be able to sit their exam. A responsible adult should be in the room to help the candidate with this if they are under 18.

The below video demonstrates how candidates should do this in the exam:

ABRSM Online Music Theory exam - Starting the exam, doing a room scan and showing candidate ID

We have rigorous processes in place to ensure the security and validity of our online exams.

The candidate will be filmed for the duration of the exam via the webcam and exam software, and each exam will be reviewed by trained proctors. Further information can be found in our Remote Proctoring in ABRSM Online Theory Exams Policy and our Online Safeguarding Policy Statement.  The online exam platform, proctoring and test delivery are provided by a third-party supplier called PSI who deliver over 15 million assessments every year. After the exam PSI will supply us with the candidates’ results and inform us of any concerns raised by the exam proctors. We will investigate any potential infringements in line with our Malpractice and Maladministration Policy.

Proctoring is a little like remote invigilation and is designed to check that individual candidates take their exams in accordance with our regulations and requirements. The candidate will be filmed for the duration of the exam via the webcam and exam software, and trained proctors will review each exam. The proctor is the person who views the video recording of the assessment and is responsible for alerting us to any suspicious activity.

For candidates who require a paper based exam for accessibility reasons, this should be made clear at the time of entry by choosing the necessary ‘Access Arrangement’ or by emailing accesscoordin[email protected]. This does need to be done by the end of the Booking Period.

The price can be found on the Dates and Fees page.

Unfortunately not. The sample questions are there only to give candidates the opportunity to try out the type of questions they will find in the online exam.

For exams in May/June we can only provide translated papers in Traditional and Simplified Chinese in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. We hope to be able to offer additional translations in the future and will provide an update on this as soon as we can.

Once an exam has been booked, candidates can take their exam on any date and at any time within 28 days. It is up to the candidate when they take the exam during this time and you do not have to select a date when you book.

These exams take place in a location of the candidate’s or teacher’s choice, rather than at a Public Venue provided by us. Candidates can take the exam anywhere where they have access to a laptop or desktop computer with a webcam and the internet.

Exam questions and syllabus changes

As a regulated awarding organisation, we regularly review and refresh all of our exams and syllabuses to ensure their continuing quality, reliability and authority. Our aim is to maintain our standards, conform to best practice in assessment design and make sure our exams meet the needs of teachers and learners. We have made these changes to our Music Theory exams in consultation with experts. We have updated some of the Grade 1 to 5 questions to bring them in line with a style of assessment commonly used across the education sector. In addition, there are a few minor changes to the syllabus itself and we have adapted the style of some questions so that they work for an online exam.

No. All online Music Theory exams for Grades 1 to 5 will use the updated exam papers and new syllabus.

We have adapted the style of some questions so that they work for an online exam format. These are small changes, and candidates who have been entered for the exam will have the opportunity to try an example practice question for each question type before taking the exam.  The question types are:

  • Multiple Choice: where the candidate selects the correct answer(s) from a list of given answers. This also includes True/False questions.
  • Fill in the blank: where the candidate types an answer into an answer box. This is usually used to complete a sentence.
  • Matching: where the candidate selects answers from a pull-down list of options.
  • Drag and drop: where the candidate drags an image onto another larger image. An example is dragging a note-head onto a stave.

Several Grade 5 example questions in the online format are available. These show the different question types included in the new exam.

Yes. Candidates can try our Online Practice exams here. We also have step-by-step guidance and video demos, which take you through the exam process. 

In advance of the exam, you should check the compatibility of your systems by going to https://systemcheck.rpexams.com. We recommend using Chrome as your browser for this. This check must be done before the exam day in order to reduce interference with the live exam.

We are removing the requirement to demonstrate accurate copying of music.  Candidates will demonstrate their knowledge of where, on the stave, music sits by using the drag and drop feature. They will be able to familiarise themselves with this by practising with our test questions before the exam. 

Using multiple-choice questions will not make these exams easier. We first introduced multiple-choice questions to the 2018 syllabus.  We are now including more as they are an accessible, effective and reliable way to test knowledge. They are widely-used in many different types of assessment, including school tests and exams, so are familiar to the majority of candidates.

Our online exams at Grade 1 to 5 will be marked automatically. There will be a total of 75 marks available rather than 100 marks.

Yes! We have not changed the value of the marks or the grade bands available. The new qualifications will still be awarded at a Pass, Merit or Distinction - just like the current versions. What has changed is the total number of marks available and the grade boundaries.

In order to accommodate the new style of assessment the marks required for each fixed grade boundary are as follows:

  • Total marks available : 75 (instead of 100)
  • Distinction: 65 marks (instead of 90)
  • Merit: 60 marks (instead of 80)
  • Pass: 50 marks (instead of 66)

No. The changes to the exam format will have no effect on the level or value of this qualification. If a candidate achieves a Pass, Merit or Distinction having taken the new exam, this will be equivalent to a Pass, Merit or Distinction for existing exams.

Our graded Music Theory exams are progressive assessments. Each grade builds on the skills, knowledge and understanding gained at the previous grade. Candidates who are successful in achieving Grade 5 in Music Theory will have gained all the understanding needed to embark on studying at Grade 6 level. This will be no different for the new Grade 5 theory exams.

We have no immediate plans to make any changes to Music Theory exams at Grades 6 to 8 and these exams will continue to be assessed through a written paper.

We have no immediate plans to make further changes to the Music Theory syllabus at Grades 1 to 5. If any future changes are made, they will be to ensure assessments best support candidates – and will follow thorough review and expert consultation.

Preparing for the exam

ABRSM continues to value and strongly support the teaching and learning of Music Theory. The knowledge and skills tested, and for which marks are awarded, remain the same, with some very minor changes to some details in the syllabus. We have produced a free set of Sample Papers and Model Answers for Grades 1 to 5 and a new series of workbooks, Discovering Music Theory, that support the teaching and learning of Music Theory is available on 8 October. Several Grade 5 example questions in the online format are also available. These show the different question types included in the new exam.

 

Yes.  As the core musical understanding required for the exams is not changing, our existing books will still be helpful along with the new Sample Papers and Model Answers – a free set is available at Grades 1 to 5. In addition, several Grade 5 example questions in the online format are available. These show the different question types included in the new exam.

We have also published new Discovering Music Theory books, which provide the best and most up to date preparation materials for Grades 1 to 5.  We recommend candidates use these resources now that they are available.

No. The core musical understanding required for the new Music Theory exams remains the same, so you don’t need to change your teaching approach. However, it is important that candidates are familiar with the different style of exam questions that will be used in the new exams.

To help, free Music Theory Sample Papers and Music Theory Sample Model Answers for Grades 1 to 5 are available. Several Grade 5 online sample questions are also available in the online format, which show the different question types included in the new exam. 

We have also published new books of Music Theory Sample Papers and Music Theory Sample Model Answers for each of Grades 1 to 5, as well as our new Discovering Music Theory books, designed to support teachers and learners as they prepare for exams at these grades. You can buy these books on the ABRSM shop.

The online exam process

The safeguarding of young people is of paramount importance to us, and we are entirely confident that PSI’s policies and systems uphold this fundamental principle. The proctoring service is one that records and reviews videos for potential issues of malpractice. There is no live monitoring, nor does a proctor have access to the candidate’s computer. PSI proctors will review the videos for behaviour that could call into question the security of the exam, and provide a report to ABRSM for further investigation. Access to the videos is tightly controlled, restricted to the corporate VPN, and monitored. All proctors are subject to background checks that are commensurate with our own safeguarding policy, including criminal record checks.

Please see our remote proctoring guidance here which tells you more about it.

ABRSM is the data controller for the purposes of the Data Protection Act 2018, which means that we remain directly responsible to you for all the personal information you share with us in order to do the exam. PSI is our supplier, and the data processor, and is bound contractually to meet not only the requirements of European data protection law, but also ABRSM’s service levels. PSI’s security infrastructure is maintained to the highest international security standards, including holding ISO27001 industry standard accreditation for information security management and GDPR compliance.

In order to take the exam, candidates will download a secure browser and go through an ID authentication process. The whole session is recorded through the RPNow product via recording of both webcam and desktop and the videos are encrypted and stored on servers in the US. The videos are streamed one by one by a certified proctor who reviews the recording to flag and report any potential violations that could compromise the integrity of the exam.

The test data collected by the ATLAS Cloud software is held on EU servers.

This blog piece may be helpful for those with concerns about security and proctoring.

You can find more information on PSI’s privacy standards here and more information about ABRSM and data protection here.  

We have produced step by step guidance and video demos, which take you through the exam process.Online Music Theory practice questions are also available here

We know exams can be daunting, and we certainly don’t want to add to candidates’ anxiety. Due to the uncertainty around gathering in public venues, we have prioritised moving exams onto this online platform so that we can offer exams more safely and reliably.

The exam will be recorded via the candidates’ webcam and watched at a later time by a proctor (the exam invigilator). No candidates will be watched live. Recording in this way allows us to maintain the integrity of the exam as we can identify those few people who are not following the exam regulations. This ensures the exams are fair to all, and candidates achieve the results they deserve.

Access to the videos is tightly controlled, restricted to the corporate VPN of our exam supplier, and monitored. All proctors are subject to background checks that are commensurate with our own safeguarding policy, including criminal record checks. The exam recording is securely stored and will be deleted after 90 days. The Responsible Adult (for candidates under 18) can be present for the duration of the exam if desired.

You can do a system check now by going to https://systemcheck.rpexams.com. We recommend using Chrome as your browser for this. This check must be done prior to exam day in order to reduce interference with the live exam.

No. The RP Now proctoring software will prompt you in advance of starting the exam to close these. This is integral to ensuring security of exams. This is a temporary measure while the RP Now proctoring software is running.

Yes. PSI have undertaken their standard tests to ensure the system can handle the expected volume of candidates. PSI and ABRSM have also carried out joint testing.

  • Laptop or desktop computer with webcam facility, internet access and the following:
    • Operating system: Windows 8, 8.1, 10, 32bit (x86) and 64bit (x64) / Mac OS 10.13, 10.14 and 10.15. RAM: Recommended + 2 GB
    • Free Disk Space: 1 GB
    • Screen resolution: 1368 X 769 or higher
    • Bandwidth: 300 Kbps upload and download
    • Minimum web camera resolution: 640 X 480
    • In-built or external microphone
    • Download: ability to download and install software (admin rights required)
    • Webcam that allows for a 360 degree scan of the exam room. If this is not possible on your computer you are able to use a mobile phone or digital camera – guidance on this can be found below in the ‘Setting up the exam’ section
    • Monitor: only one monitor is allowed. An additional monitor cannot be attached to a laptop.
  • It is not possible to take the exam on a tablet or phone, and it cannot be run on a Chromebook.

Yes, you can do this here https://systemcheck.rpexams.com

Setting up the exam

All candidates sitting an online Music Theory exam will be required to show their ID when prompted. We accept a wide range of ID, including a completed ABRSM Candidate Identification Form. You can find out more in our Candidate ID Policy

The room is expected to be free from notes, books of any kind, any depiction of musical notes or any representation of a piano keyboard. If this is not possible then all books should remain closed and out of reach, and any depiction of musical notation or representation of a piano keyboard, including an actual piano, should be covered so they are not visible. 

The room must be free from visible keyboards, or any representation of a piano keyboard. If it’s not possible to remove the keyboard altogether, it should be covered so it is not visible.

Candidates can check what is required to be seen during the room scan by viewing the step by step guide found below:

ABRSM Online Music Theory exam - Starting the exam, doing a room scan and showing candidate ID

When the room scan is requested, the candidate or Responsible Adult can film a room scan on their mobile phone and then play this back to the webcam. The recording of the room scan must be done during the room scan section of the exam set up so that we can confirm the room is suitable for the exam.

Taking the exam

The Responsible Adult can be present for the duration of the exam if desired but for venues hosting multiple candidates this is required. For candidates under 18 or vulnerable adults the Responsible Adult must be present at the beginning of the exam to aid with the necessary room scans and ID checks.

Yes. This can be any type of paper (e.g. manuscript; plain) as long as it is blank and does not show any musical notation or any representation of the piano keyboard. Candidates must show any paper to the camera at the start of the exam to confirm that it is blank. At the end of the exam they must hold up the paper to the camera and destroy it, ideally by tearing it into pieces.

This video demonstrates how candidates should do this in the exam.

We encourage candidates to use the toilet before their exam. Essential toilet breaks are allowed, but they should not be frequent and shouldn’t last more than five minutes. If a candidate will need frequent toilet breaks, they should contact our Access Coordinator to discuss this. Candidates should let the proctor know they are having a toilet break by speaking or holding up a written note to the camera. Candidates will not receive any additional time to complete their exam.

Water and other drinks are allowed during the exam. Candidates just need to ensure their drink is in a transparent container, with no writing or design on it.

In the top right-hand corner of the exam screen there is an ‘End Test’ button you can click to end the test.

In the top right-hand corner there is a countdown clock which displays how much time you have left to complete the exam. This starts once the candidates has begun the exam – not at the schedule start time – to allow candidates who start late to receive their full time allowance.

Technical support

RP Now is safe to download via the link provided by ABRSM which applicants will receive two weeks before the exam. On the download page no candidate data is collected so it is not encrypted. The recording starts at the ID screen and that page is encrypted along with the rest of the exam process. 

While the RP Now Proctoring software is running candidates are unable to access other apps, programs or browsers to maintain the security of the exam. It takes no action on these apart from closing them down.

You can close these manually or use the ‘Terminate this application’ button. If for any reason they do not close you may need to uninstall the program that is listed as prohibited. On the exam day if this problem occurs you should contact the PSI Support Team via the ‘Contact Support’ option on the screen.

Although this software blocks certain programs from running, at no point does PSI or ABRSM have access to your computer.

Relaunch the browser:

  • Restart the candidate's computer/device
  • Make sure that the candidate is using a wired connection
  • Disconnect other devices that are connected to the wifi/LAN to lessen bandwidth usage
  • Restart the candidate's Router. Unplug it for 2-3 minutes and plug it back in. Relaunch again and check.

If the above troubleshooting didn't work:

  • Check if the candidate can use a different connection or device/computer
  • Connect with hotspot rather than broadband

Other troubleshooting that may help:

  • Go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound > Disable all third-party drivers
  • Add Google DNS

If the message specifically shows 0 kbps then the error is related to the software’s ability to connect to the camera and/or microphone - see below

Applicants who have made an exam booking will be provided with a direct telephone number that they can use to contact PSI Support for further help.

The bandwidth required is Bandwidth: 300 Kbps upload and download. If you have this and the error still shows then please follow the guidance below.

Relaunch the browser:

  • Restart the candidate's computer/device
  • Make sure that the candidate is using wired connection
  • Disconnect other devices that are connected to the wifi/LAN to lessen bandwidth usage
  • Restart candidate's Router. Unplug it for 2-3 minutes and plug it back in. Relaunch again and check.

If the above troubleshooting didn't work:

  • Check if the candidate can use a different connection or device/computer
  • Connect with hotspot rather than broadband

Other troubleshooting that may help:

  • Go to Control Panel > Hardware and Sound > Sound > Disable all third-party drivers
  • Add Google DNS

If the message specifically shows 0 kbps then the error is related to the software’s ability to connect to the camera and/or microphone - see below

Applicants who have made an exam booking will be provided with a direct number that they can use to contact PSI Support for further help.

This does not just check that they are working, but that they are working in the RP Now proctoring software

Applicants who have made an exam booking will be provided with a direct number that they can use to contact PSI Support for further help.

RP Now checks the processes that are running on the machine, not what programs are open. Using the ’Terminate this Application’ button should allow the ‘Exam Taker’ to continue. If the software is unable to close a program when you click 'Terminate this application', you should be able to go into ‘Task manager’ on your computer and either close the program there, disable it or choose to stop it auto starting when starting your computer. It is possible you may then need to restart your computer.

Applicants who have made an exam booking will be provided with a direct number that they can use to contact PSI Support for further help.

Systems check – before the exam make sure your device is compatible with the exam software by carrying out a PSI systems check, available here: PSI RP Now Systems CheckPSI recommend using Google Chrome browser for this check.

Help and support – for all technical help after you have clicked ‘Start Music Theory exam’, contact PSI Customer Support. Phone numbers are available under ‘Customer support and technical enquiries’ on our Guidelines page. For online Music Theory booking and result enquiries, please contact ABRSM: Contact usWe will not be able to assist with technical difficulties during your exam.

 

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