Jump to content


Photo

How do you decide when to enter students for exams?

exams

  • Please log in to reply
23 replies to this topic

#1 hammer action

hammer action

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 831 posts
  • Member: 63311
    Joined: 22-April 09

Posted 03 November 2014 - 20:07

I'm interested in how other teachers decide when to enter their students for exams.  Do you enter them only when they're 100% ready, or do you enter them when they've still some work to do but using your judgement will be ready in time? 

 

I've always felt that an exam date gives them a "goal" to work towards, and the push that some of them need to really put in the work.  If there's not a date set, then i've found the lack of target results in less work being done and preparation taking much longer.

 

A couple of mine who are due to sit their exams in a few weeks have got me feeling a bit concerned.  I decided at the rate they had been progressing with exam preparation that they would be fine come exam time.  They both understood what was still needing to be done.  Now however, one of the adults has been off a lot, changed job resulting in less time to practise and has been on holiday -  things i couldn't predict was going to happen.  Progress seems to have leveled off and although she tells me she's practising scales, i don't think she is as she can't remember most of them.  One of my other students still has to get all three pieces up to speed and i'm again concerned with her scales.  My reminders to them of the exam date seem to phase neither of them.

 

If you wait until they are completely prepared for the exam and still have, say, two months to go then do you go over and over the same scales and pieces week in week out until the exam?  Wouldn't they (and you) be fed up hearing them?  Or do you move onto other pieces which may result in the exam work becoming rusty?

 

A fellow teacher friend asked me why i'd put them in when they weren't 100% ready which made me wonder if i'm wrong doing it this way.  I've never had a single fail in 17 years of teaching, but could i be saving myself a lot of stress and pressure if i waited until everyone was ready with still months to go?

 

I'd be interested to hear how other teachers decide this please?

 

 


  • 0

#2 sbhoa

sbhoa

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 22946 posts
  • Member: 24
    Joined: 31-October 03
  • Tameside

Posted 03 November 2014 - 22:17

As I prefer to be pretty much ready at time of entry that's what I aim for with my students.

If things are at the 'would pass if it was next week' stage there's room for improving and if there are unforeseen circumstances it's not such a disaster.

 

There may sometimes be exceptions.

 

I wouldn't stick just to exam work at this stage. If things are well known a brief putting aside can even be useful.


  • 0

#3 jpiano

jpiano

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2188 posts
  • Member: 1270
    Joined: 03-May 04

Posted 03 November 2014 - 22:42

At the deadline date, which for me is usually at least a week before the closing date to allow time for their payment and my admin, I find the following a useful guideline;

 

At least 2 out of the 3 pieces fluent hands together- it needn't be perfect but with nothing major needing doing

The 3rd piece well underway seperately

Scales etc generally known

Some experience with the sight reading requirements

 

For grades 6 to 8 I'd say all 3 pieces fluent together. 

 

However I'd stress it's not an exact science- the above depends on predicting how much work they'll be likely to do between now and the exam. I've certainly been caught out in the past with entering students who have promised to put in x amount of work and it just hasn't materialised. 

 

I think the most tricky situation is the 'almost ready if they do lots of work' student and having to decide whether to do the exam or wait till the next session- by which time there may be a risk of things going stale. That said, I nearly always go on the side of waiting - I'd rather have everything ready early for the next session then do other repertoire and just keep the grade pieces ticking over. The only people that backfires with are those who only seem to really get their act together with an exam date looming and are in danger of developing a cycle of working in the exam term and then slacking off in between, with a resultant lack of solid grasp of repertoire and technique, and a failure to take seriously anything without the magic 'grade' word on the cover. .


  • 1

#4 porilo

porilo

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1338 posts
  • Member: 138745
    Joined: 15-October 10
  • South West London

Posted 03 November 2014 - 22:50

To be honest I don't think that any exam candidate is every 100% ready. I tend to work with around a 90% ready mark meaning all 3 pieces confident and playable as fluently as possible without too many slips, scales and technical work sound and aural and sight reading as best as they can. Ultimately though, when teaching, my main focus is never solely on passing exams. I focus on musicianship and developing a love for the instrument and for music. Exams are always secondary to that. 


  • 0

#5 owainsutton

owainsutton

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2746 posts
  • Member: 53883
    Joined: 28-January 09
  • Altrincham

Posted 03 November 2014 - 23:00

At the deadline date, which for me is usually at least a week before the closing date to allow time for their payment and my admin, I find the following a useful guideline;

 

At least 2 out of the 3 pieces fluent hands together- it needn't be perfect but with nothing major needing doing

The 3rd piece well underway seperately

Scales etc generally known

Some experience with the sight reading requirements

 

For grades 6 to 8 I'd say all 3 pieces fluent together. 

 

However I'd stress it's not an exact science- the above depends on predicting how much work they'll be likely to do between now and the exam. I've certainly been caught out in the past with entering students who have promised to put in x amount of work and it just hasn't materialised. 

 

I'm similar to this. It's heavily dependent on the individual. Also, adults can be at least as unpredictable than children as to how they'll progress between the entry date and the exam!

 

The only people that backfires with are those who only seem to really get their act together with an exam date looming and are in danger of developing a cycle of working in the exam term and then slacking off in between, with a resultant lack of solid grasp of repertoire and technique, and a failure to take seriously anything without the magic 'grade' word on the cover. .

 

Past exam pieces, and ones from other exam boards, can be invaluable with such characters. The overlap of 'difficulty' of pieces between syllabuses means that they can be fed suitable 'grade 6-level' pieces from the moment they take grade 5 (for example), if chosen wisely to match what they can already do and what they still need to develop.


  • 0

#6 jpiano

jpiano

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 2188 posts
  • Member: 1270
    Joined: 03-May 04

Posted 03 November 2014 - 23:15

 

At the deadline date, which for me is usually at least a week before the closing date to allow time for their payment and my admin, I find the following a useful guideline;

 

At least 2 out of the 3 pieces fluent hands together- it needn't be perfect but with nothing major needing doing

The 3rd piece well underway seperately

Scales etc generally known

Some experience with the sight reading requirements

 

For grades 6 to 8 I'd say all 3 pieces fluent together. 

 

However I'd stress it's not an exact science- the above depends on predicting how much work they'll be likely to do between now and the exam. I've certainly been caught out in the past with entering students who have promised to put in x amount of work and it just hasn't materialised. 

 

I'm similar to this. It's heavily dependent on the individual. Also, adults can be at least as unpredictable than children as to how they'll progress between the entry date and the exam!

 

The only people that backfires with are those who only seem to really get their act together with an exam date looming and are in danger of developing a cycle of working in the exam term and then slacking off in between, with a resultant lack of solid grasp of repertoire and technique, and a failure to take seriously anything without the magic 'grade' word on the cover. .

 

Past exam pieces, and ones from other exam boards, can be invaluable with such characters. The overlap of 'difficulty' of pieces between syllabuses means that they can be fed suitable 'grade 6-level' pieces from the moment they take grade 5 (for example), if chosen wisely to match what they can already do and what they still need to develop.

 

Yes, this is a very true point, but maybe what I should have said is 'the magic words Grade----fill in whatever is the current year in the blank', as of course they know that these are not the pieces they're going to have to perform. Then somehow by a process of osmosis the expectation is that they're going to be able to progress to the next level with only lukewarm attempts at putting in the work inbetween. What I do insist on these days is the ability to play at least 5 pieces marked 'grade 5' or whatever else from a graded anthology with reasonable fluency before they're allowed to go and get the exam book. I agree that it's useful to have the grade stated on the cover - it's also useful for parents as they can see that if their child struggles with material of that level then they're just not ready.  I'm standing firm now. I would rather lose a student these days than go through the truly soul-destroying and nothing-to-do-with-music experience (for them as well as for me ) of taking forever and a day learning the exam pieces because I've given into parental pressure. I'm lucky that I am at a stage in my work where I'm able to do this, and to be more particular about who I take on - if the opening enquiry runs along the lines of 'I'm interested in lessons for my son/daughter- I feel their present teacher isn't pushing them fast enough / they've been learning for x months or years and haven't done a grade yet'- I treat with caution. Experience has taught me that such comments mean we may well not be a good match  


  • 0

#7 Hedgehog

Hedgehog

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 6582 posts
  • Member: 3747
    Joined: 25-May 05
  • Suburbia

Posted 04 November 2014 - 09:41

For school pupils, I insist that 2 of 3 pieces are fluent and the third is well on the way at the end of the previous term (this is mostly up to grade 3 level), plus some exam style sight-reading and aural under the belt too.  Then if there's a crisis during the next half term once the entries are in we can usually cope.

 

With private pupils, I'm a little more relaxed, but not much, because I can insert a lesson or two if need be, but I really feel they need to put in the weeks of practising.

 

I have been caught out by being given the first day of the exam session, when I'd asked for week 4, so I'm a little bit cautious, although that particular instance worked out well - we inserted several more lessons, even with school pupils, and I was blessed with a bunch who could respond well to some pressure, and came through ok and were even a little smug when their friends were still heading towards their exams. 


  • 0

#8 Norway

Norway

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 4667 posts
  • Member: 452922
    Joined: 05-May 12

Posted 04 November 2014 - 10:02

I decide on an individual basis according to the track record of the pupil. I'd automatically put reliable regular practisers in (provided they can get there in time), and with less reliable ones I only put them in when most of the act is together.


  • 0

#9 Piano Jan

Piano Jan

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 192 posts
  • Member: 889037
    Joined: 15-September 14
  • North England, UK

Posted 04 November 2014 - 11:24

It's a difficult one isn't it? The worst part is the unpredictability of it all - even with students you've been teaching for years. I've had some who I've been reluctant to enter for exams as they seem to be struggling - then at the 'last minute' (i.e. about 2-3 weeks before the exam) they really pull their socks up and end up with merits or distinctions! I find this particularly frustrating when other pupils who have worked consistently hard and have been 'ready' for weeks come out with lower marks than I feel they deserve.

As a rough guide, with the lower grades, I generally fill in the entry form when a student 'knows' all their scales and pieces (with room for improvement) but has not necessarily done much/any sight-reading or aural. (We really focus on these things in the final weeks as - by then - I can 'trust' the student to work on the other aspects at home). With the higher grades, I have always introduced some sight-reading and aural practice before entering the student for an exam.

This has generally worked for me, although - as you may have read in one of my recent posts "Exam candidate not working hard enough" I have one grade 4 student (taking his exam in three weeks time) who I'm currently stressing over. I'm relieved to say he has increased his practice a little, although, even so, there are times when his pieces seem to be getting worse each time he plays them!

I agree that an exam candidate is unlikely to be 100% ready even on the date of the exam - and I don't feel it's fair to a student to insist on that when deciding whether or not to put his name on the entry form. The main problem of course is the long gap from the closing date for entries until the actual exam date.
 


  • 0

#10 agricola

agricola

    Prodigy

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 1811 posts
  • Member: 545
    Joined: 01-February 04

Posted 04 November 2014 - 13:39

I generally like pupils to have all three pieces reasonably continuous but not at performance level and to be at least within sight of averaging a pass mark on the scales/SR/aural combination by the entry date.  However it's not an exact science, so knowing how the pupil responds to pressure is important.  The ones who only start working when they have a date worry me less than those who panic and put their heads in the sand if they are not confident. 

 

I think that music teachers have a tendency to try to super-control everything out of fear of having a pupil fail.  The down-side is that the more you take responsibility for pupils' success the less they will do so themselves.  Responsibility without power is a sure recipe for stress !


  • 0

#11 Piano Meg

Piano Meg

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 416 posts
  • Member: 271350
    Joined: 14-June 11
  • T' North

Posted 04 November 2014 - 13:49

I just did an 'earlier than usual' mock test with a pupil who hadn't really taken in when the exam was - or how much work was still required. They'd been about a pass at entry date, but then coasting. The mock test went badly, and that kicked her into gear with more effective practising - though there's still a major element of practice that they're not doing, that I nag about encourage every lesson. But you can only lead a horse to water... 

 

Another factor is where parents only push practice in the last week before the exam - which makes a big difference, but of course wouldn't be necessary if they supervised practice more often. 

 

 Responsibility without power is a sure recipe for stress !

 

Yes!


  • 1

#12 Bagpuss

Bagpuss

    Virtuoso

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3205 posts
  • Member: 371
    Joined: 07-January 04

Posted 04 November 2014 - 17:08

How do I decide?  Well, by using years and years of experience and NEVER allowing myself to be bullied into it by a parent.

 

It's always tricky because of the amount of time in between entry and the exam but basically I NEVER enter anyone until the scales are up and running.  The kids all know this with me and as a result I have only ever had ONE pupil fail the scales!  (I am SO itching to name and shame!  You know who you are, boy.... ;) )  The point is if they TRULY want to do it then they KNOW that this is what Bag wants and it proves their commitment as the majority don't put scales as their Favourite Thing to Practise.

 

Of course there is always an element of luck and of course it depends on the individual.  For example I have one in for December and we only finalised the tunes today whereas another one for this coming session has taken nearly 3 terms to learn the 3 tunes and they are still not there consistently for basics (gah!).  With the former we learn as many pieces as possible then when the scales are there we choose which to do.  Personally I do NOT need the stress of a kid (or parent) saying "if you enter me/kid I/he/she will then really work."  Poppycock to THAT!  Mwahahaha.

 

SO that's it really. 

 

Is it wine o'clock yet?  Oh, darn, I forgot - Tuesday is my alcohol-free day.  So I'll go and eat chips instead :)

 

Bx


  • 1

#13 LouiseW

LouiseW

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 151 posts
  • Member: 10189
    Joined: 21-March 07

Posted 05 November 2014 - 00:09

Just thought I'd share two opposite experiences I had when I was a student. My first piano teacher (an elderly lady) was known to be very thorough. This meant I only got to play her piano every other week. The in-between weeks were spent working theory exercises at her dining room table. I did grades 1-4 with her and got distinctions every time (as I was more than ready when entered) and full marks in each theory exam (also grades 1-4). Wonderful results but it was all taking rather too long...

 

I switched to a new teacher (a young guy). I clearly remember arriving at my lesson one week to be told he'd entered me for my Grade 6. I'd yet to start any grade 6 pieces & was horrified. I did grades 6-8 with him & achieved passes. Nothing more. It was stressful!

 

As a teacher I try to find a middle ground. It is far from an exact science though & this term I have one student I'm worried about who's pieces have been getting worse rather than better these last few weeks... (exam on Nov 19)


  • 3

#14 hammer action

hammer action

    Advanced Member

  • Members
  • PipPipPip
  • 831 posts
  • Member: 63311
    Joined: 22-April 09

Posted 05 November 2014 - 20:10

I have one student I'm worried about who's pieces have been getting worse rather than better these last few weeks... (exam on Nov 19)

 

Oh it's nice to know i'm not alone.  Been feeling so stressed and exasperated since Monday over all this, with two of my students pieces and scales getting worse rather than better, and i mean much worse. 

 

Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to reply and the answers have been thoroughly interesting.

 

I've made my mind up now that if potential exam candidates can't play their pieces and scales by the entry deadline then i'm not putting them in for the exam.  Seems using my judgement and a combination of knowing them and how they practice, how they've been progressing with learning exam work, the do-able amount of work still outstanding before the exam and being assured by the parent (or adult themselves) that lots of practice will be done etc, just isn't a sensible route to take any more.  The cancellations i've had and the "oh i'm not going to be here next week" from the ones with exams in a few weeks time is also quite unbelievable.  I'm trying my best to shuffle people around and reschedule lessons so they're not missing out.

 

:wacko:


  • 0

#15 maggiemay

maggiemay

    Maestro

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 19955 posts
  • Member: 413
    Joined: 12-January 04
  • S E England

Posted 06 November 2014 - 15:00

I've been mulling over how to (usefully) contribute to this question - without writing an essay.

I'm almost tempted to say that it's different for every student. Which is really no help at all.

I aim to have one or two rules of thumb, which I may break now and again with what seems like good reason, but which on the whole I find helpful. These are:

Most keys / scales familiar before getting started on the pieces. Or at least, before getting seriously into the pieces. Scales and arpeggios not necessarily 100% fluent, and probably not all hands together - but well on the way.

Some pieces semi-learnt by the closing date. This is pretty variable, but typically at lower grades, two or three about 50%.

Sight reading and aural in with a chance.

Work completed by the week before half term. (Generally use the main UK examining period).

I find the first term of senior school particularly tricky (as I'm sure do many others) and I try to avoid practical exams during that term. On the other hand, it can be a good time to do a theory or practical musicianship exam.

The question of having all pieces known by the closing date - this might be necessary with some slow-but-get-there-in-the-end pupils, but could be a bit deadly for a quick learner, who then risks getting bored, and having pieces go off the boil and sound tired and stale two or three months later. I would need to do a sideways move and return to them, I think. Or simply work through as many pieces on the syllabus as possible in the time. On the other hand, if you are battling more than average absences and cancellations, it may be the only way.
  • 1





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: exams