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How do you decide when to enter students for exams?

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#16 salmcCC

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Posted 08 November 2014 - 22:38

This all sounds so familiar. This is the first time I have a couple of students that are not as ready as I would like them to be.
One is an adult who isn't finding as much time as she would like to practise. She could actually pass with distinction or if she's having an off day with her nerves she could blow it. And I really don't know what she's going to do on the day.
Another (boy of 11) said he really wanted to do it in the 125th year and is working very hard but is just not a natural musician and I feel his aural and sight reading may let him down. His pieces are good enough but not great and he has suddenly started to get some of his scales muddled up (goodness knows why as he's been doing them for a good while.
But if I had waited until the next session you're talking nearly 6 months later than when I submitted them and that would have been way too long. I wish the exam sessions were more often. That would be much more useful.

On an extreme I have a wonderful pupil who within 3 weeks of getting the grade 1 book had learned 3 pieces and played them to a high merit standard within a week. But it's the new syllabus and she has to wait for another session. She's bought herself the grade 2 book now to have a look at. But she's insisting on doing her grade 1 first. This is a student who surprised me when she asked to do her Prep Test and has now turned into an amazing player overnight. You just never know!
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#17 Aquarelle

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 14:39

My situation is rather different. I have to work the number of lessons per year around the French school holidays and the dates for the winter and spring holiday can vary by as much as three weeks from year to year. I have to take into account the fact that I can only have an examiner once a year - in mid June and the entries have to be in in March - sometimes as early as mid March, sometimes nearer the end of the month.In May we have  a number of bank holidays and this can seriously disrupt the last weeks of preparation. Some of my pupils are weekly boarders and I only see them once a fortnight.My timing is different from what it would be if I could choose between three sessions per year - and of course all  my candidates have to be ready at the same time.

 

So broadly speaking I insist that all technical requirements are learnt between the start of the new school year in Sept and December. They must certainly be memorized by the end of January. I then spend less time on this aspect and more time on sight reading, though we  will have been working on sight reading from the beginning. One piece has to be learnt, though not perfected by the end of December and a second piece should be started. The third piece must be started by the middle of March and then we can give a bit more time to aural, though again, we will have done some since the beginning. From the end of March onwards the pieces have to be polished. There is also theory to fit in.

 

However, this is not all we do. They play a lot of other pieces as well, usually at a slightly lower level than their exam work. We do duets when possible, music for Christmas, and a fair bit of Piano Adventure stuff with the younger ones. Often they learn more than three exam pieces so that we are sure to have enough repertoire ready to be able to choose what to play on the day. so for me the exam material is a sort of basic thread running right through the year but with lots of other stuff going on as well because you can't just play exam pieces for a whole year. It's a question of getting the balance right between a wider repertoire and being ready for the great day without last minute stress. for example a Grade 4 piano candidate last year missed almost all her last lessons in May and the first week in June. It was not her fault nor the fault of her parents. She is a weekly boarder and there were just some weeks at the end of the school year when she couldn't come home for the weekends. But the basic work on her pieces was well in place and we spent the last lesson polishing them up. She got a Merit. I suspect if she hadn't missed the last lessons she might have made a distinction and I suspect that if I had left too much to be done in the final term she might even have failed.

 

As I said, it isn't my ideal choice - I have to be pragmatic - but it seems to work.


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#18 linda.ff

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Posted 09 November 2014 - 18:41

Another (boy of 11) said he really wanted to do it in the 125th year 

Likes to make sure all his options are covered, does he? But won't the syllabus have changed over 60 times by then?  :D


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#19 RoseRodent

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Posted 23 November 2014 - 13:35

I go with individuals and how they learn and their history. Some students need to be ready before the entry goes in because their progress is very slow and practice unreliable. Others I'd enter when the pieces are only just selected because they are quick learners. I do like to have the aural and scales secure by the entry date, though, they both tend to be slower to develop. Aural because it's a trickier thing to practise at home and needs a lot of digesting ad building on, scales because people do not tend to practise them. They may PLAY them, but they almost never in fact practise them. With people learning a second instrument the process is not as long because they cope easily with Grade 1 aural when they have Grade 5 piano, sight-reading is more of a techincal and mechanical instrument thing, even if it's a different clef, the rhythm reading is very straightforward so it cuts down the level of challenge. 

 

So with the "ready at the point of entry" ones I set a mock exam on the lesson before the entry and they have to get above 90 for the entry to go forward. That means there's still plenty to do before the actual exam date, but the improvement required to pass is not a ridiculously uphill battle. 

 

The Music Medal ones are the easiest, I wait for them to be ready and then the entry goes in and it sets off the clock for a 6 week window in which to do the exam. If only the others were like that! Especially those who are 90% ready in April and the next session they can go in for is December. I'm more likely to put a not-so-ready candidate in for June than any other session just because of that long gap. 


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#20 The Great Sosso

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Posted 27 November 2014 - 15:05

I have only so far entered one student for an exam.  I had a strong word with her and Mum, saying that I wanted to put her in for it, but if she didn't pick up the practice she would certainly fail.  So I asked her to choose - not to enter, or enter and fail, or enter, start to practise and pass.  Worked for her as she got a distinction, but she is a very level-headed and determined girl.


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#21 salmcCC

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Posted 29 November 2014 - 22:11

I have found with some they need the looming exam date to really focus on doing the work. If I was to wait until they were very ready before I entered them they would sort of just bimble along.
Ironically the 2 I talked of earlier in the thread took their exams today. I know the adult fluffed a piece through nerves but her last 2 lessons were worthy of a distinction so hopefully she won't have lost too many marks today. And the boy also did a faultless lesson on Thursday. I don't know how he did today as he is a bit non committal but said it was all okay and good. I was too busy prepping and rehearsing other students at the centre to be able to quiz him properly.
There was also a young child (about 9 ) warming up grade 1 piano today as I finally left the exam centre. Now either he was having a bad practise session or he wasn't ready by any means. His pieces were all over the place and he didn't know his scales. But someone had felt him ready enough to be submitted. We probably all have our own levels of expectation. I hope he had a better exam experience than warm up!
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#22 Impressionist

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Posted 29 November 2014 - 22:35

It's a juggling act really as you never know what the students are going to do. Generally I aim for 2 pieces and all the technical work to have been covered with the third piece underway before entering but things can go awry. Like a recent grade 1 flute who had got everything bar the study well under their fingers, but two weeks away for half term, and then school exams meant little practice for almost 4 weeks. Needed extra lessons and a lot of last minute practice to get everything back on track. And another student who couldn't get to me for two weeks because her grandad who brings her was ill (rural location, no bus).

There was also a young child (about 9 ) warming up grade 1 piano today as I finally left the exam centre. Now either he was having a bad practise session or he wasn't ready by any means. His pieces were all over the place and he didn't know his scales. But someone had felt him ready enough to be submitted.

Thing is you don't know what the teacher has been doing behind the scenes. I had a pupil sitting grade 3 last session who was on track on entering but then just swung the lead and didn't put the work in - so badly that they hadn't even got the the 3rd piece hands together for the whole piece a week before the exam and had seemed to have forgotten all their scales despite extra lessons. I wanted to withdraw but the parents wanted to go ahead. Scraped a pass fortunately but that was one incredibly stressful experience.
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#23 salmcCC

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Posted 29 November 2014 - 22:43

Very true. If only we could find a way of ensuring home preparation was getting done. It can be so frustrating. Before I started entering my students for exams (I always said I wouldn't do it) I never ever thought about the stress it causes the teachers who can only do so much. It makes my feelings towards all teachers (of any subject) more sympathetic.
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#24 Rhoda Barfoot

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Posted 10 December 2014 - 20:47

Hi hammer action,

 

Good question.  I have a rule that a pupil needs to be fit to pass the exam by the entry deadline if they want to be entered for that cycle.  If they are, then they can only get better coming up to the exam itself.  If not, then no stress for anyone and they can aim for next time.

 

I take your point about being over prepared and getting tired of the pieces.  In lessons I would tend to play a variety of music most of the time, then focus on the exam material for the few weeks before.  Also, I have my students learn more than just three pieces from the book.  I find learning more music of a similar standard makes the exam pieces a little easier, and it eases pressure for the pupil that can come with studying 'the big three'.


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