5 Things to Consider before Taking an RCM Exam

So you`re considering taking a Royal Conservatory of Music examination. What do you need to know before you make that decision? What do you need to do to be prepared for an RCM exam? Do you have what it takes? Read on to find out.

1. Practice more.

Unless you are a prodigy, to do well at an exam, you will need to make sure you are practicing enough to progress to an appropriate level of skill. A general guideline of how long your practice sessions could be is as follows:

Preparatory Level -Gr. 2: 30-45 minutes per practice session

Gr. 3-5: 60 minutes per practice session

Gr. 6-8: 90 minutes per practice session

Gr. 9-ARCT: 120 minutes per practice session

Strive to practice every day or at least get 5 days in a week. Consistency is key to progress. If you are not already in this ballpark, you will need to up the practice!

*Remember to speak with your teacher about how to practice effectively as well. Certainly, when it comes to practice, quantity matters some but quality practice matters even more!

2. Plan your schedule.

The RCM typically has several exam sessions per year. Check their website to decide which session would work best for your schedule. Remember, consistency is the key when preparing for an exam: Do not allow anything to interrupt your practice groove! Think your year approaching the exam though and make smart decisions: For example, it is not a good idea to be away on vacation close to the exam date unless you will have access to and be practicing on your instrument regularly during that off time. If you are aiming for the April exams, try not to be out of town and away from your instrument during March Break. Clear out your schedule in the month before the exam so that you are not swamped by work or other commitments that will detract from practicing. For students who are taking the June session of exams, consider whether or not you can balance preparing for an RCM exam with the heavier load of school work and final exams that schools typically assign in that month before summer break starts. Likewise, for students who are considering taking the August exams, consider whether summer camps or activities will detract from time at the instrument. Finally, make sure to account for extra lessons with your music teacher as the exam date draws nearer in your schedule.

3. Understand the exam format.

Check the RCM syllabi on their website for details on specific requirements for your level. Generally at all levels, students will be required to play at least 3 pieces (some by memory and some not), technical requirements such as scales and triads, as well as ear training exercises such as melody playback and rhythm clapback among others and sight reading exercises. Make sure that you understand the tempos that your technical requirements need to be played at and decide what order you want to do the pieces in. Know exactly what you need to prepare for the exams and plan how to practice for it.

4. Practice performing.

Ultimately, the exam is really another performance – one that you perform for an audience of one or two teachers. Remember that a performance is different from practice; Performance skills are a whole other set of skills you need to build in addition to the skills you gain from practicing your pieces, your scales, and ear work. If you are the kind of person that is affected by performance anxiety, you will need to practice performing until you can play your exam program with focus and control. Schedule practice performances, sign up for music festivals, recitals or mock exams that will allow you to test your endurance and receive comments on your performance.

5. Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster.

If the points above haven’t already made this clear: preparing for an RCM exam requires a lot of work and discipline! It will be a frustrating and exhausting journey, filled with moments of self doubt and disappointment. There will also be moments of clarity, fulfillment, and confidence that will ultimately lead to achievement. If you are up for the challenge, it will be worthwhile in the end!

Best of luck, passionate music students!