Music Theory Exam Tips

Who likes taking an exam? I’m not sure anyone does. Music theory exams are no exception and can be even more nerve-wracking as usually, people will only take one of them in their lifetime. In this post, I’m going to cover my Top Nine Music Theory Exam Tips, what to expect and how best to prepare for success.

1. Have A Good Breakfast

The first and probably the most important of my music theory exam tips or to be honest for any exam is to have a good breakfast. Your concentration levels in the exam could be the difference between a pass and a fail and something as simple as a good breakfast (or lunch if your exam is in the afternoon) is essential. Make sure you keep well hydrated and take a bottle of water with you.

Try to avoid coffee and sugary food as although this will give you a boost in the short term the come down won’t help your concentration levels and will lead you to be distracted at struggling to focus.

2. Prepare

My dad always said, “You have to remember the five Ps… Perfect Planning Prevents Pathetic Performance” and your music theory exam is no exception. You need to plan out what you need to cover before the exam date and make sure you have enough time to learn and practice all the different questions that you are going to be asked.

Check out our post on our favourite music theory books if you’re looking for a recommendation.

There are lots of resources on this website and others to help you prepare for your music theory exam. Making sure you’ve worked through all the subjects in the grade that you are taking is very important so you don’t have any unexpected surprises.

You should also complete some worksheets and very importantly, you need to do some practice exams of the grade that you’re taking. This is essential to giving yourself the best chance of passing. You can put yourself under “exam conditions” and time yourself so to get comfortable with how long you have for each question.

One thing to be aware of is to make sure the past papers you are practising with are suited to the examining board that your exam is for. You don’t want to be practising Trinity papers when you’re doing an ABRSM exam!

3. Bring The Right Equipment

You’ll need to take a few different bits of equipment with you for your music theory exam. The main things to remember are: A Pencil A Second Pencil (in case the first breaks!) A Sharpener An Eraser A Ruler (Some people like to bring a ruler to help when writing the stems of the notes to make them extra straight) Whatever you do don’t use a pen when filling out your exam paper. If you make any mistakes you won’t be able to correct them.

4. Get Comfortable

Make sure you’re comfortable by arriving early. There is nothing worse than rushing and stressing about whether you’re going to make it on time when taking an exam. You’ll arrive in a sweat, uncomfortable and flustered which isn’t going to help your cause. Arrive at least 15 minutes early (I’d arrive 30 minutes personally) and make sure you go to the toilet in case nature calls halfway through. Wear some layers so if the exam room is like a sauna you can take a jumper off and vice versa if it’s like the north pole you won’t be too cold!

5. Make Your Own Resources

This next tip is one of the more valuable bits of music theory exam advice… When you sit down to take your music theory exam you’ll be given your exam paper and also a piece of manuscript paper to use for notes and other things. Make your own keyboard. Draw out a piano keyboard so you can visualise the notes when working out intervals or write out a circle of fifths for when you’re working out key signatures and relative minors. Write out or draw whatever things will help you to get the answer and not make any mistakes.

6. Be Neat

Sounds quite obvious but if the examiner marking your paper can’t read your writing or can’t quite tell if the note is on the ledger line or in the space below the ledger line they can’t mark the question correct. Take your time and make your answers as clear and as legible as possible. If you make a mistake cross it out with one straight line through it and then write your new answer next to it.

7. What Happens If You Get Stuck?

It happens to all of us. We’ve revised everything but on the day you can’t quite remember the definition of cantabile. Does it mean “In a smooth singing style” or “Sweetly?” (It’s the first by the way.) If you get stuck on a question just move on. Go through the paper and answer all the questions you know first. Once you’ve completed everything you know you can then go back and try the ones you’re not too sure about. Make sure you keep an eye on the clock though. Do not leave any questions unanswered. You’re better off hazarding a good guess or attempting the question. You will get zero marks for a question left unanswered but you never know your guess might be right!

8. Read The Question...

Read the questions twice, heck even read it three times. Make sure you know EXACTLY what you’re being asked to do. There is nothing worse than taking 25 minutes transposing a passage down a major 3rd and then re-read the question to realise you were supposed to transpose it up a major 3rd! Read each question slowly and if it helps to read it out loud (maybe whisper it though) until you know what you’re being asked to do. Also, make sure you look out for times where you’re asked to do one thing OR another. You don’t want to waste time completing both parts of the same question when you were supposed to choose one part to answer.

9. Check Your Answers

Try to leave some time at the end of your exam to go through your completed paper and check all of your answers. I know no one likes to check their answers but we all make mistakes. The last thing you want to do is to have to retake your music theory exam and checking could be the difference between passing and failing or passing and a distinction! If you take some practice papers you’ll be able to get a feel for the length of each question. You’ll then know that by a certain time you should be done and can start going back over to check you’ve done everything right.

That’s it for Our Music Theory Exam Tips

Anyway, that’s it for my music theory exam tips for today. I hope they’ve helped. If you have any music theory exam tips of your own I’d love to hear them.

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