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How do we mark exams?

ABRSM exams avoid the potential bias of instrument specialism by:

  • applying universal, non-instrument-specific criteria
  • focusing on the musical outcome, not the technical means behind it!

The marking criteria

The tables below show the marking criteria used by examiners in Singing exams.

Marking principles

In each element of the exam, ABRSM operates the principle of marking from the required pass mark positively or negatively, rather than awarding marks by deduction from the maximum or addition from zero.

In awarding marks, examiners balance the extent to which the qualities and skills listed below (broadly categorized by pitch, time, tone, shape and performance) are demonstrated and contribute towards the overall musical outcome.

Total marks

Practical graded music exams are marked out of a total of 150, with:

  • 100 marks required for a Pass
  • 120 marks required for a Merit
  • 130 marks required for a Distinction

 

A Pass in each individual section of the exam is not required to pass overall.

Songs

Grades 1–8 (from January 2018)

Mark

Pitch

Time

Tone

Shape

Performance

Distinction
27–30

  • Highly accurate notes and intonation
  • Fluent, with flexibility where appropriate
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed
  • Well projected
  • Sensitive use of tonal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping and detail
  • Assured
  • Fully committed
  • Vivid communication of character and style

Merit
24–26

  • Largely accurate notes and intonation
  • Sustained, effective tempo
  • Good sense of rhythm
  • Mainly controlled and consistent
  • Good tonal awareness
  • Clear musical shaping, well-realised detail
  • Positive
  • Carrying musical conviction
  • Character and style communicated

Pass
20-23

  • Generally correct notes
  • Sufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Suitable tempo
  • Generally stable pulse
  • Overall rhythmic accuracy
  • Generally reliable
  • Adequate tonal awareness
  • Some realisation of musical shape and/or detail
  • Generally secure, prompt recovery from slips
  • Some musical involvement

Below Pass
17-19

  • Frequent note errors
  • Insufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Unsuitable and/or uncontrolled tempo
  • Irregular pulse
  • Inaccurate rhythm
  • Uneven and/or unreliable
  • Inadequate tonal awareness
  • Musical shape and detail insufficiently conveyed
  • Insecure, inadequate recovery from slips
  • Insufficient musical involvement

13-16

  • Largely inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Erratic tempo and/or pulse
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Musical shape and detail largely unrealised
  • Lacking continuity
  • No musical involvement

10-12

  • Highly inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Incoherent tempo and/or pulse
  • No tonal control
  • No shape or detail
  • Unable to continue for more than a short section

0

  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered

Other exam elements

Unaccompanied song and sight-singing

Grades 1-8

Mark

Unaccompanied song

Sight-singing

Distinction
19–21

  • Excellent control of pitch and intonation
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed
  • Sensitive use of vocal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping
  • Fully committed communication, vivid story-telling
  • Fluent, rhythmically accurate
  • Accurate notes/pitch/key
  • Musical detail realised
  • Confident presentation

Merit
17–18

  • Good control of pitch and intonation
  • Rhythmic character conveyed
  • Good use of vocal qualities
  • Clear musical shaping
  • Good musical involvement and story-telling
  • Adequate tempo, usually steady pulse
  • Mainly correct rhythm
  • Largely correct notes/pitch/key
  • Largely secure presentation

Pass
14-16

  • Generally reliable control of pitch and intonation
  • Adequate sense of rhythmic character
  • Sufficient use of vocal qualities
  • Some musical shaping
  • Some musical involvement and story-telling
  • Continuity generally maintained
  • Note values mostly realised
  • Pitch outlines in place, despite errors
  • Cautious presentation

Below Pass
11-13

  • Unreliable control of pitch and/or intonation
  • Inadequate sense of rhythmic character
  • Insufficient use of vocal qualities
  • Lack of musical shaping
  • Insufficient musical involvement and/or story-telling
  • Lacking overall continuity
  • Incorrect note values
  • Very approximate notes/pitch/key
  • Insecure presentation

7-10

  • Very unreliable control of pitch and/or intonation
  • Lacking rhythmic character
  • No use of vocal qualities
  • No musical shaping
  • Lacking musical involvement and/or story-telling
  • No continuity or incomplete
  • Note values unrealised
  • Pitch outlines absent
  • Very uncertain presentation

0

  • No work offered
  • No work offered

Aural tests

Grades 1-8

Mark

Aural tests

Distinction
17–18

  • Accurate throughout
  • Musically perceptive
  • Confident response

Merit
15–16

  • Strengths significantly outweigh weaknesses
  • Musically aware
  • Secure response

Pass
12-14

  • Strengths just outweigh weaknesses
  • Cautious response

Below Pass
9-11

  • Weaknesses outweigh strengths
  • Uncertain response

6-8

  • Inaccuracy throughout
  • Vague response

0

  • No work offered
 

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