7 Things I Learned as a Music Examiner in Dublin, Ireland [Royal Irish Academy of Music].

  1. Playing a musical instrument is always very hard work, especially if you train for any music exam system. It rarely gets easier doing a music exam; the examiner must always be firm, professional but ultimately compassionate towards the student sitting down to play in the exam room.
  2. Nerves and performance anxiety is a complex area of music psychology that all exam students should familiarize themselves with, especially as they start approaching the advanced grades. How to breathe? What yoga stretches to learn? How to control an out-of-control performance? How to keep your nerve as the examiner is scribbling furiously? How to “perform” rather than “play” the exam repertoire?
  3. Be as warm and friendly as possible. Try to smile a little, to let students know you’re not out for their blood, and that you’re not waiting for every little mistake to sound, so that you can dock a mark.
  4. Leave your personal troubles at the door – this is VERY important. An examiner who is having a bad day (terrible commute, hungry, slept poorly, row with spouse) should be very strict about leaving any problems at the door. A music exam is a very stressful experience for the candidate and his/her family and friends. The least an examiner can do is to retain a positive attitude no matter what.
  5. Write constantly. Don’t wait for the student to leave to start writing the whole mark sheet. Write as you listen – learn to shape your thoughts and words so that the right comments flow freely together with the music. Occasionally, you might be tempted to sit back and listen – to a very fine recital candidate perhaps, but even here, it is important to stick to the prescribed time frame and write some comments as you hear the music. This ensures real time accuracy, honesty and doesn’t impede the exam timings of students that follow.
  6. When exhausted or jaded, remember how much the music exam means to each and every candidate. Remember the perks of the job, the extraordinary responsibility and the opportunity to meet new people. Give your 100% because playing such a pivotal role in the musical development of hundreds of everyday children and adults is truly a great opportunity for personal and musical growth for every examiner working for any exam board worldwide.
  7. Be as kind in your comments when awarding low marks – to be sure, it is important to be critical and state why you deemed a particular examination so poor as to mark it a Fail, but always offer hope in the comments section as well. The examiner’s job is to provide an overview of what he/she heard on the day, not to offer life counseling, but it can make a big difference to a candidate who has failed, if they are given some pointers as to what might facilitate a more successful performance next time round. Otherwise the student might just quit music, disillusioned by the result of ONE exam. I have seen this happen with some gifted students as well – they quit after failing a Diploma once; a great shame.

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