I’m sure that all ABRSM examiners would agree that examining musical performance is an extremely rewarding job – you never know who is going to come through the door and every exam really does tell its own story.
Like all examiners I’m a musician myself, so it is very welcome to hear good performances, but - for me - that’s only one aspect to enjoy. It’s just as fulfilling to be a part of helping someone have a good exam experience – perhaps encouraging a child who is hiding behind the steward at the start of their first exam or a nervous adult fulfilling a lifetime ambition to learn an instrument.
It’s a great privilege to be the person who gets to hear the culmination of so much preparation from each candidate – I remember my own experience of taking exams, and what a big day it was for me and all the adults supporting my music making.
Music exams are open to anyone and, while most are still taken by children of all ages, I have gradually noticed more adults on my timetables. There is such a range of options on offer – which exam or grade to work towards, a wide choice of musical styles and pieces, the decision of when to take the exam and, finally, which order to take the various elements of the exam on the day.
Music doesn’t discriminate, allowing access for candidates with special needs too. Before the exam day I’m told of any special arrangements that I can offer, to give everyone the opportunity to perform at their best. This is helpful for conditions like dyslexia, right through to hearing-impaired musicians. As you can imagine, in a typical day nothing is typical - every single exam is different, depending on the personality and musicianship of the candidate.
To be an ABRSM examiner you need to be a detailed listener with good concentration – it’s typical to hear 25 to 30 exams in one day, all grades, any instrument! You’ve got to be able to quickly make your assessment and provide constructive feedback, and be a good time-keeper so that your candidates don’t get too nervous waiting.
Most of all though, when I put my own pupils in for their ABRSM exams, I want them to really enjoy the experience, so someone who enjoys meeting people and is encouraging and patient is high on my wish-list. And as an examiner, these are qualities I try to bring to every exam too!
Listen to the documentary
You can listen to the BBC Radio 4 documentary, Making the Grade, featuring examiner Zoë Booth and her exam candidates, on BBC iPlayer.