I've been looking at the content of the ABRSM theory grade syllabus. It looks like with minimal work I could know all the Grade 5 content (you can skip grades up to G5 but beyond that you must have G5 before you can sit 6 or above).

But I have no idea what a theory exam is like - is it like sitting a written test or is there still music involved? For instance could someone who knows theory inside out but is tone-deaf (or actually deaf) pass just as easily or does it test your aural skills (musical ear) too?

Can people who have actually taken theory tests of medium-higher grades with ABRSM or other recognised exam boards (please state which) describe what the exam process was like for the grades you have taken?


2 Answers 2


As the title suggests, it's a theory exam. Lots of folk sit in a room at a desk each, and sit it together, with no reference to any musical instruments at all; rather like a GCE exam.in English or maths. It only tests your ability to envisage internally any music.Being deaf - you might as well be, for hearing yourself sing out won't be allowed! You could draw a keyboard as it may help - or a guitar fretboard, during the test.

Think it's 3 times a year, exactly the same time for all over the country - otherwise answers could be leaked out. I guess it's the same abroad, too. It's been decades since I did mine, but pupils have said nothing's changed. Your teacher should have first hand knowledge of this situation, or perhaps have a chat with staff at ABRSM - they're quite amenable!

  • You aren't allowed to bring in any notes or pictures into the exam. But you are given a piece of rough paper you can doodle on during the exam. It's common to draw a piano keyboard. I also like to write out a table of the sharps and flats for each major key.
    – Simon B
    Jan 8, 2017 at 23:24

I have done three methods of music exams. UNISA, ABRSM and TRINITY GUILDHALL. The ABRSM usually has a host school (regular High School I mean) in your area that hosts the exams.

There are three sessions a year that you can sign up for. The exams usually have two rooms one for the initial to grade 3 and one room for the grade fours and ups.

You are expected to be at the exam venue about a half hour before things begin. There is usually a very quick session on where they call entrants surnames and then they ask you, your full name.

You are then given a small sticker that you have to put on your paper with your details.

Everyone starts at the same time and everyone taking the same grade has the same time. You cannot ask any teachers any questions, most of the invigilators would be from the host schools and often they may not even be music teachers.

The only time anyone will discuss anything particular about the exam paper is when there have been errata because of printing errors.

You may not discuss the exam with any of the other pupils in the classroom and if your cell phone makes a noise your paper will be taken and you will be asked to leave the exam room. You are also not allowed to bring any notes with you.

You also have to bring your own pencil and erasers.

  • When I've done the exams, they have done all grades up to 5 in the same room. They deliberately mixed up the grades so that you're not sitting next to someone doing the same test as you.
    – Simon B
    Jan 8, 2017 at 23:18

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