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21 September 2019

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How ABRSM Exam Pieces are marked - An Example Debussy Voiles for Grade 8 Piano.

This video below will use a performance of Debussy’s Voiles for Grade 8 Piano to demonstrate how the ABRSM marking scheme works for pieces, performed by a student Bernadino.

Before you even play a note in an ABRSM exam, you have the baseline 20 pass mark and then you can add or subtract marks to bring your total up to the maximum of 30 marks, or down to the minimum of 10 marks. By the way, you can only get zero if you don’t play a note. Theoretically you can get 10 marks for just playing the first note and then stopping. 

That leaves a margin of 10 marks either side of the pass mark and interestingly there are five categories which the examiner uses to assess you: Pitch; Time; Tone; Shape; Performance. Logically it follows that there are two marks to be gained or lost either side of the pass mark for each of these categories. And if you look at the official marking criteria on the ABRSM website, there are two descriptions of various levels above the pass mark for each of these categories.

Lets take “Performance” for example. For the performance you just heard, I would suggest that it fits the description, “Assured, Fully committed, Vivid communication of character and style” and so the basic pass mark is brought up to 22

Regarding pitch, again the description , “Highly accurate notes” would gain another 2 marks bringing the total up to 24

Regarding “Time” Debussy’s marking is "In a rhythm without strictness" and at times there could have been room for a little more rubato and less metronomic playing. So in this case  an extra credit of one mark brings the total up to 25.

Again, in the area of tonal control this performance generally achieved a good balance between the hands, bringing out the melody where appropriate, but just now and again it all got a little muddy. So like the previous category only one credit mark would be gained bring the total to 26.

Finally, we turn our attention to the category “shape” which refers largely to the use of dynamics. In general this performance involved a wide range of effectively used dynamics, however, there were moments when maybe it was just a little too loud for the ethereal quality of this piece, so again, just one extra mark, bringing the final total to 27 marks out of 30.

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