General Information

Graded Music Exams General Information

These guidelines apply to all Rockschool and RSL Classical syllabuses. Please read them carefully as they contain important information which will help you get the best result from your exam.

They are mostly relevant for face-to-face and live video exams, but some information will also be useful for candidates submitting Recorded Digital Exams. Candidates submitting Recorded Digital Exams should also refer to our comprehensive guidance here.

Arrival and warm-up

You should arrive / log on 15 minutes before your exam is due to start.

If you arrive later than the time of your exam, the examiner may not be able to conduct the exam, and it may need to be re-scheduled.

Most venues will have a practice room but this is not guaranteed. If you are concerned about this, please check in advance to see if one is available at your chosen venue.

Photographic identification

If you are taking a grade 6, 7 or 8 exam you must bring photographic identification.

Your result may be withheld if the appropriate ID is not presented. If you do not have appropriate ID then please complete the ID form available on the RSL website and bring it with you to your exam.

For Recorded Digital Exams, you must show your ID to the camera at the start of your exam.

Backing / Accompaniment

The venue will provide backline equipment for your exam, i.e. amplifiers and PA system.

The examiner will provide the backing tracks for any pieces from a current Rockschool Grade Book or Hot Rock/Rockschool Classic series. (In some Live Digital Exam studio scenarios, backing tracks will be played locally by the centre). If you are playing a piece from a previous syllabus as a Free Choice Piece you will need to provide your own backing track.

For all non-current RSL backing tracks (including pieces from previous RSL syllabuses), you will need to provide a device containing the downloaded audio. This can be any device with a 3.5mm minijack output eg. MP3 player, portable CD player, phone or tablet. We recommend that two different sources are brought, one as a back-up. You will be expected to operate your own device. Examiners will provide a 3.5mm (minijack) lead to connect the device to the PA. NB. Audio cannot be live streamed directly as mobile devices must be turned off or to airplane mode during the exam. Examiners will be unable to stream or download any backing tracks on your behalf.

If you are using live accompaniment in your exam, please add full details to the ‘additional scheduling notes’ when submitting your online entry so that the required arrangements may be put in place. The accompaniment / second part may be played by your teacher or another musician, who should only be in the exam room for the relevant part of the exam. Alternatively, vocals candidates may accompany themselves.

If you are submitting a Recorded Digital Exam you will need to play your own backing tracks/ provide your own accompaniment, if needed, or arrange for someone else to do so.

You may perform an RSL Grade book piece with a different backing track or accompaniment to the one provided, but this will be considered ‘Adapted Repertoire’; and if the adaptation is judged by the examiner to reduce the level of demand required for the grade, this will affect the marks awarded. This also includes instances where a backing track including the part being performed (‘full mix’) is used. For more information see our guidance on Free Choice Pieces, Adapted and Benchmarked Repertoire.

You may use a mixture of backing tracks and live accompaniment in the same exam.

The use of a headphone splitter to enable candidate and examiner to listen to a backing track simultaneously is not allowed at public centres. The examiner will make their assessment based on the backing track played through the amplifier / PA system in the exam room. This arrangement may be used at private centres, so long as the centre has the necessary equipment / set-up and no additional tech support is required from the examiner.

Sheet music

You must bring the appropriate hard copy grade book, digital equivalent, or proof of subscription to the RSL Learning Platform to be signed or noted by the examiner, or upload it along with your Recorded Digital Exam submission. This requirement also applies to recorded video exams; you must make it clear on the video that you are using the appropriate resource.

With the exception of certain Technical Exercises where memory requirements apply, you may use sheet music which contains notes made during the course of study. However, you may not make notes during the exam. Sheet music must also be closed or removed while undertaking unseen tests.

Photocopied pages are permitted in order to avoid page turns, as long as the original hard copy grade book/digital equivalent/learning platform subscription is presented on the day. Examiners will not assist with page turns, and for parity reasons, candidates submitting recorded video exams must facilitate their own page turns.

Candidates performing a Free Choice Piece must bring two copies of the sheet music with them; an original copy for the performance and a second copy (photocopy) for the examiner. This includes selections from previous RSL syllabuses. (Candidates submitting Recorded Digital Exams only need to upload one copy). For more information, see our guidance on Free Choice Pieces, Adapted and Benchmarked Repertoire.

Candidates using printed books are recommended to use page markers or similar so they can find their pieces quickly.


Notated repeats are required in accompanied pieces (ie. where played to a backing track) but for solo pieces (ie. without a backing track) can be considered optional.

Where not observing a repeat, candidates may jump straight to a second time bar where notated.

Da capo and dal segno indications should be observed.

Instruments and equipment

Guidance on provision of instruments and equipment below refers to RSL public centres. Private centres, and candidates submitting Recorded Digital Exams or undertaking Live Digital Exams from home, are responsible for providing their own instruments and equipment.

Guitar and Bass

You must bring your own instrument and leads, and we recommend bringing spare strings.

If you are using effects which need to be plugged in then we suggest checking provision for power sources with the venue beforehand. If using batteries, please ensure that they are new/ fully charged.

You should be fully tuned up before entering the exam room / starting your video.

Candidates taking an electric guitar exam up to and including Grade 3 can use an acoustic instrument.


You must bring your own instrument, and we recommend bringing spare strings.

You should be fully tuned up before entering the exam room / starting your video.


RSL centres will provide an acoustic kit as standard. You must bring your own sticks.

Candidates taking grades 6-8 who have notified Rockschool on their entry that they wish to bring their own equipment, may bring their own cymbals, hi hats, pedal, snare or even entire kit.

Drummers who wish to play an electric kit may do so, but will need to provide the entire kit (regardless of grade), and must have notified RSL on entry.

Drummers should note that if, in the examiner’s opinion, the volume levels produced by the candidate’s playing (inclusive of backing track) exceed health and safety standards, the exam may be stopped.


Not all venues will be able to provide a microphone. If intending to use a microphone and not bringing your own, please check with the exam venue directly prior to the exam day.


Both acoustic and digital pianos are accepted for use in piano exams (both Rockschool and RSL Classical), at all grades.

Venues may provide either acoustic and/or digital pianos. Candidates are advised to contact the venue directly if they wish to check the details of the piano provided. See also our Find a Centre page.


Candidates must bring their own keyboard and stand, plus any additional required equipment. Please refer to the syllabus guide for specific requirements for each grade.


The repertoire set for each instrument has been chosen and arranged to be particularly suitable for performance on that instrument. It is therefore recommended that candidates providing their own instrument should use one that best facilitates performance of the selected repertoire, particularly with regards to advanced techniques or set-up at higher grades. Using an inappropriate instrument may mean that you cannot demonstrate the required techniques and elements of style for the pieces chosen, and this may be reflected in the marks. However, candidates taking an electric guitar exam up to and including Grade 3 can use an acoustic instrument without penalty.

You should not make any adaptations to your instrument which make it easier to play, such as stickers on the frets or keys.

Free choice pieces and adapted repertoire

Please read our comprehensive guidance here…

At the start of the exam

You will be allowed 1-2 minutes to set up before the exam commences.

Where required, a sound check will be given at the start of the exam to ensure that you are happy with the balance / audio levels.

Additional people in the exam room

On occasion there may be an additional RSL staff member or trainee in the room with the main examiner. We will always inform you of this in advance, and you’re welcome to decline if you’re not comfortable with it. The additional staff member/trainee will then step out of the room for the duration of your examination.

Teachers and parents are not allowed in the exam room other than in exceptional circumstances, with permission having been granted under the Reasonable Adjustments process.


Restarts will only be permitted if candidates are less than a third of the way through a piece or technical exercise.

Candidates will not be permitted more than one re-start during the performance of the pieces, and more than two re-starts during the Technical Exercises.

All re-starts may be reflected in the marking, with the exception of a first (or only) re-start in the Technical Exercises section.

Adaptation and personalisation of performances

You should perform pieces as notated, except where you choose to embellish or rework any sections (NB. this does not apply to technical exercises or unseen tests which must be performed exactly as written). In these instances, as well as where there are performance indications to ad lib., improvise, develop, etc., you will be marked on your ability to present the personalised material in a stylistically appropriate way, commensurate with the grade level. However, where adaptations are judged to simplify the piece, or reduce the level of demand, this may be reflected in the marking. All performances will be expected to have a clear basis in the notated material.

For the 2021 Vocals syllabus, performances which align with the published audio realisations where these differ from the notation in the Grade Books will not be interpreted as reducing the level of demand.


All venues will have either visibility into the exam room or CCTV monitoring which the steward will regularly check. CCTV footage will be deleted shortly after the exam and is not available to view by candidates, parents, teachers or other people accompanying the candidate.

Recording exams

On occasion, RSL may record face-to-face exams using either video or audio. The candidate will be contacted in advance to request permission for RSL to retain and use these recordings for training and benchmarking purposes. Recordings will not be made available in the public domain and will be held for a maximum of 6 years.

Separate terms and conditions apply for live video and recorded video examinations.

No person other than RSL is permitted to make any recordings of the exam. Devices such as mobile phones, tablets and Apple watches must be switched off / inactive unless being used to facilitate playback of backing tracks. RSL reserves the right to take appropriate action against anyone suspected of covertly recording an examination.

Results and certificates

Candidates will receive their results and report online and certificates will be issued afterwards. We aim to release results a maximum of 7 days after the exam, but very often it will be sooner than this.

Please note that all results issued are provisional and subject to RSL’s quality assurance procedures until the certificate, which represents the formal award of the qualification, is issued. However, in practice results will only change in exceptional circumstances.

Please note that we cannot give results out over the phone, post or email.

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