So, the exam is booked, and you’ve gone through all the supporting material with your student. But now the date is approaching fast, and we need to maximise this time to ensure our students get the most out of their practise.

It is often in this time that students might start to feel stressed or anxious about what is coming next. Especially if this is the first exam the student will be sitting.

One of the best ways to help a student ease into the exam is to ensure they are fully prepared with the material. While not all students will be receptive to a strict schedule of practise, for most this will really help. When I prepare students for exams, I like to break the grading down into some subsets. I’m speaking here broadly as a guitar tutor, but this can be applied across other graded instruments too:

  • Technique – Focus on the actual technique level required for the grade. Are you hitting all the notes clean? Is your technique solid?
  • Theory – Knowing any theoretic aspects that the examiner might ask you (Time signatures, keys)
  • Knowledge – Knowledge of what is expected. What chords/scales/rhythms will you be expected to perform.
  • Pre-prepared pieces – This can be the pieces in the book or pre-approved/suitable alternatives.

When you break the content of the exam down into these groups it allows both you and the student to see what areas need the most focus. You might have a student who can play the pieces but may lack in technique. Or a student who excels in technique and performance but struggles with theory.

When it comes to maximising the learning the student does, I always suggest to my students to break their practise down into focused sessions. If the student usually spends an hour a night practising, I would suggest spending that hour split across the topics. It could be an even split involving 15 minutes per topic, but if there is something that needs attention, I would suggest that piece take up more of the allocated time, or even extending the allocated time to allow for extra time on that area.

Breaking it down into focused sessions will allow to the student to focus on that one area rather than trying to view the material as a whole. Before I was a full-time guitar teacher, I came from a background in clinical research working with Learning & Development and one approach to learning complex instructions and processes was to utilise micro learning, learning the same thing multiple times in small batches. If you can apply this principle to practise, doing the same thing for short, focused busts over a few days will yield results quicker than doing it for longer periods but less often.

As the old saying goes… Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...