The big day is almost here! The deadline for Rockschool exam entries is next Friday, 17th January, so this week let's think about nailing your exam technique.
Ready or Not? Don’t practise until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong!
Learn Your Material
Your first priority when preparing for an exam should be to ensure that the material you’re playing is secure. Don’t just practise until you get it right, practise until you can’t get it wrong!
It’s important to have as much control as you can over your prepared material. Whether you’re aiming for a pass, merit, or distinction, you should make your performance secure overall, even in the face of exam day nerves.
There is plenty of existing material in the News section of our website on dealing with pre-performance nerves, while our Rockschool Method series focuses more intently on the individual components of exams. Check out our specific articles dedicated to looking at Performance Pieces, Technical Exercises, and more!
Use Nerves to Your Advantage
Nerves and exams come hand in hand, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing! For a start, if you’re nervous it means you’re conscientious and want to do well, which is a good sign. You might be anxious because you're performing in front of an examiner you've never met, but don't worry! Examiners will do their best to put you at ease, and remember that they only want to see you do well. They've all been in your shoes when they were first starting out!
The adrenaline of an exam can be quite exhilarating too. You may not get the opportunity to show off your skills that often, so make the most of it and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask!
We spoke to psychotherapist and life coach, James Banfield, about dealing with exam nerves. You can find his tips for dealing with performance anxiety in the video below:
Liberate Your Mind! Check out 3 Top Tips for tackling performance anxiety
Get Used to the Exam Format
It’s one thing to be able to play all your pieces and technical exercises well at home, but just as crucial to your success is the ability to do this in an exam situation. To prepare for playing your material in this scenario, try doing a mock exam with your teacher.
In your exam you’ll have the option of starting with either your technical exercises or performance pieces. Try doing two mock exams, playing technical exercises followed by performance pieces the first time and then swap round the second time, seeing which one you prefer. You might opt to use the technical exercises as a chance to warm up, or you may want to dive straight into your pieces; see which one you feel more at ease starting with!
A complete breakdown of marks from your teacher isn't necessary for the mock exam to be worthwhile. The exercise is worth it simply for the opportunity to walk through the pieces and technical exercises all in one session, giving your stamina a boost. Exams are rewarding, but they can be mentally and physically draining, so it's best to get some experience of playing for extended periods of time beforehand.
There’s a reason everyone says mistakes are a completely normal part of music-making. The sooner you embrace the fact that errors are inevitable when you’re playing, the more content you’ll be. A distinction grade, reserved for exceptional players, is attained at 90%. This means there’s still room for 10 marks to be lost with no repercussions on your overall grade.
Don’t dwell on mistakes. Instead, focus on what you’ve got left to perform and do it to the best of your ability. What might seem like a catastrophic, glaring error from your perspective will most likely be a very minor slip to the examiner and definitely not the end of the world!
Check out our senior examiners' advice in the clip below. We think you’ll find they agree with us!
Take Control! Some of our Senior Examiners explain how to stay calm during your exam
That brings us to the end of our Practise with Purpose blogs – we hope you enjoyed them and that you'll continue to use our FREE Practise with Purpose Diary to make the most of your preparation. Best of luck to all of you who are already registered for exams taking place in February and March. If you haven’t registered and think you’re ready to take the plunge, then sign up below and start your Rockschool journey today!