Syllabus FAQ

We receive a steady stream of questions covering a vast range of topics, from whether you can use an electric cello in an exam to whether we're considering assessments for drum kit ('no' and 'yes' respectively).

Many of the most common issues are dealt with in the relevant syllabus, in our exam information and regulations or in our guide to ABRSM exams (this resource is packed with advice on all aspects of preparing for and taking an exam, and should be the first thing to turn to when you have a query).

See our separate exam booking FAQ for queries about entering an exam.

In the UK and Ireland you can play the pieces set for the previous year until the end of May. In other countries the overlap period for pieces is a full year (until the end of December).

You can't mix pieces from the old and new syllabuses during these overlap periods. In all countries, the overlap applies to pieces only – any changes to scales, sight-reading or aural tests come into effect on 1 January of the year the new syllabus begins.

New syllabuses are usually published around six months before their start date, to give candidates and teachers time to prepare.

Candidates at Grades 6–8 can bring a page-turner to assist with any awkward page-turns in their music. Prior permission from ABRSM isn't required. Accompanists for Grade 6–8 exams are also welcome to bring a page-turner.

Da capo (DC) and dal segno (DS) indications should be followed but other repeats (including first-time bars) shouldn't be played unless stipulated in the syllabus. However, very short repeats can be played at the discretion of the teacher or candidate.

Your student could either hum or whistle – the examiner won't be assessing vocal quality. Candidates with a limited vocal range should feel free to tell the examiner, who'll endeavour (but not guarantee) to find tests within the range specified.

Cadenzas shouldn't be played unless specified in the syllabus. Tuttis aren't usually required, other than those specifically stated in the syllabus. Candidates should arrange in advance with their accompanists which tuttis might be omitted.

You can use any edition of the music unless the syllabus specifies a particular arrangement or transcription. Always check the syllabus.

No, all Jazz syllabuses remain in force until further notice. We currently offer Jazz exams at Grades 1–5 for Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet and Trombone. Also available are Jazz Ensemble exams and Performance Assessment in Jazz.

There's no single correct way to play ornaments and you should use your musical discretion. If you need to, it's better to simplify the ornaments. Examiners would rather hear a confident simplified version of an ornament than a performance that suffers because you're struggling to perform the suggested interpretation.

You shouldn't make or use photocopies unless you have written permission from the publisher. You're allowed to photocopy individual pages to avoid a tricky page turn, but only if the publisher of the piece is signed up to the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) Code of Fair Practice. The Code of Fair Practice is available at mpaonline.org.uk and participating publishers are listed in Appendix B.

For enquiries like this, please contact our Learning & Qualifications team.

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