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How To Ace Your Piano Exam

Last Updated: January 14, 2022 / by Helen Baker

It is normal to feel anxious before any piano exam. If anything, it shows you are taking the exam seriously, and that's important. What's even more important is believing in your own ability and to not allow the lack of preparation get in the way of acing your exam.  Here are some tips to help make the journey as smooth and stress-free as possible. 

A Few Weeks Before The Exam

If your studies had progressed as well as they should you will hopefully be preparing for your piano exam. It is important to know that you can’t be studying and learning new things right until the day of the exam.You need some time to cool off and let everything you have learned and practiced sink in.

A few week before your exam you should be going over what you have studied and mastered already, polishing up on a few trouble spots, and getting your mind conditioned for what you should expect in the exam itself.

This will help you stay fresh and help you be prepared, so there won’t be any surprises.

Your practice sessions are likely to be quite intense. However, you should now be practicing with your piano exam in mind. Preferably, practice in the order of your exam - scales, pieces, and sight reading.

Practice With An Audience

This is certainly not the best time to still be missing keys. You should be mastering your pieces on things like expression and tempo. It also a good time practicing in front of people. Even if it is your sister, friend, teacher, or mother, imagine them to be your examiner. You can probably play the piece well in front of someone you know, and this will help the sequence print into your mind. 

What Not To Do

Too many times we are told what we must do when preparing for a piano exam. How about what we shouldn't be doing? There is quite a bit that you do in the few weeks and days before the exam, all in the spirit of wanting to make sure you are ready for the exam. Oftentimes this is what makes people fail. Let us run through some of those don'ts, shall we?

All-Night Study Sessions

Some parents expect their learner children to study and practice harder as the exam approaches. It seems this is the right thing to do. In fact, it can be more damaging than useful.

One, it tells the learner they are not yet ready for the exam, which builds unnecessary anxiety. Two, it leads to burnout at the worst possible time.

Putting Yourself Under Too Much Pressure

Ideally, you want to approach a piano exam with the assurance you have covered everything. Very rarely is it possible to cover absolutely everything, and you may be putting yourself under unnecessary pressure.  

Passing an exam often means acing a certain section or question. It is better to tackle the exam in parts. This means admitting that you will be challenged by certain sections and ensuring that you don't let that spoil the rest of the exam. 

Changing Your Repertoire 

This seems obvious, but some still make the mistake. Altering your repertoire too close to the exam will simply not give you adequate time to master it. There is a risk of playing the old sequence once in the 

exam. Realizing it mid-performance can induce panic for the rest of your piano exam. 

Taking Instructions From Anyone Accept Your Teacher

Taking instruction and advice from everyone on the eve of the exam is a bad idea.

This may plant unnecessary seeds of doubt in your mind.

Have confidence in the teacher you've had all along and stick to your the program.

Your teacher, in all likelihood, would have structured your routine, repertoire, and strategy with your strengths and weaknesses in mind. 

The Night BeforeThe Exam

Let us agree straight up that you there is no studying to be done on exam day. Having confidence in your ability and knowledge you have prepared well is all you need now.

Anything that builds anxiety and panic should be avoided the night before as well as on exam day. Here are some other things you should be doing the night before your piano exam: 

Avoid Funny Foods

The night before your exam is not the best time to try a new diet. Save that for after the exam when you're celebrating. Eat what your stomach is used to and stay off funny foods. All night shuttles between your bedroom and the toilet because of an upset stomach is not ideal preparation for an exam.  Also, cut down on caffeine. Too much will only keep you awake, and you really need a good night's rest

Rest Well

It is amazing what a well-rested body and mind can do. There is always the temptation to practice and study a bit more before you sleep, but depriving yourself of sleep on the night before your piano exam will spoil your big day.

Yes, you can review some notes , but it is more important you pack and make sure you have everything you need for your piano exam before you go to bed. Relax your mind by playing music or by watching a good movie. Be sure to get enough sleep so that you can wake up feeling refreshed.

On Exam Day

If you have time to kill before the exam, do something you enjoy. It may be a morning jog, workout, or just a stretch-about. However, the worst thing that will happen on the day is arriving at the exam site late. Even worse, you could be turned away for not having the right identification or whatever is needed. Make sure you have everything you need and leave early for your exam. 

Yes, you should have packed your bag last night and made sure you have everything you need, but it won’t hurt you to check again just be sure. It is also important to dress comfortably and wear some comfortable shoes. Remember, it is an exam, not an album launch.

You will likely practice, or warm up, before your performance. Forget about the other learners, some of whom may want to show off how good they are. You're not here for them and they are not your examiner. Play your own stuff and concentrate on staying relaxed for the exam.

During The Exam

There is no more preparation to do now. Accept that and keep your head in the game. Remember, your examiner is there to judge your technique and will not expect you to be the next Mozart. 

Keep all distractions out of your mind. You should only be occupied by what is happening in the exam room. Once you start performing your piece, relax and aim for smooth transitions with nothing too fancy.

If you make a mistake, continue as if nothing has happened. Don’t let a missed key ruin the rest of your set. The examiner may well want to judge how well you can handle and recover from your own mistakes ..so show them.

Remember, what you want most from an exam is to pass it. Do your best on the day. If you have prepared adequately, your best is enough for a pass. Interestingly enough, this is also the easiest way to ace an exam.

All that being said, however, remember it is still just an exam. Life goes on, even if it does not go so well, so be sure to have fun during your piano exam and try to learn from it as you take in the experience. 


About the Author: Helen Baker

I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.

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