It’s important to only enter for an exam when you feel confident and you can play all of your pieces to a good standard upon entry date. If you enter and you are not at this stage, you are adding a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself, seek advice from your tutor, sometimes it’s better to wait.
In the weeks leading up to the exam, everything should be finished and you should be playing straight through all pieces, and technicals while continuing to also practice sightreading, aural or improvisation depending on your syllabus. From there look at what needs to be improved on and how long it’s going to take you to finish things off. For example, you may need to still finish or improve your fluency on some scales. If you have 6 weeks to the exam date and you have 12 scales left to perfect, practice 4 per week and then the remaining three weeks you should be practising them all, mixing them up each time so you are confident moving through different key signatures, finger patterns etc.
If you have time, complete a mock practice exam the week or two before your exam date. This can be of great help to discover any areas you may need a little extra practice on.
Listen to the original piece of music and make notes on what you hear, from rhythm to tone or dynamics etc. Then record yourself and do the same, listen back, follow the score and make notes. You may notice something that you don’t hear when you are playing, then you can make a list of those things that need to be changed or added. Repeat this process 2/3 times before the exam.
So, the day of your exam has arrived and you may be feeling nervous. Try to stay calm, you have prepared well for this and try not to get hung up on the little slips that might occur.
Check you have all of your music in order, especially if you are using extra material from outside your grade book. Write down the names and order of the pieces that you are performing and make sure you have rubbed out any pencil markings written on your grade book. Finger notation is allowed everything else to rub out.
When you are in the exam room, smile at the examiner, a smile can go a long way to make you feel more relaxed. Before you play take just a few seconds to look at your first bar or two and silently imagine the melody/speed. This will help you start at the correct speed as sometimes when we are nervous we jump in and realise we’ve started too fast and are making lots of mistakes because of it, I’m talking from personal experience on this one.
Another important tip is to keep going no matter what happens. If you make one mistake don’t let it impact the rest of your piece. The examiner is after a musical performance, if you make a mistake and then stop to correct it, you are impacting on melody and rhythm/ pulse. So keep going try and put it out of your mind and focus back on what you are playing.
That’s it, you’ve got this, just stay relaxed and enjoy the experience!