Can You Use the Same Pieces When You Try For An Exam A Second Time?

In response to google searches asking “can you use the same pieces when you try for an exam a second time?”:

So, you (or your offspring) have failed a piano exam and you are wondering if you can just polish up the pieces you’ve already kind of learned and give the exam another go, hopefully with a substantially better result. The answer is usually yes, with the following proviso:

Has the syllabus changed? The ABRSM syllabus (for example) changes every two years, and while there is a cross-over period worked into the system you might find that the pieces in question will lapse before the next opportunity for an examination. The AMEB syllabus changes at infrequent (and irregular) intervals, and at the moment there are two different syllabuses running concurrently for the Piano for Leisure exams. So check the syllabus to see if the pieces are still current.

So long as your pieces are still on the syllabus you are free to present them for examination as many times as you like. The exam boards don’t keep Big Brother-like track of you and your repertoire selections, so the examiner won’t peer at you in your next exam, asking “how dare you bring the same pieces in for examination as you did last time?” The examiner doesn’t even realise you failed last time, when you last sat an exam, or anything at all about you (beyond your age and gender, usually).

There are, however, some educational angles you might want to consider before reworking the pieces that didn’t produce a pass result in your exams.

1. It can be discouraging (and boring) to work on the same piece for a very long time. It seems counter-intuitive, but it can be faster to learn a brand-new piece than to keep struggling on with a piece you didn’t perfect for your exam the first time.

2. Your repertoire selection the first time around may have contributed to your failure. Every piece has its own set of challenges; look at the skills required to perform each piece and select a piece that is already within your ability.

3. Maybe the whole exam was too hard, and rather than simply sitting the exam a second time you should spend a year learning a range of new pieces, and once you’ve done that you won’t want to return to the old pieces anyway.

The only time it’s a good idea to use the same pieces when you re-sit an examination is when you are over 14 years of age and the only reason you failed is because you just didn’t do any real practice. In other words, you didn’t properly learn the pieces in the first place. Treat the first, failed exam as a test-run (pun not-quite-intended), and simply continue preparation for the ‘real’ exam.

Under the age of 14 just get on with exploring the world (and the repertoire of the piano) some more, and don’t get hung up on sitting exams. Sit your next exam when you are truly ready, and don’t get talked into sitting an exam that is too hard for you, or that you don’t want to take. But for goodness sake, don’t keep playing the same old pieces, being reminded of your bad examination experience!