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!

5 thoughts on “Can You Use the Same Pieces When You Try For An Exam A Second Time?

  1. Hi there,

    I read this post with great interest. My daughter took her Grade 4 piano exam today and failed. She is absolutely devestated. In the past, she has always got a B or above. Due to the fact that she is currently in Year 7, she has had heaps of homework this year and probably was not as well prepared as she could have been for the exam, however her piano teacher thought she would be absolutely fine. I think she got stage fright and it obviously affected her badly. I guess that is the problem with practical exams – if you get nervous, it can really affect you. Her teacher has suggested that she sit this exam again, however she is very reluctant to do this because she is concerned the same thing will happen again. In your experience, is it possible that some people just can’t do well in exams, no matter how good they are when they practice? It may pose a bit of a problem, as she also learns clarinet, is due to do an exam at the end of the year and is now saying she doesn’t want to do music at all, if she has to do exams.

    • Oh, I’m so sorry to hear your daughter has had such an awful experience today…. It’s absolutely true that exams are a better match for some personalities than for others, and that Year 7 can be a time when many children gain a self-consciousness they’ve not had before – a self-consciousness that does them no favours in exam circumstances. On top of that, Grade 4 is a real step up from Grade 3, and students need to do a lot more practice to be ready for a Grade 4 exam than they did for their Grade 3.

      Teachers frequently find that Grade 4 is the last exam that students want to take, even if the student has passed the exam, and Grade 4 is often a (negative) turning point for students who have coped quite well with exams up to this point. My own view is that students simply should not be entered for exams that they are not ready to sit – using the exam as a ‘motivation’ for practice is putting the cart before the horse, to say the least. Failure is a tremendously discouraging – devastating – experience for children, and I would always prefer to simply pull out of an exam than allow the child to go through ‘failure’. Of course, these longer term implications that you are talking about (preferring to avoid music lessons altogether rather than experience an examination again) then provide a whole new set of challenges for parents and teachers to do deal with as well….

      As regards your daughter – I wouldn’t insist on exams at all! Exams are just measurements of achievement, not achievement itself. Working towards an examination is no guarantee of learning, development or fulfillment, and in many cases it diverts time and energy away from ‘learning’ and into practicing for the test (not at all the same thing). But many teachers are uncertain as to how to structure a learning program without having an exam at the centre of the process, so you will need to have careful discussions with the piano and clarinet teachers if your daughter remains adamant in her current position.

      But if you do want to leave the door open to examinations in the future then it is important that your daughter truly master Grade 4 skills before she goes on to learn music that is more difficult. Take a good look at the report – are there are areas where she did well? Or does the report suggest a universal unpreparedness for the exam? Maybe there were specific aspects of the exam presentation that were dire, while others were quite acceptable, and having an understanding of why she failed will help focus learning over the next six months on filling these gaps.

      I recommend that students learn at least 20 pieces at each grade level before moving on to the next. How many Grade 2 and Grade 3 pieces has your daughter learned over the past two years? Maybe she needs to spend the rest of this year mastering skills from these two earlier levels so that she can truly engage with material at a Grade 4 standard. How easily can your daughter sight read? If this is particularly challenging then she will benefit from learning a slew of pieces that are just a little easier than her Grade 4 exam pieces were.

      The main thing is to have lots of musical experiences, and new musical experiences every week or two. This will be far more enjoyable for your daughter than continuing to slog through Grade 4 pieces in order to sit the exam again. Unless of course she wakes up in the morning excited at the prospect of giving it another go later in the year!

      All the best in riding through this rough patch – your daughter’s interest in music is far more important than anyone else’s interest in exams…..

  2. That’s a very sad story cookie. To be set up for failure at such a young age is terrible. Grade 4 in year 7 means she’s made significant progress for one so young and she should be proud of that.
    I spent many years with my teacher doing AMEB pieces without sitting exams and having a perfectly good musical experience. I’m not sure why my teacher didn’t want me to sit them (perhaps I was dumb) and the girls who did do exams looked down on me somewhat but the only draw back to not doing the exams was I wasn’t made to do technical work, theory and aural work and that did hamper my understanding of music a little.
    My teacher, as I reached about a grade 5 level, moved me away from the AMEB series books and into more standard repertoire, which was very sensible of her, given that I had an interest in classical music. I wish I had continued with her, but my mother kept nagging me “to practice and not waste my money!” so I quit. šŸ˜¦ My teacher then told my mother “that’s a shame because I felt she was someone who really got something from music”. The folly of youth! I guess what this waffly post is trying to say is, what Elissa has said much more eloquently, encourage you daughter to continue with *music* (as opposed to exams) in any way that engages her interest and builds her confidence.

  3. I think for the sake of the music student, different pieces should be used for the 2nd exam to avoid boredom, too much repetition, and frustration by the student. Also, you are right in that ABRSM changes their syllabus every couple years but some state exams (like MTAC) does not. So, the teacher should be aware of what is allowed and not allowed!

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