Is Music Grading an enemy or a friend?

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Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher in Milton Keynes, England. He runs a successful independent music education company, KeyQuest music, which specializes in private piano teaching and provides creative talents. He is also one of the authors of the piano teacher's instruction manual for 2019-2020 on the assessment of the English Council of the International Piano Teachers Association of ipta.

Friend or enemy?

I think teachers should often answer these two questions, but how to best answer them? In general, I think children will become confident if they have a clear and honest understanding of their progress and a clear and promising goal.

"Examination level" can provide a way of examination, and can also be regarded as an important level structure. It can help students get meaningful and quantitative answers, which helps to increase their confidence. "

Of course, there are problems in the way of grade examination. In fact, most of the problems are related to the abuse of grade examination over the years, rather than the examination itself. In this article, I will take these two aspects into consideration and provide you with some of my own opinions to answer the questions mentioned at the beginning of this article: grading examination, friend or enemy?


What is the purpose of the exam?

"How did I do?"

"How can I go further?"

We can answer these students' questions from many angles.

These are relatively subjective:

Students can respond to their own progress, compare their current works with their previous works, and teachers can also make some regular and clear feedback.

Students can also participate in some concerts and get some feedback from other musicians. It includes friends and family as listeners. They can join the forward track challenge to get a clear picture of their progress.

Some are relatively objective:

Students can take part in some competitions properly. In the competitions, other professionals evaluate them, and take the results, ranking, etc. as the relatively objective results.

Is there a concrete and objective evaluation method?

That's the exam. It can provide a specific, fixed standard / benchmark, which can be widely understood and recognized.

"Therefore, the examination level provides students with a unique standard way to clearly see, understand and appreciate their progress. Get feedback from third parties on future developments. In the end, you get more confidence. "

However, as we will see, the advantage of grading examination is quickly abused.

Before considering this situation, let's explain:


Questions of the examination committee

For the test, to answer the perfect "how am I doing now?" And "how can I improve?" These two problems need to meet the following preconditions:

The selected track needs to have both the breadth and balance of music and the flatness of the whole music;

The additional examination (including music theory, etc.) should have enough music relevance and diversity, but the examination content should be consistent with all examinees, and the review committee should be basically fair;

The test requires a comprehensive assessment of the examinee's performance, including the examinee's complement of his / her own weaknesses and the exertion of his / her advantages;

There needs to be an open scoring standard, which needs to clearly define the expectations and benchmarks of this level for candidates;

High standards should be adopted in appointment, training, audit and technical support of examiners to ensure the consistency of examiners;

The examination needs to have consistent standards in terms of appointment, admission, examination facilities, high-quality piano and professional management, so as to ensure the effective implementation of the examination;

The feedback should be as positive as possible, the writing should be clear, the achievements of candidates should be affirmed, effective suggestions for improvement should be provided, and the matching published scoring standards should be attached;

Examination results shall be checked, verified and examined in a timely manner, and fair and meaningful appeal procedures shall be introduced.

When any of the above problems occur, it can be a frustrating and disappointing blow to examinees, parents and teachers.

But as mentioned above, providing every perfect test experience is a big challenge.When problems arise, they need to be solved in a friendly, respectful, polite and professional manner.


Misuse of test grades by students, parents and teachers

Let's take a look at the possible misuse of test grades by teachers, parents and students

Teacher's focus: Curriculum

While most exam boards stress that their grading standards should not be used as syllabus for integrated courses, too many teachers ignore this proposal to take students directly from one level to another without helping them explore a broader and more exciting music world.

This must be one of the most serious misuse of grading. In the examination, many important musical abilities (for example, playing by listening, playing by memory, playing by chord annotation, playing for others or playing with other musicians, etc.) will not be systematically studied, just because they are not included in the scope of the examination, or because they are optional in the examination.

We will surely think that a teacher who lets students choose between developing their auditory acuity or reading ability is not a good teacher... The test syllabus should not be misused to limit the overall music development of students.

Regardless of the content of the syllabus, teachers should be committed to providing students with a wide and balanced learning curriculum. A good exam syllabus should not only support these learning objectives, but also enrich the exam with the latest, high-quality and creative music. It is gratifying that some mainstream examination committees have done very well in this regard.


For any musician, the value of grading is the same, and teachers should not use them as their own distinctive signs. They exist for the benefit of examinees, not teachers.

As teachers, we must prevent ourselves from using our examinees' test scores to satisfy our vanity or reputation, or using the success rate of test grades to promote ourselves. Examination grades or the selection of examiners by the examination committee should not be used to judge our colleagues in this major. I often meet some teachers who choose the committee work chosen by another teacher as the instruction of the lower limit standard of work in their teaching, which makes the range of courses they offer too narrow.

It's very simple that these assumptions are useless and dangerous; although these methods are easy, we should try our best to avoid them.

Parents' expectations

Many teachers will meet such parents. Their interest in the development of their children's music seems to be all focused on their children's obtaining test certificates.

In my studio, I think students' music progress is reflected in the next level of additional tests. Only when other preparatory work goes well, the preparation for specific test tracks will start, so as to provide students with sufficient time to enjoy music!

There are many valuable things in the development of any child's art, culture and creativity. Parents should realize how learning an instrument can really enrich children's life and learning. When parents seem not to care about these benefits, teachers will feel really depressed.

It should be noted that students who have a wider interest in music tend to get the best results in examinations. Encouraging children to love music for life should be the higher goal that all of us pursue for ourselves and our children. The examination is only valuable in the context of this higher goal.

Students' motivation

Teachers may think that students under the pressure of over examination in schools will not be interested in their musical instrument examination. But this is not the case; our assumption is:

All participants, both teachers and parents, have a good understanding of the difference between external motivation and internal motivation, and pay close attention to the delicate but important balance between them. Because this kind of balance may vary from person to person, it may cause real harm to students.

It's just as wrong to assume that a test grade will motivate students as to assume that a test grade will not. I find that parents of children can usually provide unique and useful insights here, which makes me understand that as a teacher I am not always more clear!

Analysis result

Perhaps the most important moment in the examination process is the arrival and analysis of the results. Teachers, students and parents all have their expectations. The actual results may be as follows:

Higher than expected;

Fully in line with expectations;

Lower than expected.

In fact, in all cases, it is unlikely that the results will fully meet everyone's expectations! So how do we deal with disappointment or the same unexpected surprise?

Sometimes it's just a line between using grades to celebrate your success and using them as a spur. Some people blame themselves for losing points, their children, their teachers, or their test boards, rather than the points.

Please keep in mind that some people are just used to super playing in big scenes, while others are difficult to maintain their normal standards under pressure. I often find that examinees' evaluation of their own performance is often erratic, while teachers can often predict one or two grades based on students' performance in class.

We need to clear the context of the results

I suggest you go to the published reference books of grading plan and take the simulation test every three or five times until the day of the real test.

Teachers and students should compare the scores and comments of the simulated test and the real test after they get the scores, so that the comparison can be used as a reward for their efforts all the time, and it is easier to understand that the examination grade is the reason for this result, and of course, it can help students to progress all the time in the future.

Such initiatives can bring a series of benefits:

Teachers' professional ability can be further improved; parents can also actively participate in the action; examinees can quickly gain self-confidence and have an understanding of their real ability;

Generally speaking, these can give examinees a concrete and objective answer to the questions they want to know:

1. How do I behave? as well as

2. How can I go further?