RCM Examinations: My Experiences As a Student and a Teacher

Do you use the Royal Conservatory of Music Examinations system for your students? Are you considering using it but want to know more first? Find out more about RCM Examinations before making your decision!

RCM Examinations Certificate

Snippet of RCM Certificate


My Experiences with Royal Conservatory of Music Exams As a Student

As a student I took nine RCM exams from ages 10-21. Practicing was certainly more intense before exams! However I enjoyed the overall process of earning these certificates.

Often students ask why they should prepare for an exam. Hopefully I can share enough from a student’s perspective to answer that question! Let’s explore several benefits for a student using the RCM Examination system.


1. Exams taught me how to set and reach goals.

Most worthwhile achievements are long-term projects rather than “30 days to success!” In our age of instant results kids rarely enjoy the sense of mastery that comes from finishing a large goal. They dabble in this and “see if they like that”.

My parents and teachers assisted in setting goals for each level. They helped me choose a reasonable goal for an exam a year or more in advance. During high school I studied two instruments and the co-requisite theory requirements. We made a four-year schedule including each exam to complete my ultimate goals. This plan helped me achieve my goals by the end of high school. Instead of cramming my last year I was able to take one step at a time to make it happen.


2. Exams gave me a sense of fulfillment from completing each level.

There is nothing like reaching one goal to motivate you to strive for the next one. Seeing that I was capable of completing a stepping-stone level spurred me on to want to do the next level.

If I had not had a goal-oriented system when learning piano I would not play at my current level. My progress would have been more vague and harder to notice. I might not even be a piano teacher now!


3. Exams showed me what pieces to study based on my current level.

I liked having an objective standard when someone asked what level of piano I played. Several of my friends did not use the RCM system. We discussed our levels using vague terms like “easy” and “early advanced”. But what did those words really mean?

On the other hand, most pianists in my area understand the answer, “I am working on Level 8 piano”. One’s skills in playing by ear or composing might vary based on teachers. However others know your basic ability to learn a piece up to a certain level. This is helpful when hiring someone to accompany for voice or instrumental performances. You want to know this pianist can play at the required level!


My Experiences with RCM Examinations As a Teacher

As a teacher I have had students take several graded exams. Although I see them from a different angle now, I still think they are worthwhile! Here are some of the benefits I see now as the teacher.


1. Exams provide feedback on my teaching from another musician.

As a private piano (and flute) teacher, I work for myself. I don’t have a “boss” who checks if I am teaching my students properly. When my students pass an exam I receive their written report. I even see the breakdown of where they lost points. The examiner also writes any specific suggestions for improvement.

These remarks allow me to see how I could have better prepared my student. Sometimes these comments are the same as I have told my students many times! Other times I can note what to work on further ahead for the next exam.


2. Exams provide unbiased evaluation of my student’s progress.

When I see my students on a regular basis it can be difficult to notice their overall progress. I become so used to their weaknesses that I don’t pay attention to the strengths that someone else may praise. Or a student slowly progresses but an exam keeps them from doing less than their best.

When a student takes an exam, I can step back and see his progress since his last exam. Or I can see that she really wasn’t ready for this exam. Then we discuss the need to step up our game by the next exam. This kind of appraisal is helpful as a teacher.


3. Exams provide strong incentive for my students to practice!

Some students assume that this week’s homework project is more important than their long-term music goal. However when they have an exam scheduled often they will practice more consistently.

It is not necessary for students to complete the exam for every level. Usually I make them learn the technique and several of the pieces for a level rather than “skipping” it. We may also have a “mock” exam with myself or a colleague instead of paying the exam fee.

If they stall on a level I urge them to take an exam. This puts some added pressure on them and they move through much faster.


Do You Use RCM Exams for Your Students?

Tell us your experiences with the RCM below! If you have a similar system in another country share about it too! I know some people don’t like the concept of levels. They feel that students focus on meeting minimum requirements and don’t develop well-rounded skills. However I have enjoyed the results in my own training and in teaching my students! Let me know if you have any questions I haven’t answered about the RCM!

About Angela

Angela is a private piano teacher who wants to teach others about God through music. She has experience as both a piano student and a piano teacher. She has also worked with the parents of her students for several years. Angela enjoys teaching young children as well as those with special needs. She wants to use the tool of piano lessons to teach others to know God personally! Visit https://joyfulnotes.ca/about-angela/ to find out more about her!

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