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Syllabus FAQ

We receive a steady stream of questions covering a vast range of topics, from whether you can use an electric cello in an exam to whether we're considering assessments for drum kit ('no' and 'yes' respectively).

Many of the most common issues are dealt with in the relevant syllabus, in our exam information and regulations or in our guide to ABRSM exams (this resource is packed with advice on all aspects of preparing for and taking an exam, and should be the first thing to turn to when you have a query).

See our separate exam booking FAQ for queries about entering an exam.

The syllabus I’ve been working on has changed. Can I use pieces from last year’s syllabus in my exam this year?

In the UK and Ireland you can play the pieces set for the previous year until the end of May. In other countries the overlap period for pieces is a full year (until the end of December).

You can't mix pieces from the old and new syllabuses during these overlap periods. In all countries, the overlap applies to pieces only – any changes to scales, sight-reading or aural tests come into effect on 1 January of the year the new syllabus begins.

New syllabuses are usually published around six months before their start date, to give candidates and teachers time to prepare.

Can I bring a page-turner to my exam?

Candidates at Grades 6–8 can bring a page-turner to assist with any awkward page-turns in their music. Prior permission from ABRSM isn't required. Accompanists for Grade 6–8 exams are also welcome to bring a page-turner.

Do I need to play repeats?

Da capo (DC) and dal segno (DS) indications should be followed but other repeats (including first-time bars) shouldn't be played unless stipulated in the syllabus. However, very short repeats can be played at the discretion of the teacher or candidate.

My student can’t/won’t sing in the singing part of the aural tests. What should I do?

Your student could either hum or whistle – the examiner won't be assessing vocal quality. Candidates with a limited vocal range should feel free to tell the examiner, who'll endeavour (but not guarantee) to find tests within the range specified.

I’m playing a concerto movement. Do I need to play the cadenza and are all the tuttis needed?

Cadenzas shouldn't be played unless specified in the syllabus. Tuttis aren't usually required, other than those specifically stated in the syllabus. Candidates should arrange in advance with their accompanists which tuttis might be omitted.

I have a copy of a piece in the syllabus but it’s a different edition from the one listed. Can I use my copy for the exam?

You can use any edition of the music unless the syllabus specifies a particular arrangement or transcription. Always check the syllabus.

Has the Jazz syllabus changed?

No, all Jazz syllabuses remain in force until further notice. We currently offer Jazz exams at Grades 1–5 for Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Trumpet and Trombone. Also available are Jazz Ensemble exams and Performance Assessment in Jazz.

I’m having trouble playing the ornaments as they're written in the music. Will I be penalised in my exam?

There's no single correct way to play ornaments and you should use your musical discretion. If you need to, it's better to simplify the ornaments. Examiners would rather hear a confident simplified version of an ornament than a performance that suffers because you're struggling to perform the suggested interpretation.

Can I use a photocopy of the music in my exam?

You shouldn't make or use photocopies unless you have written permission from the publisher. You're allowed to photocopy individual pages to avoid a tricky page turn, but only if the publisher of the piece is signed up to the Music Publishers’ Association (MPA) Code of Fair Practice. The Code of Fair Practice is available at and participating publishers are listed in Appendix B.

Contact us

If your question isn't answered on this page, please contact our Learning & Qualifications team using this form.

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