In this month’s Meet Trinity’s Music Examiner, we hear from Alison Carey about her experiences of being an examiner and her advice for candidates. Read on to find out what she thinks the benefits are of taking a music exam, and how she recommends candidates prepare.
What’s your musical background?
My family have fond memories of me as a little girl, pressing the keys from underneath Nanny’s upright piano. At her house in Dagenham, Essex, I’d sit up on the stool, swing my legs and improvise away, always asking my parents to bring the piano back along the M4 on a trailer to home! Nanny said yes and I’ve not looked back since. When I’m not examining, I’m teaching and when I’m not teaching, I’m accompanying music and ballet exams.
What made you want to get into examining?
I have always loved putting my pupils through mock exams where I play the ‘music examiner’! I have had many positive exam experiences myself, whether on piano or flute or as a dancer of ballet, tap and modern. Becoming an examiner was the next step in my professional development and a chance to give something back. I relished the excitement and anticipation that an exam would bring and very much looked forward to ‘going for it’ and ‘showing the examiner what I could do’. Now it is a privilege to be a part of others’ exam experiences.
What do you most enjoy about being an examiner?
Though being relatively new to the role, I love being in charge! I enjoy bringing warmth and professionalism to the exam and the variety that each day brings is refreshing. Being an examiner complements and enhances my work as a teacher and accompanist. By creating a positive environment the candidate is able to demonstrate their talents to the fullest, allowing me to offer an insightful assessment.
What do you feel the benefits are of taking a music exam?
Exams can provide motivation, inspiration, and can help develop fundamental skills. They can build confidence in a student by providing a benchmark of achievement within the performance opportunity of the exam. There are benefits for the candidate, parent, teacher, school, and music service, however exams may not suit all. As a teacher, I am always willing and prepared to adapt my lessons to cater for those not wishing to undertake an exam. Don’t forget that Trinity also offers Certificate exams that provide a wonderful opportunity for candidates to put a recital programme together without the pressure of technical work and supporting tests.
What do you like about the Trinity syllabus in particular?
The choice and flexibility within the technical work and supporting tests, and the varied and diverse repertoire that allows candidates to demonstrate their performance skills, creativity and individuality.
What are you looking for in particular from a candidate during an exam?
My role as an examiner is to assess the musical outcome against relevant criteria, so let your musicality and enjoyment of the music you have prepared shine through!
What are your top tips for the supporting tests part of the exam?
Your teacher will guide you here with being thoroughly prepared and in good time before the day, however, I would complete plenty of practice examples and have a go marking your answers using the criteria. Try recording and listening back to your pieces as well.
What are your top tips for dealing with nerves?
Take some deep breaths and smile. Enjoy the experience and go for it!
What’s the main piece of advice you’d give someone taking a music exam?
Be prepared. You’ll feel so much better if you know what you need to do and what the examiner will say.