Managing Expectations

2 months ago
Alison Kelly

Alison Kelly

Alison Moncrieff-Kelly is a cellist, educator and ABRSM examiner in classical grades, jazz grades and Diplomas. She is also a Teacher Development Consultant for ABRSM, and has led workshops and presentations all over the world. Alison has been a syllabus consultant for ABRSM and also part of the team who prepared the cello sight-reading and scales. Alison teaches at City University London, Tonbridge School and also runs a highly successful private teaching practice.

From the perspective of an educator, the first question I ask myself about a post-Grade 8 student, is whether or not having just ‘qualified’ to take the ARSM means they are actually ready? The answer is frequently that they are not.

To my way of thinking, the first reason for this is purely practical. Just because you have passed an exam that is a mixed, holistic assessment lasting half an hour, does not mean that you have the tools yet to take a repertoire-only assessment with a half hour performance as the one and only requirement. It is possible that a student will have amassed repertoire alongside the Grade 8 pieces; but these days, when most pupils are fighting an endless battle with competing priorities in their studies, it’s unlikely.

So it’s at this moment that I like to point out to the aspiring ARSM candidate, that they are now able to look up the mountain at what would previously have been their next goal, the Dip ABRSM, see that this is really a long way away from Grade 8. Then readjust their sightlines towards the ARSM, which is more accessible to them.

Part of why I train my pupils to think like this is because inevitably, there can be antipathy to the idea of ‘yet another exam.’ There is a real need to address that quickly as a teacher, and to put in place a goal/target that is at once appealing and achievable. Whilst the package required for DipABRSM is demanding on several different levels, the ARSM is totally achievable for the motivated Grade 8 Graduate.

It is true that the nature of the ARSM – a performance given to a non-specialist Grade Examiner – is a different kind of assessment from the DipABRSM. It is also true that performing an entire 30-minute programme, without a break, to an audience of one carries with it all kinds of additional, hidden pressures and this is where the exact nature of the ARSM is located:
As an examiner, it is quite disconcerting to sit through 30 minutes of someone’s performing/creative time giving no feedback at all. Although this is the experience within a Grade exam, the nature of that process is that you are able to interact as examiner/candidate through the medium of the supporting tests. The ARSM, with its performance-only assessment, feels more like a concert with no audience. This could be awkward for both parties. To sit there in silence and offer only smiles and nods by way of reaction can feel very artificial, and it takes a special sort of training to provide appropriate reactions within the bubble of the exam room.

As a teacher, I prepare my students for this process in very bald terms. In an ARSM exam: you will arrive; you will be warmly received; you will be invited to play; there will be nods and smiles, but you will leave the exam room to resounding silence in place of a round of applause. As long as everyone concerned understands the terms of the offer, none of this is a problem. It is therefore necessary that teachers prepare their students for this experience.

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