Issue 115: Failing a Music Theory Exam

As occasionally happens, (VERY occasionally, let me add!), one of my pupils has failed a music exam. Theory, this time. I reckoned there was a good chance that they might pass, but I wouldn’t have bet on it.

Why did they fail? Well, obviously, they wrote down the wrong answers, duh.

There’s more to it than that, though, as I am sure that we had covered all the syllabus and they were capable of a safe pass, even maybe a merit.

It’s the other skills they lacked; experience of all the traps that they hide in the questions; changes of clefs, accidentals at the beginning of the bar in interval questions, “of what key is the first chord in bar 6 the dominant chord of” type of thing.

And also learning how to check your work is an important skill in itself. I remember, a few years back, a very bright young lad who refused to check any practice papers before the exam. “I’ll do it when it is the real exam”, he insisted. He passed – on the nail. Exactly. Which did not please him at all, as he thought he was a lot better than that.

I try and get my theory students to do a practice paper every week in the half term leading up to their exam. To begin with they just have to get through the paper, but after the second or third, they should be doing them within the time allowed, AND checking their work. If they do this, they WILL pass, and probably with a merit, and if they have also learned all the Italian and German and French (hahaha) they will probably get a distinction.

If they don’t, they may well fail. That’s kind of how it is.

So, back to this current candidate, who is about to be told that they have failed. What can I do to make it “better” for them?

Failure is an important experience, and what I want to achieve is that they will be able to use the experience to become more self-aware, and to grow in character and maturity as a result.

This post from a blog I follow makes some good points, and rather than just copy it all out again, here’s the link;

http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/the-hidden-cost-of-avoiding-failure/

I will go through the mark sheet with the candidate, and also talk about what we need to address together in order to make sure that next term re-taking the exam is a more positive experience. I’ll talk about checking, and experience, and practice papers, and next time, they will pass.

holly

 

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