Going Digital – ABRSM’s New Online Theory Exams

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Online Exams from the ABRSM – What has changed?

In response to the Covid pandemic, the ABRSM brought forward its plans to make music theory digital, with a pilot Grade 5 Theory exam taken online in August 2020.

Despite some serious technical glitches and lack of support in place, the pilot was deemed successful enough to roll out completely, and grades 1-5 are now available only as online exams in the UK and most of the rest of the world.

Edit: Trinity have also decided to create digital versions of their music theory exams, as of October 2023.

online music theory exams from ABRSM

The format of the exam has changed. A short summary is as follows:

  • All questions are multiple choice, with one or two exceptions. No handwriting of music is tested.
  • The syllabus has been truncated, with the removal of some topics for each grade and a large-scale reduction in the number of foreign musical theory terms that candidates need to memorise.
  • The test is marked out of 75 (previously 100)
  • The pass mark is 50 (66%, as before), a merit requires 60 points (80%, as before) and a distinction requires 65 points (86.6%, previously 90%).

The ABRSM is keen to stress that there is no overall reduction in the standard of the new tests compared to the old. (Personally I don’t think this is true, considering that the test is shorter, there is less material to learn, less chance of making an error (due to multiple choice questions) and the bar for achieving a distinction has been lowered.)

More information is available on the ABRSM website here https://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/online-theory/exam-information/ as well as some free practice materials.

Updated materials from MyMusicTheory.com

As far as possible I have updated the lessons and resources in the PDFs and video courses available on the site to reflect the ABRSM’s changes. Nothing has been added to the syllabus by the ABRSM, with the exception of testing scales in all four clefs at grade 5, and a lesson for this has been included both on the website and in the video course.

Here is a short summary of the updates to my materials:

  • Updated lists of theory terms for grades 1-5
  • New PDFs with tests for grades 1 to 5 in the multiple choice style.
  • New online multiple choice grade 5 practice test
  • Updated course PDFs for grades 1-5
  • Updated website and video course lessons reflecting the new format

Please note: the composition question was removed from the ABRSM music theory grades 1-5 in 2018.

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