Fluency, understanding, expression and confidence.
Written by Andrew Eales
Taking grade exams on the piano has for many been a rite of passage, and many teachers and parents convey an expectation that they are an important landmark in any pianist’s journey. Whatever one’s view of this, it is no surprise that so many of the questions, comments and requests made on internet forums concern the different exam boards available.
Five equally accredited boards operate internationally from a UK base, giving rise to endless comparisons and discussions, often generating more heat than light. This article is a sincere attempt to offer the latter, providing a level playing field for each of the five boards to present themselves in their own words, outline what they offer and their recent developments.
The following pages, one for each board, will supplement this information with links to Pianodao’s independent syllabus reviews, and a representative sampling of the customer feedback users of each board have generously provided in response to the recent Pianodao reader survey.
A Quick Overview
Each of the five pages which follow includes these identical elements:
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
All five boards welcomed the opportunity to support this article, submitting their own summaries of who they are in a few sentences. Their pages here appear in the order in which they each responded to my request.
WHAT WE OFFER
I invited each board to provide a bullet point list of exactly what they offer. They were also given the chance to share their latest news. Some chose to go into more detail than others, but I believe readers will find a good overview of all five, as well as a link to their main homepage for further information and contact.
Although some boards provided additional links, large websites are regularly updated and it would not serve Pianodao readers well to find broken links in the months ahead. For that reason, and in the interests of providing a level playing field, I made a global decision to limit links to just the main homepage and current piano syllabus for each board.
Pianodao reviews of exam syllabi are well respected, attracting tens of thousands of readers. I have quoted from them briefly and given links to the full reviews for those who would like to read my analysis and conclusions.
The MTB exam board do not provide physical publications, so their syllabus has not been reviewed on Pianodao. LCM have a new syllabus out imminently which I will review as soon as I receive copies.
In response to the recent Pianodao reader survey, I received 96 independent user reviews of the four established classical piano boards. In the case of RSL Awards, whose syllabus only launched at the end of 2020, I did not receive any user feedback. Hopefully next time!
I have chosen a representative few reader reviews to include in the overview, selecting reviews which:
- summarise important points commonly mentioned by others.
- avoid personalised complaints about specific exams and results.
- minimise comparative statements (for example criticisms of one board in a review of another).
I have shortened some reviews for consistency, and included a proportionate spread with different ratings. Where user feedback was consistently or mainly very positive, the spread of reviews included here reflects that.
The survey offers a simple snapshot based on feedback from readers, and is not intended or presented here as a substantial academic research study. Nor are the reader opinions necessarily my own. They do however match the trends which I have observed on several other forums, leaving me confident that the reader ratings and feedback included here are broadly representative of current public opinion.
Each page includes an overall rating out of five stars, based on the reader survey, averaged and rounded to one decimal place.
As a minuscule sample of the tens of thousands who take grade exams worldwide, these reader ratings again offer no more than a snapshot of user opinion. But importantly, including them ensures that the voices of all readers who offered feedback are properly respected and heard; those who value the opinions of others will welcome the ratings as such.
One board received strikingly positive feedback with almost exclusively five-star reviews, matching the glowing reports I have seen elsewhere from their users. Were customer ratings the only guide, they would have emerged as the clear winning choice; readers will however realise that choosing an exam board is a more complex decision, with many factors to consider.
Once again, the purpose of this article is wholly to support and give helpful advice to an audience who have repeatedly asked for a useful summary of all five boards in one place.
Providing a space in which each board can be equally and fairly represented has proved challenging, but it’s my sincere hope that teachers, parents and players everywhere will find this article helpful in deciding Which Piano Exam Board will best serve their needs in 2021-3.
Let’s get started – at the end of each page you can navigate to the next by clicking on the red button:
I have never been, nor applied to become, an examiner for any of the five boards that are included in this article, nor have I any ambition to do so.
While my own personal opinions only surface in the Syllabus section of this survey, I should note in the interests of complete transparency that over the years I have been employed by four of the five boards in the following capacities:
• I have been a consultant for ABRSM, RSL Awards and LCM Exams.
• My music has been published by ABRSM and LCM
• I have written in several other ABRSM publications.
• I have spoken at events organised by ABRSM and Trinity College London.
The one board I have never worked for in any capacity is the MTB Exams board.
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