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A Beginner's Guide to the Royal Conservatory of Music Exams

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

What is the RCM?

RCM stands for the Royal Conservatory of Music, and is Canada's most recognized, and highly regarded music conservatory. The RCM covers a broad range of instruments (hey accordion!), theory and history studies, and even conducts examinations in speech arts and drama. There are certificates for beginners (grade 1), all the way to ARCT (Associate Diploma - often considered a university equivalent).

Why should I do an exam?

Students take exams for many reasons. Universities, colleges, and even some special high school programs often have RCM pre requisites. Other students use exams to help with goal setting in their studies, and find it a valuable way to help track progress. Certain diplomas can even count towards high school credit!

When are exams?

Exam schedules can be found on the RCM website. The Conservatory usually runs three exam sessions per year, including theory and performance exams in January, June and August. When it comes to choosing an exam session, consider the amount of preparation necessary, and talk to your teacher about the materials that will be covered. Keep in mind that the registration deadline is typically two months before the examination, but there are options for late registration.

How do I register?

If you're ready to register for an exam, talk to your teacher! They can provide a teacher number to use when you register on the RCM website. This number gives you access to exam results and comments. When you register, you will be asked to create an account, which will give you access to your exam history for future reference. If you’re looking to take a Music Theory exam - we’ve got you covered! Talk to your teacher about how to join one of our group theory classes.

What can I expect?

Examinations can be anxiety inducing, but they don't have to be! With careful preparation, and a good warm up the morning of, exams can be a breeze! Performance exams are usually 25-30 minutes long depending on your repertoire, and up to three hours for theory and history exams.

When you walk in to your performance, or theory exam you will be directed to check in at a clearly marked table. Be sure to bring your student reference number and any pertinent documents and forms sent to you by the Conservatory. Arrive early to give yourself ample time to check in, and relax before your exam. If you're especially nervous, many performers develop routines like breathing exercises, or yoga, or maybe even wearing a pair of lucky socks! If you want to feel really prepared and professional, consider dressing the part, think "recital best".

While your examiner may appear to be serious or quiet, they are really doing their best to listen and grade you as fairly as possible. Examiners really do want you to succeed and play your best.

How do I get my results?

Results are available 3-4 weeks after your exam, and comments can be accessed through your teacher. When you receive your marks, keep in mind that the grading system is very comprehensive.

New requirements

To our Royal Conservatory veterans this information may be old hat! However, there have been some changes made to the curriculum as of 2016. Theory examinations have been renamed to better reflect their relationship with practical exams (e.g. level 5 piano - level 5 theory). Curriculum changes have also been made to the theory and history examinations including the introduction of melody writing and guided listening beginning at Level 1. For more information about new requirements, check the RCM syllabi available on the Royal Conservatory website.

More questions?

If you still have questions or concerns regarding exams, be sure to talk to your teacher, or visit the Royal Conservatory FAQ page. We hope this guide was helpful, and has given you some #musicgoals for the fall - happy studying!

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