Myth-Busting the Teaching DipABRSM

I’ve been mentoring teachers for the DipABRSM, and other teaching diplomas such as the DipLCM(TD) and ATCL, for nearly 10 years. I’m always impressed by these teachers’ commitment and willingness to reflect on their own practice. Putting yourself and your teaching forward for potential criticism is a huge emotional investment, but a hugely rewarding experience.

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly conscious that generally well-meaning advice has been posted online, often on forums, which is sadly not true. I suspect that in many cases the underlying advice has been ‘lost in translation’, and in other cases, the original poster has not fully understood the requirements. Naturally, when candidates are preparing for their exams and searching for advice online, these posts can add to their anxiety.

In this post, I want to take the opportunity to bust some of the most popular myths I’ve heard. Obviously, syllabuses change, so you should always check the latest version in case any requirements have changed.

The preparation time for the quick study is awarded a mark…

This is simply not true. The examiners mark your final performance of the quick study, but they are not assessing your preparation time, nor do they give you a mark for it. The final mark awarded for the quick study will be based on the performance alone. Whilst there is no mark awarded for the preparation time, clearly the effectiveness of that time will impact upon the final performance and mark.

I will know the mark for my written submission in advance of the exam…

It is true that the examiners will mark your DipABRSM written submission in advance of the exam. They will award it a provisional mark which may be altered based on discussion in the viva. They will not, however, notify you of that provisional mark in advance of the exam. In actual fact, you will only receive the final mark as given on your mark sheet, so ultimately, you won’t know whether this has been amended after the viva.

The written submission can form part of the discussion in the viva. It doesn’t always come up, but when it does, it’s often an opportunity for the examiners to explore something you’ve written more fully, or for you to clarify or demonstrate a particular concept you’ve written about.

The examiners will judge me…

In some ways, I was quite sad to hear this recently. As with all teaching diplomas, the examiners are making an assessment of a range of skills related to the teaching of your instrument and your wider knowledge and understanding of music education.

The examiners are absolutely not judging you as a person. They are not judging you based on how many or few students you’re teaching, and they’re not judging you based on how long or short a time you’ve been teaching. In fact, the syllabus is quite clear in saying that no prior teaching experience is required or expected.

The examiners are making an assessment of your teaching skills through a variety of tests (the viva, written submission and quick study). I think it’s really important that no teacher goes into the exam feeling that the examiners are judging them as a person.

The examiners are testing my ability to perform…

This is a tricky one. The teaching DipABRSM is not a performance diploma, and as such, it is marked against a completely different set of criteria. There is nothing in the marking criteria for the DipABRSM which specifically assesses your ability to perform, rather, it is included with the more general ‘demonstration of the principles of instrumental/ vocal teaching’.

When performing extracts from your Grade 6 pieces, think of playing these at a level suitable to demonstrate to your students. Your performance needs to be technically competent, expressive, communicative and convincing.

I need to know every piece at Grades 1-5…

This is a really common misconception. To quote the syllabus:

As well as inviting you to perform and demonstrate examples from the music you have brought with you, the examiners may also refer to other ABRSM syllabus items for your instrument up to and including the specified level in order to amplify discussion and to enable you to reinforce answers to questions. In these cases, an ability to draw upon suitable examples at various levels will be expected, rather than a comprehensive knowledge of all the ABRSM repertoire lists.

ABRSM Teaching Diplomas syllabus (2017) , p. 9

The primary focus will be on your three chosen Grade 6 pieces. Whilst the examiners may draw on your knowledge of lower grades, you are not expected to know every piece on every list at every grade. Rather, think about how a student’s skill and knowledge will develop as they progress through the grades. Think about the increasingly complexity of the pieces being learnt and the technical skills taught to underpin those. Therefore, focus on your Grade 6 pieces, but with an understanding and overview of the journey your students have been on to reach that point.

Are there any DipABRSM myths you’d like debunked? If so, let me know!

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