Music Theory, Performances, Questions

Q&A Forum | Do your students undergo standardized testing?

Last week we had some great replies to the question about what level of recital music to assign. Here’s our new forum question for this week!  I have really enjoyed hearing you responses the last few weeks.  Keep it up!

Do your students undergo standardized testing?  Why or why not?  If you do, which testing(s) do you use (MTNA testing for your state in the U.S., RCM/NMCP, Piano Guild, etc.)?  Do you require it of all your students or is it optional?  What benefits do you see in doing testing –not doing testing, as the case may be?

I’m looking forward to hearing your responses on this one (as usual)!!  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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14 thoughts on “Q&A Forum | Do your students undergo standardized testing?”

  1. To this point in my teaching career – no, my students do not undergo standardized testing. This summer, I plan to enroll in PFMC, and students who are serious about their study will have the opportunity to participate in the guild competitions, but I won’t require them to.

    I’m not a fan of standardized testing in schools, and so I wouldn’t want to have them in my studio. My students have such a wide range of skills/levels, that I wouldn’t feel comfortable subjecting them all to the same test.

    I do think that testing students is a good idea though. I recently started noticing that I have a couple of students who managed to squeak by without knowing some pretty basic things. In other words, their note identification was terrible. That was an eye opener. Now I’m making sure to occasionally test all of my students, and to assign more theory homework to the younger ones so we can avoid this problem in the future.

  2. I do encourage my students to take exams every 2-3 years, to give them a goal to aim at, and a sense of accomplishment when they have received their certificate. I do not force anyone to take exams, but let them know that it can be a positive experience to work towards that goal, and have another persons opinion of what they can improve on in the future. If they chose not to, I will still have them complete the requirements for me. Some students seem to need the exams to encourage them to keep working on certain areas like technique.

  3. I love the comments posted so far……just thought I’d add some of my own ramblings!

    I’ve never had a student take any testing…..yet. When I first started teaching, I wasn’t ready for it and for the past few years most of my students are taught through my university’s community music school program. And it takes a lot of time to become familiar with a leveling system and to prepare a student! It is definitely a goal of mine for the future, though. As you may know, I have a very student-centered approach to my teaching, and for this reason, testing will probably not be a required thing for each student in my studio once I graduate and teach full-time (especially for adult students, I think, testing may not be within their goals). However, I think that eventually my goal would be to have at least 50% of my students do some kind of testing each year. It’s not only good for the students, but it’s very beneficial for the teacher to help improve his/her own teaching!

    My system of choice would probably be either the SAT’s we use here in Michigan, and/or the NMCP (U.S. equivalent of RCM). In my opinion, the SAT’s are very difficult for new teachers to get used to! There is very little guidance for learning what pieces specifically are appropriate for each level. I love the clear syllabus for the RCM!

  4. I do have my students do the standardized testing. I think it helps me be a better teacher. If I just teach to my student’s strengths (because I would find that more enjoyable) I would probably skip out on teaching skills and musical theory that might help my student further on.
    I don’t require my students do the testing, but about half of them do and the other half get it, just not officially. It’s just part of my curriculum

  5. RCM originated here in Canada and just in the last 5 years has been introduced in the States and is becoming more popular. I can’t even put into words how much I LOVE the RCM program. Never before have I seen a more thorough and balanced program. There are 10 levels, and 4 times a year in each city there are practical exams and theory exams given for each level. I am starting an adult student in the RCM program next week. The thing I like about it is that if you don’t feel ready to do an exam, you can simply work on the next level and then test in to that level. I had all my training in the States, and now that we live in Canada I am working on my Teacher’s ARCT (equivalent to a masters in the States). I will simply ‘test in’ at my level when I and my instructors think I’m ready.
    All that said, I do think exams are important for many reasons. I think it helps students become more comfortable playing in public. Also it pretty much mandates that excellence is achieved- no one can slip through the cracks with a program like this!

  6. I thought I’d add my thoughts (few though they may be!) here as well. Joy, I completely identify with you. I haven’t had any of my students do any sort of testing…yet.

    It’s something I’m definitely interested in for the future, but I haven’t taken the step yet for several reasons. I’m a relatively new teacher and the past few years have been spent building up my studio. I’m just now at that point where I’ve got a firm base of students and they are beginning to be at levels beyond mere beginners where the testing would be an option. The idea of my students being tested kind of intimidates me! Their scores will reflect on what kind of a teacher I am and where my weaknesses are. I think that’s another reason I’ve held back so far. The final reason is that I’m just not sure which system to go with, so I was interested in hearing what other teachers had to say here.

    Thanks for posting such a great forum question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts when you start using testing.

  7. Sarah, I would suggest that you choose a program that has a detailed syllabus and outlines exactly what will be on the exam. With RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) you can purchase the syllabus and it has the expectations for each grade level in it. It even tells what metronome speed to play the scales/arpeggios at. It is security for both student and teacher. Teacher knows exactly what to school the student in, and student knows exactly what is expected of him.
    The other great thing is that every year they make available for public sale the exams from the previous year. For example, I can go to my music store and buy the 2010 actual exam. You can let the student work through it and determine if they are ready and what area needs more work. With all these helps, there should never be a situation where the teacher looks bad because she forgot to teach the student something.

  8. If you are not familiar with the exam process, the best way to familiarize yourself is to take one! I have been hearing good things about conservatories other than the one I use, but I must admit, I feel most comfortable sending children for exams in the one I took exams in myself. While taking an exam as an adult isn’t for everyone (yes I did one as an adult), the next best thing would be to get helpful hints from teachers who use the one you are interested in. They can tell you what steps they take to ensure their students are well prepared for the exams, which will help you to know when a student is ready to take an exam. Maybe a local teacher could walk you through a practical exam so you can have a feel for what is expected of the students. If you are confident of your student’s ability to succeed, the student will be more confident in their exam.

  9. Leah and Sarah- thank you both so much for your excellent advice! I have looked in RCM in the past for myself personally as I was (and still am) interested in their pedagogy certificates, and I was VERY impressed with what I saw! They are quite thorough. I’ll definitely give it some more thought and consider the value of testing for my studio.

  10. I’m not currently thinking about the whole testing thing for my lone student, given her unique situation (serious performance studies on another instrument, doing piano on the side/for greater general musical understanding, and still at a fairly beginning level), but I would definitely be receptive to getting some of my students into the SATD system if I were to teach back in MI in the future. I’d pick the SATD system because it also serves as the entry level to the MMTA/MTNA competition, and for some of the strongest/most serious students, it’s a good primer for the actual youth competition circuit. (Plus, I took the exams myself and am pretty familiar with the way it’s run.) RCM looks great as well and has the advantage of wider recognition. My one experience playing in a Piano Guild audition was so long ago (ha, I was 7) that I don’t really remember much of it…

    Great question!

  11. I’m new to your website and I love all your discussion questions as many of them are on my mind as well! I use the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) testing system, having grown up with that and am therefore, familiar with it. They are very popular in Commonwealth countries and gaining popularity here. As you pass each of their levels, you know you are on track with your musical education (that you didn’t miss out certain aspects) and on par with others from around the world. Their syllabus also serves as a great guide to the question “What a student should know at grade….?” I believe the RCM program is also very similar, major difference in that RCM is Canadian based and the ABRSM is UK based.

  12. Well, I have mixed feelings on this topic. I remember being a student and being so discouraged when I failed my piano exam. I couldn’t even touch the piano for about half a year without all those bad feelings rising up. Needless to say, it definitely did take away some of my care-free joy.

    However, I think that students would like to have something to “brag” about, at least something official. The RCM is very popular where I live – there’s no question of whether you should or shouldn’t take it.

    Oftentimes, it’ll be the parents who decide. Many parents will insist that their child take the exam and that’s one of the problems that I deal with as a piano teacher. Parents are usually disappointed when their child hasn’t progressed to the RCM level as quickly as they would hope. I’m tempted to just place the child in the preferred grade, but ultimately, I know that I’ll be hampering their development by doing so. It’s a challenge.

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