Time Management for ABRSM Exams by Niall O'Riordan

Time management is a very important skill to learn for everyone. Very often because of our creative nature as musicians, it is not something that comes naturally to us. At school I never was good at organising myself in this way. For example, I remember going into exams not knowing how much time I should allocate for each exam question, and I would just hope for the best. A similar thing can happen preparing for graded exams – in this case ABRSM. How much time should we devote to preparing the scales and pieces? How much time we have before the examination is given can also be determining factor. In an ideal world, everything would be prepared to the best of your ability. However, as I'm sure many teachers out there will agree, this is not always the case.

Recently, I worked with students preparing for the earlier grades, something I have not done in a while. The general feeling that I got was that they were overwhelmed by the amount of things they have to get ‘right’. It all seemed very daunting for them. I have a love/hate relationship with exams. In an attempt to ease their anxiety, I gave them a tool to take ownership for their own progress. The following handout is one I created for this purpose. By using the pie chart students can clearly see how many marks are allocated to pieces, scales, sight-reading, and aural tests. I encouraged them to assess on a scale of 1 to 10 their current level of preparation. As we discussed this, I gave them some feedback and we settled on a plan by setting goals of how much improvement we could expect next week. I found working like this also gave them a much better idea of how much work they had to do to feel really prepared before entering the exam. I was able to show how much this preparation and management contributes to the whole feeling of general preparedness and confidence. This entire conversation and plan helped each of them to focus on the things that they were excelling at and kept their confidence up.

Overall I found it very helpful for both teacher and student. It helped us stay focused on the positive, the students became more motivated, and most surprisingly they really took ownership for their progress. Feel free to use the following handout or create something similar yourself. I hope you enjoy working like this as much as we did!

Time management and effective learning strategies will be one of the many diverse topics addressed at this year’s Whole Musician Urban Retreat Notting Hill London 26-28 August. We hope you can join us.

Written by Niall O’Riordan July 2014