Graded Examinations

Graded Examinations

RAD, Bruce Zinger

Graded examinations have been a feature of the performing arts sector since institutions began offering them in the late nineteenth century, as vehicles for the cultural development of young people, and a means of embedding the disciplines of music, dance, and speech and drama into lived experience. Some take graded examinations to achieve technical mastery in their chosen discipline, some to pursue it as a leisure or social activity, or as part of a programme of personal development more widely.

The graded approach, which typically encompasses eight grades, encourages learners at all levels of competence to develop and display their skills sequentially. This progressive mastery model means that students develop and demonstrate skills in a specific discipline which increase in technical difficulty and complexity as they progress up the levels. Once the skills at one level have been mastered, the student moves on to the next. Candidates are tested when ready and so they can take the amount of time that is appropriate for them to master one stage before progressing to the next.

Graded exams are offered in:

  • Music:For example orchestral instruments, piano, electronic keyboards, singing and guitar.
  • Dance:For example ballet, tap, freestyle, modern jazz, ballroom, Spanish and contemporary.
  • Drama & Communication:For example acting, speech and performance arts.
  • Musical Theatre

Preparation for graded examinations usually takes place in private, out-of-school settings, such as dance studios and drama clubs, as well as through visiting staff teaching peripatetically in schools, most commonly preparing students for examinations in music. Whilst there is usually no minimum or maximum age specified for entry to graded examinations in music and speech and drama (dance is an exception, mostly for health and safety reasons), pre-Grade 1 qualifications can be taken from as young as 4. From Grade 1 onwards, the age range is typically from 7 upwards, with examples of candidates in their 80s entering some disciplines.

Taking part in graded examinations develops high standards of performance, perception, creativity, knowledge and understanding. Additionally, the grades provide a scheme of clear incremental standards by which candidates, teachers, parents/guardians and employers may measure progress in acquiring genuine command of the skills required in each discipline. Additionally, they provide a progression route to Diploma qualifications at RQF Level 4 and above, and grades 6 to 8 are included within the UCAS Tariff. To find out more about progression routes from Graded examinations, click here.

CDMT has developed a website devoted to graded examinations, which includes information about various disciplines, the history of graded examinations, awarding organisations that offer them, and publications produced by CDMT such as research reports, as well as the booklet Graded Examinations: The Definitive Guide, which provides an overview of this provision. Further, the Regulatory Report on Graded Examinations in the UK 2023 can be viewed here.

Today, with worldwide entries topping 1.8 million for music, dance, and speech and drama combined, graded examinations remain a popular model for assessment in the performing arts, and one which continues to deliver value to teachers and learners alike.  If you are a teacher preparing students for graded examinations in a pre-vocational setting, you may wish to apply to be part of CDMT’s Recognised Awards Scheme, more information about which can be found here.