Beginning the Assessment Experience: Tips for Parents and Teachers

Benefits of Elementary Assessments

The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program has made it easier for students to begin their assessment experience! Earlier this month, The Conservatory announced that fees had been lowered to $49 for Preparatory assessments.

Regular assessments are an important part of the learning process and central to the curriculum of the Music Development Program. We recommend that parents work in consultation with their child’s music teacher to determine the best time to begin regular assessments. In our latest blog post, adjudicator Sara Ernst, Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at the University of South Carolina, offers insights into the benefits of assessments, and advice to parents and teachers on recognizing if and when a child is ready for the challenge of their first one.

What are the benefits of assessments for students at the early stages of music study?

There are important benefits to beginning assessments early for students, teachers, and parents. The curriculum of the Music Development Program integrates a comprehensive array of musical skills, and through it, students progressively grow their musical abilities from year to year. Level by level, children expand their abilities in performance, technical patterns, and musicianship, all beginning at the Elementary levels.

The Preparatory assessment welcomes the young student into the Music Development Program; the balanced Preparatory curriculum is manageable for most children in the first year of study. The examination thus becomes a benchmark and celebration of accomplishment for the student. It is a culminating experience that provides parents and teachers with an incremental measure of growth.

As part of a yearly routine, music students may leave the exam room excited and ready for the next challenge: I’m done with Level 1! When can I do my Level 2? This type of motivation is tremendously valuable for spurring continued study. Furthermore, taking exams less regularly or delaying the start of exams can actually increase pressure on students; suddenly the examination is a big, weighty measurement of many years of work, rather than a familiar experience that feels easy and natural.

As a teacher, how do you determine when a student is ready to take his/her first assessment?

It is a goal of The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program for the assessment to be a positive experience, as well as an insightful, instructive evaluation of an individual's musical skills. It is therefore important for both teachers and parents to carefully consider when a child is ready for his/her first formal assessment experience. There are three key factors to consider:

  1. Can the child stay focused and follow verbal instructions easily?  If a child can readily maintain attention through his/her music lesson and follow instructions such as: play sight reading example A, s/he will be ready for the assessment process. For some young children, the assessment may be difficult simply because they have not developed this type of focus. In this situation, delaying exams for a semester or a year can allow time for the child to mature and increase the potential for a positive experience.
  2. Has the child successfully performed solos in formal situations? While an assessment is not the same as a recital, the performance demands are similar. If a child has played in public (e.g., through a recital, music festival, or other formal situation), this will help establish the “performer’s mindset” needed for an assessment. With a performer’s mindset, the child will play from start to finish, fluidly, without stopping, while listening for musical goals. If the young musician has demonstrated this ability, s/he is ready for a positive exam experience. I would not recommend an assessment as a first performance.
  3. Can the child understand and perform basic musicianship skills and technical tests? At first glance, it might seem unnecessary to prepare for the technical tests or musicianship skills assessed at the elementary level (e.g., clapback and sight reading). Certainly, with well-rounded and comprehensive instruction, these skills are a natural outgrowth of music study. Before attempting an assessment, however, every child should work with a teacher to learn the specific Music Development Program requirements and processes for assessing musicianship and technical patterns. It is through frequent and regular exposure that these drills become automatic, which will allow for the child to truly demonstrate his/her abilities during an examination.

Registration for the winter examination session is open until October 14, 2015. Visit to register. 

What people are saying


What would you suggest for books for the beginning level preparatory A & B for a piano student? I have not yet had students participate in this program and I need to know where to start without buying the entire series at once. is there one book that covers everything at each level, or, do I need a series of books for each level?

Best books for beginning students

Great question! We recommend starting with a sampler to give you a sense of the kind of repertoire that can be played at preparatory and other levels. Please send your address to and we will happily mail you a copy of the sampler for piano!

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