It’s a numbers game – Play to Win!

We saw last time how most exam marks are permitted and some aren’t, how 33% is there for the taking whilst the rest has to be worked for. All systems have their weaknesses and those who want to “play” the system have to know what these are and how to exploit them.

It should be clear by now that not all numbers are the same. And in a piece, for example, is there a distinction (pun inteneded) between 29 and 30? And is the difference between 22 and 23, both in the pass band, the same as that between 23 and 24, in two bands? These are certainly questions examiners might ponder.

But what about the rest of us? All other things being equal, are some marks easier to achieve than others?  I have often been surprised at how so many candidates seem to give a relatively large amount of time to the pieces while all but neglecting the other elements of the exam, namely, scales, sight reading and aural, the so-called “supporting tests”.

Before looking at this more closely, you may be interested to learn that some years ago if you failed all the three pieces you HAD to fail the whole exam, irrespective of how brilliant the supporting tests might have been. In reality, if the pieces were bad enough to fail, it’s hardly likey that they would have been up to much, but still.

As a condition of QCA recognition, this rule was changed; now you can fail all three pieces and still achieve a resectable pass; theoretically a total of 117 (19, 19, 19, 21, 21, 18) is possible. But let’s not get too stuck on actual figures.

My point is more this:- it is relatively easier to pick up marks at the lower end of the pass range than it is at the top end. It’s the classic 80/20 rule. Beyond a certain stage you need to put in 80% more effort (or money, or time or whatever) to get 20% more benefit. We’ve all seen this with pieces; that extra bit of polish and finesse need so much extra work that often we just don’t bother. Would it not be more productive for the exam to put that effort into improving the “supporting” tests?

If you do the maths, the supporting tests are worth 40% of the marks. Doesn’t that suggest they should have the benefit of 40% of practice time and effort? In reality, all it needs is maybe 15 minutes a day on scales, 10 on sight reading and maybe as little as 5 on aural training to build up the extra facility and confidence needed for a decent mark. A general recommendation might be for singers to work on sight reading, brass players on scales and everyone on aural!

“And what about flute players” I hear you cry? How can they apply their time and effort to these worthy causes?

Good questions! And one which I’ll begin to address next time. ‘Til then…”Keep your chin up”.

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