Music theory can be intimidating. Exams always are. Put the two of them together and could have a case for nerves and less than stellar performance, even though you know your work.

This isn’t inevitable. There are several ways to avoid being overwhelmed before or during your exam. Use these tips to get the best possible result after years of hard work and study.

1. Don’t cram

The simple fact is, you can’t cram years of knowledge into one night. If you don’t know your subject the night before the exam, you won’t know it at all.

Staying up all night to try to learn at the last minute only leaves you tired the next morning and unable to perform at the exam.

You usually know when the date of your exam is going to be months in advance. Develop a study program to help you systematically revise all areas of your syllabus so you’ll be better prepared for the day.

Your study program will be dependent on:

  • How much work you need to revise
  • How much time you have
  • Your personal desire. We tend to study what we like more than what we don’t.

Ideally, you want to break up your study program into small increments and not huge blocks.

2. Prepare

Put aside everything you’ll need for the exam the night before. This way you won’t spend the morning looking for things, making yourself flustered and anxious before the exam and increasing the chance you’ll perform poorly.

  • Set aside all the tools you need (stationery, pencils erasers, etc)
  • Put aside the clothes you’ll wear to the exam center
  • Confirm your ride to the center if this needs to be done

3. Adopt ways to help you remember the information easier

There are several techniques that will help you learn and remember your music theory. One of them is mnemonics. This usually involves making a rhyme out of some fact you wish to memorise. For example, “E, G, B, D, F. E, G, B, D, F. These are the lines of the treble clef”. This is a short, catchy way of remembering the musical notes that are drawn on the lines of the treble clef.

You can form mnemonics out of the first letters of words as well. If this doesn’t work for you, you can create your own system.

4. Attempt past papers

One of the best things you can do before your theory exam is to attempt past papers. There are several sources of past papers, is one of them where you can get papers for any grade level. You can go through them with your teacher or your class colleagues to get a handle on trouble areas.

You can attempt them timed, to simulate the feel of a real exam. Or you can go through them with your texts in hand to research the answers.

It is likely that similar styled questions will come for your real exam. Having done past paperwork will put you at a real advantage for your music theory exam.

5. Relate what you are learning to real life

Music theory is just that…theory. It becomes easy to remember something when you line up your theoretical knowledge with real-world applications of it.

Perhaps you learned about a particular style of music. When you hear that style of music on the radio you can count off the time signature in your head, or maybe you can match the key to a new scale that you are learning.

6. Do the best job you can do with the exam

In addition to being prepared in advance by studying, practicing past papers, and having a good night’s sleep, you need to show up with the right mental attitude for the exam.

You should be confident because you would have been prepared. At the same time, try not to be overconfident, as this is how mistakes that can cost you marks are made.

If you are finding a question difficult, move on to the next and try to come back to it.

As far as possible, make sure you answer all the questions and don’t accidentally leave out any, as you’ll lose marks.

Erase all errors cleanly.

You spent much time gathering knowledge to get you up to the point of sitting your musical theory exam. Don’t let this time and effort go to waste. Honor it by following these tips and being prepared. This way you won’t be disappointed on the day results come out and you achieve the pass you desire.

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