Do music examiners account for nerves?

Do music examiners account for nerves? Several readers have asked me this question recently. Everybody feels some kind of anxiety before an exam. It doesn’t really matter what type of test is being taken, it’s just the fear of being scrutinized. Some students deal with nerves better than others and the most effective way to cope is to be very well prepared. I have already written about performance anxiety several times on my blog as it is a hugely important topic and you can read my suggestions here.

Examiners do bear in mind just how nerve wracking a music exam can be; they know that students are human and will make mistakes. However, they will only mark what they hear and are likely to comment if too many errors are made. It’s worth remembering that even if you don’t play to your usual standard due to nerves, but have fulfilled the basic exam criteria and manage to play reasonably well, then you will pass.

Candidates exhibit nerves in different ways; some will forget scales, others will restart one of their pieces. If the errors are fairly minor, and they generally are amongst most candidates, then very few marks will be lost and the overall result won’t be affected too much. It’s easy for candidates (especially adults) to magnify their errors whilst in the exam room. They let the odd mistake create worry and doubt in their minds. This negative thinking can affect the rest of the exam so it’s best not to dwell on past imperfections.

If you have prepared extremely well for you piano exam and have had several practice runs, to friends and family or maybe fellow pupils, then you should feel confident. This is the only way to deal with pre-exam worry. The examiner DOES want you to get a good mark so try to enter the exam with a really positive mindset and don’t let the odd wobbly moment undermine your ability. Remember most students do pass and you should be no exception. Good luck.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I think it is fair to presume that most candidates will be nervous, so as you say, it is only what the examiner heard that can be marked.

    The importance of performing in public well in advance of the exam at festivals, school assemblies, recitals at home or any other event cannot be stressed enough. Nerves can be overcome! We did so many festivals as kids that we weren’t bothered by them after a year of doing the rounds of the West London festival circuit!

  2. Let’s say: it’s less worse to play in public than to get into an exam. it’s not for the exam itself. It is due the faces you have in front of you. Often , the soviet politburo looks-like human if compared with examiner (I’m talking here in Europe 🙂 )!
    When you are kid or teen you get scared. When you are, as me, in the maturity age (over 40th), then you get angry, upset. The efficiency falls more than 30% and instead of max score you get mid or lowest one.
    That’s why I’m for a simpler solution: or you pass or you don’t pass. Scores are good for the bets with horses or other sports :-)))
    Notions of spycology or other stuff it seems do not be taken in consideration. the real temptetion is to send the examiner to devil 😀
    On rare case, I had examiners which were human and they knew how to treat the students in a way that they where not scared, not with barriers in front etc …

    1. I am glad that you have had some more human examiners too – they should all be friendly or at least act that way. Examiners DO want candidates to do well so even if they don’t appear friendly they will award high marks if you deserve them! 🙂

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