top of page

Piano Testing FAQ


Note: I have had students pass the highest level of each exam (CM Level 10, RCM Level 10, ABRSM Level 8, CAPMT Piano Festivals Level 10).  I have also taken CM Level 10 and RCM Level 10 and passed both with honors.


Q:  Why do testing?


Above all, testing is a great motivation for students to further their studies.  Once they pass their first exam, they are eager to work on the next level!  These exams also create a well-rounded musician, preparing them in many different musical skills.


Q:  What kind of testing opportunities do I offer?


Certificate of Merit (CM) by Music Teachers Association of California

Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) Certificate Program

Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)

California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT) Piano Festivals


For the especially motivated, I do send students to competitions like U.S. Open, CAPMT Honors Competition, and more.  I am happy to discuss these as well.


Q:  Can you give me a quick overview of each?


Three out of the four exams test students in five main areas: repertoire (music), technique (scales/chords), sight reading (playing sheet music they’ve never seen before), aural skills (answering questions based on what they heard) and theory (music analysis).  These exams, for the most part, are very similar and are also interchangeable.  I have many of my students participate in multiple different exams.  There are many smaller details that often determine who will take which exam.  Those things can always be discussed on an individual basis. 


See the bottom of the page for a more comprehensive comparison .


CM is offered only in California but it is by far the most popular exam in California.  It is offered only once a year around March.  It does require theory with every level, which is often a big determining factor.  Students can choose from a wide selection of repertoire.


RCM is a worldwide exam created in Canada.  It is offered 3 times a year.  Students can choose from a wide selection of repertoire.  These exams are always held at high quality venues with Steinway grand pianos.


ABRSM is a worldwide exam created in the United Kingdom.  It is offered 3 times a year.  It is the most thorough in its technique training, but limited in its choice of repertoire.  Exams typically take place on weekdays, so students often need to leave school to take this exam. 


For those who don't necessarily feel the rigor of exams are necessary, but do want something to encourage progress and a goal to work towards, CAPMT Piano Auditions provide a good opportunity.


CAPMT Piano Auditions is offered once a year in November.  Only two pieces are required and a duet.  There is no theory, technique, sight reading, or ear training.


Q:  How many levels are there?  Do we have to start at Level 1?


Depending on the test, there are 8-12 levels, so there is a level for everyone!  You can start at any level we deem appropriate.


Q:  At what age can students begin testing?


Generally speaking, there are no age requirements!  Typically students need at least one year of lessons before beginning any exam.


Q:  Does it help my college or high school application?


Not really.  I mean yes, it doesn’t hurt, but in the grand scheme of things, things like grades, test scores, essays, and recommendations are a lot more valuable.  But if the sole purpose of doing these exams is for school, it may actually have a negative effect on your child and turn them away from music. 


For those students who will study music in college, the exams help greatly in the preparation, but ultimately students will still need to audition for their school, regardless of what level has been passed.



For more information, please visit the websites of the examination boards.


Certificate of Merit (CM) by Music Teachers Association of California

Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) Certificate Program

Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)

California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT) Piano Auditions





Breaking Down the Three Exams


CM is run by Music Teachers Association of California and only offered in California

RCM is run by The Royal Conservatory (Canada) and offered worldwide

ABRSM is run by The Royal Schools of Music (Great Britain) and offered worldwide

CAPMT Piano Festivals is run by the California Association of Professional Music Teachers and only offered in California


When is it offered?

CM: Once a year (between Feb-Apr)

RCM & ABRSM: Three times a year

Piano Festivals: One a year (in Nov)


When is registration?

CM: October

RCM, ABRSM, Piano Festivals: Typically 3-4 months before the exam


Where are the testing locations?

For all exams, typically either in Mountain View or San Jose.  In rare cases, it may be in Fremont or Menlo Park.


Registration Process

CM, RCM, Piano Festivals: Online

ABRSM: Postal mail (as of 2017)


Exam Dates

CM & Piano Festivals: You know the exact date of the exam BEFORE you sign up.  No make-ups or refunds (except high school students).  Always on a weekend.

RCM: You know the exact date AND time BEFORE you sign up.  Typically on weekends, although weekday options available.

ABRSM: You are given a 3-month time span in which the exam could be, and you don't know the exact date until AFTER you sign up.  It is also always on weekdays (evaluator is flown in from GB, and it is their work policy to not work on weekends).



CM, RCM, Piano Festivals: Levels Prep-10 (relatively interchangeable)

ABRSM: Levels Prep-8 (requirements relatively close to CM & RCM)



With the exception of Piano Auditions, they are all relatively equal in the sense that only those who are most prepared will get the highest marks, yet only those who are extremely unprepared will not pass.


Theory Requirement

CM: Required at ALL levels (can be exempt after passing out of Level 10) and is taken with the practical/playing exam.

RCM: Highly recommended, but not required.  Separate from practical/playing exam.

ABRSM: Level 5 Theory is required for practical/playing Level 6 exam and higher.  

Piano Festivals: None.


Memory Requirements

CM & Piano Festivals: Two pieces must be memorized at all levels.

RCM: Memorization not required, but points awarded for memorization of pieces.

ABRSM: Memorization not required and does not affect your score either way.


Repertoire Requirements

ABRSM has less and often clumps baroque and classical music together.


Repertoire Flexibility

CM, RCM, Piano Festivals: Very flexible, many substitution options, so teachers and students can choose what they enjoy.

ABRSM: Very limited, can only choose from about a dozen choices (perhaps for consistency among evaluators).


Technical Requirements

Must be memorized for all exams.

CM: A very specific set required for each level.  For better or for worse, essentially a "memorize and play" packet.

RCM: Students are asked to prepare a large amount and will be tested at random on certain ones.

ABRSM: Similar to RCM, but much heavier in the scales section (must know all keys by Level 5).

Piano Festivals: N/A


Ear Training Requirements

Required for all except Piano Auditions.

CM: Multiple choice and taken with theory exam.  Relatively easy.

RCM: Much more comprehensive.

ABRSM: Much more comprehensive, including sight-singing.

Piano Festivals: N/A


Sight Reading Requirements

Required for all except Piano Auditions.

CM & RCM: You are not allowed to play or "try it out" before performing.

ABRSM: You have a few seconds to "try it out" before performing.

Piano Auditions: None.


Facilities / Warm-Up

CM: Due to sheer volume of students, warm-up rooms are not available and exam could be on an upright piano.

RCM & ABRSM: Typically one examiner per location, so exam is usually on a grand piano, and warm-up rooms are available.


Scoring / Honors

CM has branch honors and convention performing.

RCM has pass, honors, first class honors, and first class honors with distinction.

ABRSM has pass, merit, and distinction.

Piano Festivals: Those who score a "5" are eligible to perform in the Northern Festival.



CM and Piano Auditions are cheaper because teachers have to volunteer.  But the quality of all exams is very high.


Results Turnaround

CM: Results posted online in 2-3 weeks.  Comments and certificates available a few weeks later.

RCM: Results and comments take 2-4 weeks to post online.  Certificates take a few months to arrive.

ABRSM: Results, comments, and certificates take a couple of weeks to arrive in your online portal.

Piano Festivals: Results and comments received in 1 week.






Anchor 1
bottom of page