Graded exams complement other qualifications such as GCSE, A-level and School Leaving Certificates. Whilst these generally contain some assessment of practical skills including performing, devising or improvising, the nature of the examination is significantly different from that in the grades. Graded exams do not permit more than one performance of a set work, whereas some other types of qualifications allow for numerous performances followed by the opportunity to select the best ‘take’ for assessment through the use of, for example, recordings. The grades therefore have a higher degree of criticality built into their design, more closely mirroring performance in the ‘real world’.
Graded exams are designed to provide maximum positive feedback on learning while not defining either resources or teaching methods too prescriptively. Preparatory work on material and rehearsal encourage collaborative group activity, where appropriate, whilst examination content adds depth to candidates’ practical studies, introducing them to a wider range of repertoire.
Because they grew from a common structure and were developed along similar lines, graded exams in music, dance and drama offered by the various Awarding Organisations are broadly similar. For example, most require candidates to perform set works. However, there are some differences which allow teachers to choose not only between various subjects offered by Awarding Organisations but between assessment systems which are distinctive in terms of their focus on specific disciplines, genres and, in some cases, preferred teaching methodologies.