Understanding Royal Conservatory Exams

One of the most prestigious musical education institutions in the entire world is undoubtedly The Royal Conservatory, responsible for developing and shaping the talents of some of the finest artists. Children can partake in the RCM’s demanding and challenging exams in order to grow their skills in preparation for a career in the arts.

However, there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to those exams, and it may seem daunting to those who are unfamiliar with the curriculum. Every student has the potential to be successful through RCM examinations. Through its well rounded and structured curriculum, it’s a surefire way to foster and develop a true appreciation for music. 


The Royal Conservatory operates on a grade system, beginning at Preparatory Levels and ending at 10, plus an ARCT level for aspiring performers and educators, which is considered the pinnacle of training. The standard approach to the RCM system involves progressive graduation through each grade level alongside a child’s regular school education, which means students can expect to finish roughly at the same time they complete high school.

Each level evaluates students on 4 main areas – Repertoire, Etudes, Technique, and Musicianship through ear training and sight reading. 

These areas each focus on a different aspect of music education, because the RCM believes in building well rounded musicians through studying stylistic elements from each musical time period (Repertoire), training finger dexterity within a musical piece (Etudes), building agility and strength (Technique), and training the ear and recognition of music note reading (Musicianship).


Throughout the level system, students will be expected to learn rudiments and music theory, as well as music history. The RCM theory curriculum coincides with the practical level system. It is recommended that each student begin their theory studies at the Preparatory Level. At Level 5, theory examinations are offered, and it is a co-requisite to the practical examinations. 

When students reach level 9, the testing system deviates into history and advanced musical theory, both of which require separate exams. Students will build up their knowledge over the years in preparation for the final leg of their training, so expect a few exams before full accreditation is achieved.


When the time comes to prepare for an exam, students will have already prepared for a substantial amount of time, to be formally evaluated by an examiner. Their training, practice and dedication will be put to the forefront, and students will be expected to demonstrate proficiency in ear and sight training, musical scales, and more. 

Students will work together with their instructors to put together a list of prepared musical choices from a provided list, and supply the examiners with these choices on the day of examination. Once that day arrives, students will be expected to play their song choices in the order given to the examiners, so they can accurately follow along and gauge their skill level. 

Exams usually take 20-30 minutes, at which point written constructive feedback and a final mark out of 100 will be provided. Students will receive a breakdown of their marks, and their feedback several weeks following the exam day.


While the actual exam may fly by at lightning speed, students will need to practice for months in order to adequately prepare for the big day. This becomes more and more important as students progress through the various grades, each one tackling more complex and intricate stylistic and technical expectations

It’s not uncommon for students to take anywhere from 3-5 months to fully prepare for the exam, and this is a good thing. Practice makes perfect, and it will carry well beyond the period of the examination. The skills and rudiments learned will stay with the student throughout their lives, which means it’s training with an innate purpose in mind. Memorization plays a big role in preparation, as does the ability to play a piece never heard before. Similarly, training the ear to detect various differences in musical notes and pitches without checking the sheet music is an integral skill that must be honed. The more practice a student puts in, the quicker it becomes second nature, and that will definitely help them during examination day.


The Royal Conservatory’s grading and exam systems are fantastic ways to forge skills, reinforce talent, and prepare students for a lifetime of musical proficiency, and appreciation. The way the grades are constructed means that students will start off learning the most basic of techniques and rudiments, before moving onto extremely complex works from history’s most renowned classical composers.

It’s a win/win for the student, regardless of what musical genre they’d like to pursue, or what field of the music and arts world they wish to get into. Better yet, this type of advanced training can open your child’s eyes to limitless musical possibilities, and allow them to express their emotions and creativity with professionalism, poise and confidence. As with all great accomplishments, that can help immensely when it comes to tackling the challenges of life with determination, positivity and open mindedness.


We offer many musical training programs at CDM Dance, including piano, guitar, violin and voice lessons, and musical theory training. If you would like to enroll your child in The Royal Conservatory, be sure to reach out to us so we can assist you with helping them get prepared for those first exciting new steps!