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Candidates with other specific difficulties

These guidelines contain information for candidates with a range of specific needs including physical disabilities, neurological conditions and other health problems.

We also have guidelines for:

ABRSM examines a number of candidates with a wide range of specific needs every year. Because their needs differ, we treat each person individually. The examples below are therefore not exhaustive but simply intended to illustrate the types of support we can consider.

We are always happy to discuss your specific requirements and will do what we can to ensure you are able to access your chosen exam. It is important to understand, however, that while we are able to make provisions for the administration of the exam, e.g. extra time or alternative tests, we are not able to make any concessions in the marking – all candidates will be assessed equally.

Before reading these guidelines we recommend you also read our general information for candidates with specific needs.

Before entering an exam

You should review the information in these guidelines before making an exam entry. It is not always possible to enter full details of your specific needs on the exam entry form. If this is the case, please contact the access coordinator to discuss what arrangements may be suitable. It is important that you do this as early as possible and no later than the published exam entry deadline.

Entering for an exam

Please ensure you either select the most relevant access code on the entry form or contact the access coordinator in advance of making your exam entry. You can see a list of the available access codes on our specific needs page.

It is important that you do this for each exam even if you have requested access arrangements or reasonable adjustments previously. If none of the access codes cover your specific needs or you have further questions, please contact the access coordinator as early as possible.

Please note that ABRSM cannot guarantee to provide reasonable adjustments where we are notified after the published closing date.

Supporting evidence

In order to grant reasonable adjustments, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence. Please review the requirements for supporting evidence in our general information for candidates with specific needs.

Your personal and sensitive data

ABRSM is aware that candidates with specific needs may need to disclose information that is personal and sensitive. To know how we handle your information, please read our privacy policy and information for candidates with specific needs.

General access arrangements

Order of the exam

You may wish to consider altering the order of the exam. You may notify the examiner on the day of your preferred order provided that it is logistically feasible – for example, it is better that elements requiring an accompanist are adjacent to cause minimum disruption to both candidate and examiner.

Passing information to the examiner

We are always happy to pass information to the examiner about your specific needs or anything that may impact on the exam. Examiners always appreciate having this type of information in order to be sensitive during the exam and in written comments on the mark form.

If you wish to supply information in relation to your specific needs, please contact the access coordinator as soon as possible.

Written comments

Marks will always reflect the standard of your performance. However, examiners will aim to avoid comments that may draw undue attention to your specific needs and any access arrangements.

Exam centre access

Please inform us on entry if you anticipate problems with physical access to the exam centre. We will then contact you to discuss your requirements, and will advise you on the most appropriate local exam centre.

It may be possible to arrange a visit to the exam centre prior to your exam. Please see the map of ABRSM centres for further details.

Candidates with arthritis including trigger finger

Candidates tend to find that arthritis affects their playing mainly in the scales and any faster pieces.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to rest between pieces or scales
  • Finally, if stamina is an issue, you might like to consider altering the order of the exam to start with the part you find most strenuous or painful

Candidates with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)

Candidates with EDS tend to find that stamina is the biggest challenge, especially at the higher grades.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to use as rest breaks as required
  • You might like to consider altering the order of the exam to start with the part you find most strenuous
  • We can also provide a chair and you are welcome to take your exam seated if this is helpful

Candidates with hypermobility and focal dystonias

Candidates with hypermobility or focal distonias often find that the repetitive movements involved with playing an instrument can cause pain in joints and muscles.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to use as rest breaks as required
  • You might like to consider altering the order of the exam to start with the part you find most strenuous
  • We can also provide a chair and you are welcome to take your exam seated if this is helpful

Candidates with generalised anxiety disorder

We examine a number of candidates who have anxiety disorders. Our examiners are aware of the stress and nerves that all candidates experience before an exam and how these may be felt more acutely by candidates who have an anxiety disorder.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to use as necessary during the exam

Candidates with ADD or ADHD

Attention deficit (and hyperactivity) disorder can affect candidates in different ways at different times.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to use as required
  • We can include extra time for the sight-reading test where the supporting evidence indicates this is appropriate
  • We can allow a chaperone to accompany you into the exam if this would be helpful
  • We can ask the examiner to close any blinds or close the windows if extraneous noise may be a distraction

You may find it helpful to arrange a visit to the exam centre if it is an unfamiliar venue. 

You are welcome to request an exam appointment at the beginning or end of the day at a time when there are likely to be fewer candidates in the waiting area. To do this, please email [email protected] as soon as possible after you receive your exam appointment and we shall do our best to help.

Candidates with auditory processing difficulties

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to use as required
  • The examiner will be happy to repeat instructions, break down instructions into smaller chunks and leave time for you to process your responses
  • We can ask the examiner to close any blinds or close the windows if extraneous noise may be a distraction

You are welcome to request an exam appointment at the beginning or end of the day at a time when there are likely to be fewer candidates in the waiting area. To do this, please email [email protected] as soon as possible after you receive your exam appointment and we shall do our best to help.

You may wish to consider some noise-cancelling headphones for use in the waiting area to minimise extraneous noise.

Candidates with epilepsy including juvenile absence seizures

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time to allow for any absences during the exam
  • If an absence occurs during the exam, the examiner will give you time to recover and, if necessary, retake the section of the exam

Candidates with stammers and tics including Tourette’s syndrome

Stammers and tics are often exacerbated at times of heightened stress or anxiety, and examiners will be aware of this and are advised to make no reference to the tics.

What we can do

We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner

Candidates with physical disabilities affecting fingers and hands

We have examined a significant number of candidates at the lower grades who either do not have a right or left hand, or who are missing one or more fingers on one or both of their hands. We have also heard from candidates who have conditions such as syndactyly, which can limit their finger mobility.

Each individual person and their particular disability will be different, and while for some candidates Grade 1 will be the highest level they can attain, others may be able to progress to further exams.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We shall consider any minor alterations to the music that make it possible for you to play the given repertoire as long as the overall effect is not substantially altered – examples of adaptations that we have considered include playing a note (or notes) in a different octave, spreading a chord or leaving out some notes in a chord
  • We can provide a sight-reading test on a separate piece of paper so that you can make notes for fingering during the preparation time
  • If a point is reached where it is not possible to play the syllabus repertoire at the required speed or with the right legato effect, it is possible to enter for the Performance Assessment instead

ME and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)

We are aware that candidates with ME or CFS can have difficulty sustaining their performance for the full duration of the exam and experience a degree of cognitive dysfunction, which may impact on concentration and short-term memory. We have amended our support for candidates with ME and CFS in consultation with the ME Association.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to take rest breaks at any point during the exam
  • Of these five minutes, you may use up to three minutes to study the sight-reading test – you may consider how you wish to divide the extra time before communicating this to ABRSM when you enter the exam

Supporting evidence for this reasonable adjustment is required. You are welcome to request an exam appointment in the morning or afternoon according to your preferences – to do this, please email [email protected] as soon as possible after you receive your exam appointment and we shall do our best to help.

Cerebral palsy

We have examined a small but significant number of candidates with cerebral palsy and have suggested changes to the administration of the exam to provide greater access.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • You are welcome to bring someone with you to assist with mobility, both in entering and leaving the exam room, and throughout the exam if needed – you will need to inform ABRSM in advance in this case 
  • We can add five minutes of extra time for you to take rest breaks at any point during the exam
  • Some piano players may appreciate a chair with a back rather than a stool – if we are informed in advance we will do our best to provide this, although we cannot guarantee that it will be height-adjustable, so it may be best to bring the chair you normally use to the exam

Pedalling difficulties for pianists

Some piano candidates find that they are not able to use the pedals for various reasons, such as height, limited mobility, limb deficiency or amputation. With careful repertoire selection this should not be an issue until around Grade 5, where pedalling is expected. From this point on it will become increasingly difficult to communicate the composer’s intentions without use of the pedal.

What we can do

  • We can pass on any information you supply to the examiner
  • We can assist with information on pedal extensions and adaptations that may allow a candidate to operate the pedal with some other part of the body – we are happy to consider the use of any such adaptation as long as it is easily portable and easily fitted, and if this is not the case we will happily discuss alternative arrangements
  • As most pedal adaptations are designed to work with electronic keyboards rather than pianos, we are happy to consider arrangements for you to take the exam on an electronic keyboard

Selective mutism and elective mutism

If you are unable to speak or sing during the aural test section of the exam we have established guidelines for adapting the aural tests. Below is an outline of each grade and what arrangements may be put in place. For tests 4B and 5B the written scale mentioned will be provided by the examiner. An example of this may be obtained by contacting the access coordinator.

Alternate guidelines

Grade 1

  • Test 1A – Clap along and then hold up fingers to indicate the time 
  • Test 1B – play the echoes back on your chosen instrument, and the examiner will give the key chord, starting note and pulse at the beginning 
  • Test 1C – either clap the first-time rhythm followed by the second-time rhythm to indicate you have heard the difference, or alternatively, you may write answers down 
  • Test 1D - use a prepared list of phrases and terms (‘beginning’, ‘end’, ‘loud’, ‘soft’, ‘sudden’, ‘gradual’, ‘smooth’, ‘detached’) to communicate the answer, or write the answer down

Grade 2

  • Test 2A – clap back the rhythm and then hold up fingers to indicate the time
  • Test 2B - play the echoes back on your chosen instrument, and the examiner will give the key chord, starting note and pulse at the beginning
  • Test 2C – use a prepared list of words, indicating first whether the change was rhythmic or melodic and then explaining accordingly. Alternatively you may write the answer down
  • Test 2D – use a prepared list of phrases and terms (‘beginning’, ‘middle’, ‘end’, ‘loud’, ‘soft’, ‘sudden’, ‘gradual’, ‘smooth’, ‘detached’, ‘changed’, ‘same’) to communicate the answer, or write the answer down

Grade 3

  • Test 3A – clap back the rhythm and then hold up fingers to indicate the time
  • Test 3B - play the echoes back on your chosen instrument, and the examiner will give the key chord, starting note and pulse at the beginning
  • Test 3C – use a prepared list of words, indicating first whether the change was rhythmic or melodic and then explaining accordingly; alternatively you may write the answer down
  • Test 3D – use a prepared list of phrases and terms (‘beginning’, ‘middle’, ‘end’, ‘loud’, ‘soft’, ‘sudden’, ‘gradual’, ‘smooth’, ‘detached’, ‘changed’, ‘same’, ‘major’, ‘minor’) to communicate the answer, or write the answer down

Grade 4

  • Test 4A – play the fragments back on your chosen instrument 
  • Test 4B – the scale of the test is written out ascending and descending from the key note; the examiner gives the key note then plays a note and asks the student to point to the correct note on the given scale sheet 
  • Test 4C(i) – you will need to write down their answers 
  • Test 4C(ii) – you can clap the rhythm and then hold up your fingers to indicate if it is in 2, 3 or 4 time

Grade 5 

  • Test 5A – play the fragments back on your chosen instrument
  • Test 5B – the examiner will play and name the key chord and starting not, the scale of the test is written out ascending from the key note and descending; the examiner gives the key note then plays a note and asks the student to point to the correct note on the given scale sheet 
  • Test 5C(i) – you will need to write down your answers 
  • Test 5C(ii) – you can clap the rhythm and then hold up your fingers to indicate if it is in 2, 3 or 4 time

Grade 6

  • Test 6A – play the lower part back on your chosen instrument
  • Test 6B – you will transcribe the upper melodic line that would normally be sung; the first and last notes are given, the test will be played by the examiner three times, and the test will be four bars in length in treble or bass clef 
  • Test 6C – hold up your fingers to indicate a perfect or imperfect cadence 
  • Test 6D(i) – you may write down your answers 
  • Test 6D(ii) – you can clap the rhythm and then hold up your fingers to indicate if it is in 2,3 or 4 time

Grade 7

  • Test 7A – play the lower part back on your chosen instrument
  • Test 7B – you will transcribe the lower melodic line that would normally be sung; the first and last notes are given, the test will be played by the examiner four times, and it will be up to five bars in length in either the treble or bass clef 
  • Test 7C(i) – you will hold up your fingers to indicate a perfect, imperfect or interrupted cadence 
  • Test 7C(ii) – you may write down your answers 
  • Test 7C(iii) – you may write down your answers 
  • Test 7D(i) – you may write down their answers 
  • Test 7D(ii) – you can clap the rhythm and then hold up your fingers to indicate if it is in 2,3,4 or 6 time

Grade 8

  • Test 8A(i) - play the lower part back on your chosen instrument 
  • Test 8A(ii) – you may write down their answers 
  • Test 8A(iii) – you may write down their answers 
  • Test 8B – you will transcribe the lower melodic line that would normally be sung; the first and last notes are given, the test will be played four times by the examiner, and it will be up to eight bars in length in the bass clef 
  • Test 8C – you may write down your answers 
  • Test 8D – you may write down your answers
 

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