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Amanuenses in ABRSM Theory exams

This page contains information for candidates, their teachers and amanuenses who are taking or assisting in an ABRSM Music Theory exam.

We advise teachers, candidates and amanuenses to read the information on this page before preparing for the exam. The guidance contained within this section was produced in consultation with the British Dyslexia Association and the Royal National institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Supporting evidence

In order to request the use of an amanuensis, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence confirming this specific need and that it is the candidate’s usual way of working.

The following types of supporting evidence may be submitted:

  • A report from an educational psychologist or other suitably qualified assessor
  • A letter from a school head teacher 
  • A letter from a school SENCO (Special Educational Needs Coordinator)
  • A letter from the disability support unit at a further or higher education establishment
  • A letter from a suitably qualified healthcare professional

Please note the following additional points:

  • The letter should be dated, on headed paper with full details of the author’s job title and contact details
  • If the letter is sent in the body of an email, the author’s job title and full contact details should be clearly given in the email signature
  • The letter should give the full name and date of birth of the candidate
  • The letter should confirm the candidate’s specific needs including, where known, details of any formal assessments that have been carried out
  • It is helpful, where possible, to provide details of reasonable adjustments that are put in place for examinations to provide a picture of the candidate’s usual way of working

Adults who may not have access to the options above should contact the access coordinator to discuss the most appropriate alternative.

Evidence submitted to JCQ for access arrangements, or confirmation from JCQ of access arrangements that have been granted, will not be considered as suitable supporting evidence. 

Please note that obtaining suitable supporting evidence can take time.

Guidance for candidates using an amanuensis

What is an amanuensis?

ABRSM use the term ‘amanuensis’ to describe someone who will either read questions aloud (a reader), write down answers (a scribe), or both.

Who can use an amanuensis?

Any candidate who is unable to access the written paper or write down their answers independently may request the use of an amanuensis.

Examples

A candidate who is visually impaired and cannot access a large print or braille paper may use an amanuensis to read the questions and write down their answers.

A candidate with specific learning difficulties may use an amanuensis to either read the questions or write their answers down, or both.

A candidate who has a physical disability or a long-term or chronic injury may use an amanuensis to write down their answers.

Entering the exam with an amanuensis

Candidates wishing to use an amanuensis should add code A to the entry form.

Who will the amanuensis be?

ABRSM does not provide amanuenses as it is the responsibility of the applicant to provide one. Anyone can act as an amanuensis as long as they meet these criteria:

The amanuensis should be musically literate, educated to at least the equivalent level of the exam being taken.

Ideally, the amanuensis should have worked with the candidate at least once before, either in music lessons or in another exam. If this is not possible, it is very important that the candidate and amanuensis have sufficient time to practice ahead of the exam.

We ask that the amanuensis is not the candidate’s music teacher or related to the candidate unless absolutely necessary.

Where will the exam take place?

As candidates using an amanuensis will need to work in a separate room, we ask that, if possible, applicants arrange a venue in the local area.

Music Theory exams may be held as a Visit at any school of general education or LEA music centre approved by ABRSM. Completion of the entry form requires the head teacher to accept responsibility for the safe custody of the papers and proper conduct of the exam. Music Theory exams cannot be held at teachers’ private studios or houses.

Applicants hosting a Visit are responsible for ensuring suitable facilities and arrangements at their own cost: an exam room, which is quiet as well as properly lit, heated and ventilated, and with tables that allow the reasonable spacing of candidates; a suitable person appointed by the head teacher to act as invigilator within the exam room for the duration of the exam in accordance with ABRSM’s instructions.

If this is not possible, we will do our best to arrange for the exam to be held in another room at the main ABRSM centre. However, this cannot be guaranteed, and when it is not possible we may have to look further afield. In this case, we will refund any travel expenses incurred.

Venue, staff and moderators

Present in the exam room will be the candidate, amanuensis and an invigilator.

From time to time, ABRSM may send a moderator to act as invigilator as part of ABRSM’s monitoring and quality assurance processes.

Who will invigilate the exam?

Candidates taking the exam in their own venue are kindly requested to arrange for an invigilator. This is usually a teacher at the school. If this is not possible, we will send somebody to invigilate.

For candidates taking their exam in a separate room at the main ABRSM centre, ABRSM will provide a second invigilator.

When will the exam take place?

The exam will take place on the same date and at the same time as all other Music Theory exams. It is therefore important that the venue is available at this time.

Will there be extra time?

The following extra time allowance will be given to candidates using an amanuensis, provided we are informed on entry:

          Grades 1–3       30 minutes        

          Grades 4–5       40 minutes                                                           

          Grades 6–8       60 minutes

The exam paper

The exam paper will be sent to the head teacher at the school hosting the exam.

Coloured and enlarged papers

Candidates who have difficulty reading from white paper may request the exam paper to be printed on coloured paper.

20 sheets in the correct colour and of the required size should be provided at the time of entry. Large print papers are available in A3 format and come as standard on white paper. Requests must be made at the time of entry each time the candidate is entered for the exam.

Results

Candidates may request their results in alternative formats, such as braille or large or modified print. To do this, please inform ABRSM at the time of entry.

Applicant’s responsibilities

  • Inform ABRSM at the time of entry that your candidate requires an amanuensis 
  • Provide ABRSM the name and address of your candidate’s amanuensis as soon as possible and no later than three weeks before the exam date
  • Ensure that information is passed on to the amanuensis, as a signed agreement is required in order that the exam be validated

Candidate’s responsibilities

  • Abide by the exam regulations

ABRSM’s responsibilities

  • Try to provide a venue and invigilator if you are not able or do not want to do so
  • Pay for any travel costs incurred should you need to travel out of your local area to a venue that we have provided
  • Provide you with results in a format that you are able to access on request

Guidance and regulations for amanuenses

Qualifications

Anyone acting as an amanuensis for an ABRSM Music Theory exam should:

  • Have worked as an amanuensis for the candidate in preparation for this, or another exam
  • Be musically literate and educated to at least the equivalent level of the exam being taken

Manner

The candidate will be aware that you are literate in music theory, and may be embarrassed about dictating answers to you. It is therefore important that you are calm, quiet, reassuring (if appropriate), and patient.

If a candidate needs you to cross out answers you may have spent some time recording, you must appear not to mind.

Do not feel uneasy if there is a lot of silence during the exam – the candidate needs space to think through questions and to consider their answers.

Preparing for the exam

Amanuenses should ensure they have read and understood the syllabus for the exam in question.

You should have worked with the candidate as their amanuensis at least once, either in music lessons or in another exam. If this is not possible, opportunities to practice with the candidate should be arranged. 

Before the exam

You should establish the following points with the candidate:

  • What is required – a reader, a scribe or both?
  • Would the candidate like to be reminded of the time at any point? At what interval(s)?

The amanuensis will be required to read and sign the Amanuensis Agreement and hand this to the invigilator before the exam begins.

During the exam

The amanuensis will:

  • Proceed according to the 'Working with your Amanuensis' material
  • Read or re-read all or any part of the question or given answer as requested by the candidate at any point during the exam
  • Write down any answers exactly as they are dictated as directed by the candidate
  • Make any corrections if requested by the candidate as directed
  • Give the spelling of any word which occurs in the theory paper if requested, but ask the candidate for spellings of any technical terms used in the candidate’s answers
  • Give the candidate a choice at the beginning of the exam as to whether they would like to be reminded of the time and at what intervals, and advise accordingly

The amanuensis will not:

  • Lead the conversation or speak unless directed by the candidate
  • Give any undue assistance in answering any of the questions
  • Give any indication of whether the candidate’s answers are right or wrong
  • Read or re-read any questions or answers unless directed by the candidate
  • Give the spelling of any word which does not appear in the Theory paper
  • Advise the candidate regarding which questions to do, when to move on to the next question or the order in which the questions should be done unless prior permission for this type of assistance has been given by the access coordinator

After the exam

The amanuensis will hand in the exam paper to the invigilator and ensure that the signed Amanuensis Agreement has been submitted.

Working with your amanuensis

Using an amanuensis requires both the candidate and amanuensis to give careful consideration to communication. The guidance below, together with the sound recording, is intended to help candidates and their amanuensis consider how they will work together in preparation for your exam.

While the examples used are taken from Grade 1 and 5 Theory papers, the methods demonstrated can be applied across all grades. This recording demonstrates the most difficult example of using an amanuensis, where the candidate requires both a reader and a scribe. Please note that answers given are not always correct – it is the process of using an amanuensis in a Music Theory exam that is being demonstrated.

Musical examples

1. Add the missing bar-lines

Music Example 1

    • For this question, well-prepared candidates would be aware that they do not need to know the pitch of the notes to work out the answer.  In this case the candidate should ask the amanuensis to read out only the rhythm. The amanuensis will, as always, follow the candidate’s instructions, so unless instructed to single out a specific aspect of the example, they will read out all of it.
 2. Writing tonic triads

Musical Example 2

3. Adding missing notes or rests

Musical Example 3

4. Context question: Identifying the loudest note

Musical Example 4

Instructions

5. Context question: Identifying middle C (see extract above)

Example Question

6. Rewriting in different time signature

Musical Example 6

7. Transposition up a perfect 5th

Musical Example 7

8. Context question: Describing chords

Musical Example 8

Question 8

  • Where an amanuensis needs to communicate a longer extract of music to a candidate, the candidate must be ready to direct the amanuensis to give them the information they need. For example, they may wish to hear the whole extract through once, and then have specific bars or sections read to them again.
9. Context question: Identifying a Ic-V progression  (see extract 8)

question 9

10. Context question: Use of tenor clef  (see extract 8)

Tips to help you

Remember to add bar lines where necessary in your answers. The amanuensis will always make it clear that there is a bar line when reading out musical examples but, when dictating your answers, you must remember to do this. The amanuensis will not automatically add them in on your behalf.

Remember to observe any sharp or flat signs that are read out, and don’t forget to apply them wherever the relevant notes occur later. The amanuensis will read notes according to their position on the stave and will not remind you of any earlier key signature or accidentals.

You may wish to have an extract read out several times, either in part or as a whole.

You should be aware that at the higher grades, musical examples can be quite long. Where amanuenses are required to read out an example, you may need to work on your memorisation skills in order to remember what is being read to you and to make sense of the extract as a whole.

 

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