Ten Tips for A-Level Appraising Exams

Ten Tips for A-Level Appraising Exams

The A-Level Appraising Exam is 2 hours long and carries 40% of the overall A-Level Mark. In this blog I am going to look at Ten Tips for A-Level Appraising Exams, with a focus on the Edexcel A-Level. But there is likely to be an overlap with other exam boards I am sure.

Ten Tips for A-Level Appraising Exams

  1. Make sure that you use the time you have. Don’t run out and don’t finish early. Prepare for this by practising writing under exam conditions – particularly Question 5 & 6. You want to leave enough time for every question. The other key thing for the Edexcel exam is to move on when you are not sure or you can’t work something out. You get control over the listening tracks, so don’t spend too long on questions 1-4 by mistake.
  2. There is a choice of 3 essays so choose the one that you know the most about. Sometimes your gut reaction isn’t always the best so do a mini-plan for each of the questions. Give your mind a chance to run through each of the set works and see what you can recall for each one.
  3. The dictation question in any exam is always about ascertaining the rhythm and the melody. Start with the rhythm counting how many actual notes are used. Put a dot on the page for every note you hear and then start to turn dots into rhythm. This will then set you up for adding the melody. Listen for key intervals and the repetition of previous material. Think about scales and arpeggios and see if you can spot any. Allow enough time for dictation but don’t hang around on it for too long.
  4. Use the method of “Mental Multiple Choice”. By this I mean, if you get a question that asks you to describe the Harmony or Melody, then think about all the possible options. If it is asking for a harmonic device for example, create a mental multiple choice list so that you hopefully select the correct answer and don’t over look any key terms.
  5. Look at the number of marks available and make sure that you fit your answer to that. If a question is asking for a chord and there are two marks then you are likely to need more than just A, D, E etc. Often the examiner is wanting A7, D7, E7 etc. For longer answer questions it will often be a mark for each point.
  6. When comparing and contrasting make sure you do just that. For example if you are commenting on the tempo of two sections make sure you say, the first phase is faster than the second phrase/the second phrase is slower than the first phrase. Full sentences are required to get all the marks and there are lots of examples in the mark schemes.
  7. When tackling the Edexcel A-Level Question 5 make sure you cover as many elements of music as possible in your response. Having said that, make sure that you link them effectively to the question and ensure that they explain the question.
  8. Wider Listening is an absolutely essential commodity in the exam essays. Include examples of set works or any other piece of music that is relevant. At the start of the exam just remind yourself that you simply have to include Wider Listening in order to be successful. These reminders are crucial at the start of the exam as they remind you exactly what you are going to do.
  9. When answering longer answer questions and essays, the examiner wants to see you using key terms. This will help to explain the music and describe what is going on. Always ensure you say WHY something is happening and link this to the context. When you look at the question headings, you will see what area of study the question is linked to. At this moment, think back to the contexts that you studied for that area of study and the lines of argument.
  10. Sometimes less is more, and waffle is never a good thing. Make sure that they essay questions are well answered and that you cover all of the key points. It is important that you think over all the essays you completed during the A-Level course. The essays are basically an evaluation of a piece of music where you suggest how the composer created the sound they created and fulfilled the objective behind the music. Include as many key terms as possible and qualify every point with Wider Listening.


There is so much to think about in an exam. The overriding tip is to stay calm and just pace yourself carefully through the exam. Once the revision is done it all comes down to time management and planning. There is no room for Panic!

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