Rethinking Piano Exams Part 2: The Three Month Piano Exam Preparation Process

How long does the piano exam preparation process take in your studio? From start to finish – how long do your students spend working towards an exam?

Rethinking Piano Exams Part 2 The Three Month Piano Exam Preparation Process2

Rethinking Piano Exams Part 2 The Three Month Piano Exam Preparation Process3

For many years, my students would spend 6 or up to 9 (!) months working on exam repertoire and scale requirements. I would tell myself that we would do other stuff at the same time…but the truth is the exam preparation really took over everything for half a year.

That is until about 5 years ago when I returned to teaching after a break and started to rethink piano exams.

  • When are they beneficial?
  • When is a student ready?
  • How much of our lesson time should be dedicated to them?

I answered the first two questions last week in part 1, and this week I’m going to dive into how I’ve brought in my 3 month piano exam rule.

The 3 Month Piano Exam

The idea is really extremely simple: no student can start to prepare for an exam unless they’ll be able to sit the exam in about 3 months.

But when I tell my little rule to teachers in exam-focused countries like Ireland, UK, Australia and Canada…they’re pretty shocked.

And I get it.

I would have been bamboozled by how this could work a few years ago.


The key here is what I’m not saying. I do not have some revolutionary way to get students ready for an exam within 3 months.

This is much more about the assessment of readiness than it is about the piano exam preparation. If I can not foresee them being ready in 3 months – practising at the same rate they are right now – then an exam is not on the cards.

Bearing that in mind, it obviously also requires some well-planned preparation, once we’ve established that the student is in fact ready.

My Piano Exam Preparation Process

Use this piano exam preparation planner with your student in a lesson. DO NOT fill it in and then present it to them – they must be involved in the process.

Download the Exam Prep Planner

Start at the End

Print out the exam preparation planner (download above).

Then begin by filling in the exam date (or the earliest possible date if you’re given a range) at the bottom of the sheet.

You can then keep this in mind as you set small goals along the way.

Benchmarks and Check-ins

Now you need to fill in the details.

  • When should they have mastered all the scales?
  • How many sight reading exercises should they have finished before week 8?
  • When are you going to do a mock exam?
  • When will they do a trial performance of the pieces for their family?

Refer to this plan regularly so that you both know what mini-assessments and benchmarks are coming up next.


Not only will this process keep your students on track, they’ll also learn a ton about time management and effective practice.

Will you consider bringing in a 3 month exam rule?

Do you think this might be helpful in your studio? Do you need any more details about how it could work?

I’d be happy to answer your questions or chat about this idea some more in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group or in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Rethinking Piano Exams Part 2: The Three Month Piano Exam Preparation Process”

  1. Hi Nicola! I had a question: during the 3-month preparation period, are you also working on “other stuff”, or do you focus on exam material?

  2. Hi, Nicola,

    Thank you for this article. This is very helpful especially with we are dealing with “pushy” parents who are so exam-focused.
    A quick question: does this apply for higher grades (eg. grade 5-8), too? Thanks Nicola.


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