RCM Exams: Your Complete Guide

April/May 2020 update: if your exam was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, RCM has made special arrangements for you to be able to do it online. Please see this link for instructions on how to do this.This page is constantly updated by RCM.

WHAT IS AN RCM EXAM?

RCM stands for Royal Conservatory of Music, which was founded in Toronto, Canada in 1886 and prides itself on being one of the largest and most respected music-education institutions in the world. RCM offers a variety of exams as part of its popular “Certificate Program”. These exams evaluate students’ proficiency on a musical instrument or knowledge of music-related concepts and topics. Students who successfully pass their exams receive an official certificate recognizing their achievement. RCM certificates are well-regarded and widely-recognized as being an objective and reliable measure of a student’s musical proficiency. According to RCM, more than 100,000 of their exams are taken every year across North America.

royal conservatory logo
Official logo of the RCM
royal conservatory building
The RCM building at 273 Bloor St. West, Toronto, Canada

TYPES OF RCM EXAMS

PRACTICAL EXAMS

rcm exams - practicalPractical exams are mostly about your ability and expertise on your instrument. They take place in an examination room and are generally made up of four parts: “repertoire”, “technical requirements”, “ear tests” and “sight reading”.

1. Repertoire – for this part, students are required to perform a set number of musical pieces, each representing a different style and musical period. Each piece can be chosen from a wide selection of options that RCM provides. The higher the student’s level, the more pieces they must perform and the bigger their complexity. This is the longest part of the exam.

2. Technical Requirements – designed to complement the demands of the repertoire, this part is sub-divided into “technical tests” and “etudes”. Technical tests are things like scales, chords, and arpeggios, which are meant to develop students’ technical prowess and finger dexterity. Etudes are shorter musical pieces designed to develop a specific technical skill within a musical context.

3. Ear Tests – this part of the practical exam involves almost no playing on the part of the student. Instead, the the student is asked to listen to and correctly identify things like intervals, chord qualities, and chord progressions, which are played by the examiner. Students are also required to listen to a short melody and then play it back to the examiner.

4. Sight Reading – this is where students are given a musical excerpt that they have (hopefully) never encountered before. After clapping the rhythm of a short passage from this excerpt, they must play the whole excerpt. As a general rule, the difficulty level of the sight-reading excerpt is 3 levels below the level for which you are doing the exam. E.g. For a level 6 exam, the sight-reading excerpt will be comparable in difficulty to RCM level 3. 

WRITTEN EXAMS

These exams take place in arcm exams - written classroom setting with a supervisor. The most common written exams are “theory”, “history”, and “harmony”.

1. Theory – these exams test students’ knowledge of the building blocks of music and include topics such as major and minor scales, chords, intervals, rhythm, transposition, etc.

2. History – as the name suggests, history exams test students’ knowledge of important dates, musical eras and developments associated with each one, biographical information of well-known composers, etc. Expect to do plenty of memorizing here.

3. Harmony – harmony is what happens when many sounds come together. On this exam, students are tested on their knowledge of concepts such as counterpoint, chord progressions, harmonization, cadences, modulations, phrase structures, compositional techniques, and more.

LIST OF RCM EXAMS

PRACTICAL EXAMS

Note: exams and exam names might differ from instrument to instrument. For purposes of demonstration, the following list is for piano. To see a list of practical exams for other instruments, download the appropriate syllabus from the RCM website by clicking here

* Preparatory A
* Preparatory B
* Level 1
* Level 2
* Level 3
* Level 4
* Level 5
* Level 6
* Level 7
* Level 8
* Level 9
* Level 10
* Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance
* Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Pedagogy
* Licentiate Diploma (LRCM) in Piano Performance


Source: RCM Piano Syllabus, 2015 Edition

WRITTEN EXAMS

Note: this list only includes exams that are part of the “Celebrate Theory” book series (and are also the most popular). You can find more exams in the “RCM Exam Fees” section. Keep in mind that Preparatory to Level 4 theory levels are not tested with formal examinations.

* Level 5 Theory
* Level 6 Theory
* Level 7 Theory
* Level 8 Theory
* Level 9 Harmony
* Level 9 History
* Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint
* Level 10 History
* ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint
* ARCT History
* ARCT Analysis

Source: RCM Theory Syllabus, 2016 Edition

HOW LONG ARE RCM EXAMS?

white clock

PRACTICAL EXAMS

RCM does not specify exact length for its practical exams, but they generally go anywhere from 15 minutes for beginner levels to over 1 hour for the advanced levels.

WRITTEN EXAMS

Written exams have time limits and students must finish their exam within the allotted time.

EXAM NAME

LENGTH

Level 5 Theory

1 hour

Level 6 Theory

2 hours

Level 7 Theory

2 hours

Level 8 Theory

2 hours

Level 9 Harmony

3 hours

Level 9 History

3 hours

Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint

3 hours

Level 10 History

3 hours

ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint

3 hours

ARCT History

3 hours

ARCT Analysis

3 hours

RCM EXAM DATES

April/May 2020 update: if your exam was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, RCM has made special arrangements for you to be able to do it online. Please see this link for instructions on how to do this.This page is constantly updated by RCM.

RCM exams take place in four sessions throughout the year:

*December/January Session

*April Session (select locations only)

*May/June Session
*August Session

calendar

2020/2021 RCM EXAM DATES (Canada)

For US dates, click here

Note: due to Covid-19, the RCM is currently doing all exams remotely. Because of this, the registration dates and deadlines have also been affected. At this point, students can register for an exam at any time for any of the available dates, up to 3 months in advance.

AUGUST
SESSION
(2020)

Registration Deadline:

session finished

Theory Exams:

session finished

Practical Exams:

session finished

DECEMBER/
JANUARY 
SESSION 

(2020/2021)

Registration Opens:

session finished

Registration Deadline:

session finished

Theory Exams:

session finished

Practical (remote) Exams:

session finished

APRIL 
SESSION
(piano only)
(2021)

Registration Opens:

ongoing registration (no deadline)

Registration Deadline:

ongoing registration (no deadline)

Theory Exams:

remote exams only

Practical Exams:

remote exams only

MAY/JUNE
SESSION
(2021)

Registration Opens:

ongoing registration (no deadline)

Registration Deadline:

April 20 (adv. theory only)

Theory Exams:

May 14 & 15 (advanced theory)

Practical Exams:

remote exams only

Source: The Royal Conservatory

RCM EXAM FEES

PRACTICAL EXAM FEES

*All fees are in Canadian dollars. For US fees, click here.
*Fees are not subject to tax
*Fees are up to date as of March 2020

PRACTICAL EXAMS

FEE

Preparatory (non-piano)

$60

Preparatory A

$60

Preparatory B

$60

Level 1

$99

Level 2

$120

Level 3

$145

Level 4

$155

Level 5

$168

Level 6

$179

Level 7

$188

Level 8

$237

Level 9

$270

Level 10

$431

Level 10 Split: Repertoire Only

$301

Level 10 Split: Technique, Ear Tests, and Sight Reading

$301

Level 10 Split: Technique, Orchestral Excerpts, Ear Tests, and Sight Reading

$302

ARCT – Performance

$740

ARCT – Teaching (non-piano)

$730

ARCT – Teaching Part 1 (non-piano)

$460

ARCT – Teaching Part 2 (non-piano)

$460

Elementary Piano Pedagogy

$377

Intermediate Piano Pedagogy

$396

Advanced Piano Pedagogy

$505

Advanced Piano Pedagogy Viva Voce

$505

Licentiate – Piano Performance

$889

Level 9 Keyboard Harmony

$180

Level 10 Keyboard Harmony

$205

ARCT Keyboard Harmony

$245

Source: The Royal Conservatory

WRITTEN EXAM FEES

*All fees are in Canadian dollars. For US fees, click here.
*Fees are not subject to tax
*Fees are up to date as of March 2020

WRITTEN EXAMS

FEE

Level 5 Theory

$125

Level 6 Theory

$135

Level 7 Theory

$145

Level 8 Theory

$155

Level 9 Harmony & Counterpoint

$180

Level 9 History

$180

Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint

$203

Level 10 History

$203

ARCT in Composition & Theory

$870

ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint

$250

ARCT Analysis

$250

ARCT History

$250

ARCT Teaching Written

$250

Elementary Piano Pedagogy Written

$170

Intermediate Piano Pedagogy Written

$191

Advanced Piano Pedagogy Written

$250

Academic Qualifying Exam

$850

Aural Skills

$240

Baroque Harmony & Counterpoint 1

$240

Baroque Harmony & Counterpoint 2

$240

Classical Harmony & Counterpoint

$240

Counterpoint

$240

Music History after 1900

$240

Music History up to 1900

$240

Orchestration 1

$240

Orchestration 2

$240

Post-1900 Composition Techniques

$240

Source: The Royal Conservatory

CAN I GET A REFUND FOR MY RCM EXAM?

RCM is pretty strict when it comes to refunds. After you register and pay for your exam, the only way to get a refund is if you have a medical emergency or a time conflict with a regular school exam. In both cases, you must provide an official, signed letter from either a doctor or a school official. 

For the refund form or more detailed information on the refund policy, download this pdf published by the RCM.

HOW ARE RCM EXAMS MARKED?

PRACTICAL EXAMS

teacher marking examsMark breakdowns for each section can differ depending on the instrument (and exam type), but Repertoire is by far the most important part across all instruments, worth at least 50% of the total exam mark.

To give you an idea of how a typical RCM exam is broken down, here is an example from a Grade 5 piano exam (piano being the most popular instrument among exam takers).

rcm exams - mark breakdown

Repertoire: students are required to perform a total of 3 pieces and can earn 2 extra marks per piece if they have it memorized. A maximum of 56 marks can be earned for this section.

Technical Requirements:  includes technical tests and two etudes. Note that no memory marks are given for the etudes, which means students can have their sheet music in front of them while playing if they wish. A maximum of 24 marks are given for this section.

Ear Tests and Sight Reading: fall under the “Musicianship” component of the test and are worth 10 marks each, for a combined total of 20.

The test is out of 100, with 60 being the passing grade.

To view exact exam requirements and mark breakdown for your instrument or level, you can download the appropriate syllabus straight from the RCM website using this link.

WRITTEN EXAMS

Here is an example of one of my past exams, which is equivalent to what is today “Level 6 Theory” (yes, I was a theory nerd).

As we can see, the mark is out of 100, with 10 marks given for each of the topics on the left.

Keep in mind that topics/questions might be different depending on which theory level test you are writing.

The passing grade is 60.

rcm exams - results

CLASSIFICATION OF EXAM MARKS

FIRST CLASS HONORS WITH DISTINCTION: 90-100
FIRST CLASS HONORS: 80-89
HONORS: 70-79
PASS: 60-69
FAIL: 0-59

Source: The Royal Conservatory

WHEN ARE RCM EXAM RESULTS POSTED?

PRACTICAL & WRITTEN EXAMS

Marks:
1-2 weeks after the examination

Official results and examiner’s comments:
4-6 weeks after the examination

INSTRUMENTS OFFERED

instruments
Wondering if you can do an RCM exam on your instrument?

Here is a complete list of instruments on which you can currently do exams at the RCM.

* Accordion
* Bassoon
* Cello
* Clarinet
* Double bass
* Euphonium
* Flute
* Guitar
* Harp
* Harpsichord
* Horn
* Oboe
* Organ
* Percussion
* Piano
* Recorder
* Saxophone
* Speech arts and drama
* Trombone
* Trumpet
* Tuba
* Viola
* Violin
* Voice

Source: The Royal Conservatory

RCM EXAMS and HIGH SCHOOL CREDITS

High school students in Canada can earn credits with RCM exams. In Ontario, students can earn 2 out of the 30 credits required to graduate by successfully passing the RCM Gr. 7 and Gr. 8 practical exams along with their theory co-requisites. For information on other provinces, click here.

For US test takers, it is up to each state/school board to decide whether to count RCM examinations towards high school credits, so check with your school.

RCM CONTACT INFORMATION

CANADA

Phone: (416) 408-5019 or
1-800-461-6058
Fax: (416) 408-3151
Email: candidateservices@rcmusic.ca
Address: 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1W2

UNITED STATES

Phone: 1-866-716-2223
Fax: 1-866-716-2224
Email: USaccountservices@rcmusic.ca
Address: 60 Industrial Parkway, Suite 882, Cheektowaga, NY 14227-2713

* Learn exactly how RCM Piano Exams are graded: “The Ultimate RCM Piano Exam Mark Guide”

* Learn exactly how RCM Violin Exams are graded: “The Ultimate RCM Violin Exam Mark Guide”

* Shop for RCM Practical or Theory Books (delivery or free local pick-up in west Toronto)

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