Should we observe repeats in RCM pieces?

A common question asked by students preparing for their RCM exams is whether or not repeat signs or other similar markings should be observed or ignored. This is precisely the question we are going to answer once and for all in this article, so that you are confident knowing that you are preparing for your exam in the right way. The information here refers to both Repertoire and Etudes pieces and holds true for all instruments, not just piano. So let’s get started!
Sources: RCM Practical Examinations Syllabus (2021), RCM Piano Syllabus (2022)

Repeat Signs

repeat sign
repeat sign
Repeat signs in Repertoire and Etudes should be ignored unless stated otherwise.

Whenever repeat signs are to be observed, the instructions for this will be written at the very bottom of the first page of the piece of music you are preparing. See below for an example.

rcm repeat instructions example
Source: RCM Level 2 Piano Repertoire (2015), "Turkish Bazaar" (p.30)
At higher levels such as the Associate Diploma (ARCT) or Licentiate Diploma (LRCM), the RCM states that “repeats may be observed at the candidate’s discretion, within the allotted time” (RCM Piano Syllabus, 2022).

Da Capo & Dal Segno Signs

da capo al coda sign
da capo al fine sign
dal segno al coda sign
del segno al fine
dal segno al fine sign
Da Capo signs in Repertoire and Etudes should be observed unless stated otherwise.
In practice, you will almost always be observing Da Capo and Dal Segno signs in your pieces for examinations. It is very rare to find examples where RCM tells us not to observe them. One such rare example is illustrated below.
Source: RCM Level 9 Piano Etudes (2022), "Atraente" (p.16)


The general motivation behind guidelines such as ignoring repeat signs is essentially to save time during examinations. By saving time, RCM is also probably able to accommodate more students on a given day. Also, repeating a musical passage can be seen as superfluous on an exam since the examiner has already heard it once and was able to evaluate it the first time around.

While observing repeat signs may hardly be felt in beginner pieces, it becomes much more noticeable with higher RCM Levels, where pieces themselves get longer and more difficult, therefore extending your exam time quite a bit. So do your best to follow the RCM guidelines as much as possible!