This article is written by Virtual Piano Academy Founder + Head Teacher, Amy Jørgensen. July 2020.

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In general, your piano exam will include all of the following:

  1. Technical Work (scales and set technical exercises)

  2. Studies and Pieces (including extra lists [which will vary depending on the grade])

  3. Ear Tests (singing, clapping and identifying musical things by listening)

  4. Sight Reading (reading a short piece you have never seen before)

  5. General Knowledge (music history and information about musical terminology in your pieces)

Note: "Piano for Leisure" candidates can choose between either Sight Reading or Ear tests!

1. Technical Work

All technical work must be presented from memory, without the music!

To find out what scales and technical exercises you need to do for your grade, you will need to purchase a "Technical Work" book (see below).

There is a "Technical Work" book for all scales and technical exercises required for Grades Preliminary to Grade 4...and then another "Technical Work" book for all scales and technical exercises required for Grades 5 to 8.

Your teacher will speak to you about which books you need when you start preparing for your exam.

2. Studies and Pieces

Every time you sit for an exam, you have to present a number of very well prepared pieces. These are called your "List Pieces". Each grade has a different number of required pieces. It will also differ depending on whether you chose to sit a Piano Comprehensive exam, or a Piano for Leisure exam.

Piano Comprehensive

Grade 1: Three contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B and C)

Grade 2: Three contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B and C) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 3: Three contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B and C) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 4: Three contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B and C) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 5: Four contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B, C and D) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 6: Four contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B, C and D) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 7: Four contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B, C and D) PLUS two Extra Pieces

Grade 8: Four contrasting pieces, one from each List (A, B, C and D). No Extra Pieces required.

Piano for Leisure

Grade 1: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 2: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 3: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 4: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 5: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 6: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 7: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

Grade 8: Three pieces (chosen from the Piano for Leisure Series Books)

What Do All the Different Lists Mean?

List A

Baroque Music (music from approx. 1600–1750)

List B

Classical Music (music from approx. 1750–1820)

List C

Romantic Music (music from approx. 1820–1900)

List D

Contemporary Music, Movie & TV themes, Jazz & Blues, etc.

The idea is that for the Comprehensive Piano Exam, you learn to play repertoire that covers an array of different musical styles, techniques and pieces throughout history. Each List has a number of different pieces of music from a certain period of music. This is important because each style and period of music presents different challenges and strengthens different musical skills.

All pieces must be drawn from the lists appropriate to your grade, and are set by the AMEB.

For Piano for Leisure exams, you are not restricted to choosing pieces in set Lists. This means you have more flexibility in your choice, but means you don't get the width and breadth of playing experience across a number of different styles and musical periods. It essentially means you will be a less versatile player.

Do I have to play my pieces from memory?

It is not a rule that you have to play your pieces from memory (without the music in front of you), but it is highly encouraged and your examiner essentially gives you "bonus" points for performing without the music!

Playing without the music does make a difference to the overall impression you give to the examiner. It is less important to memorise your Extra Pieces, but again, it would look really professional in your exam if you did!

Be sure to take all of your music into the exam, even if you're playing from memory. Your examiner may ask you to hand them your music.

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There are repeat signs everywhere! Do I need to do repeats in my exam?

Nope! Lucky you, you don't have to do repeats! You need to be familiar with how repeat signs work though, in case the examiner asks you about it for General Knowledge.

Any "da capo" signs must be observed though. ("Da capo" means go back to the start. This is different from a repeat sign!)

Pencil Marks

You are not allowed to have any pencil marks on your music in your exam. If you're making notes during your practice, ALWAYS use a pencil (NEVER a pen, permanent marker etc), as you will need to rub these off long before your exam day! We recommend rubbing your pencil marks off at least 2 weeks before your exam, so you get used to what the music looks like without all your scribble. It can feel disorienting for you if you do this close to the exam, as the music suddenly looks very different! Press lightly with your pencil when making notes, as any deep ridges caused by pressing too firmly, will be problematic on your lesson day. This is an additional stress you don't need!

You are however, allowed to leave pencil marks indicating fingering (little numbers above the notes telling you what finger to use), but otherwise, leaving pencil marks on your music for the exam is a big no no!

Metronome Marks

Metronome marks should be regarded as an approximate guide only, so don't stress if your tempo is slightly under or over what is indicated on the music. It's better to play it slightly slower and get it really great, than to speed through it and mess up!

What if the layout of my piece makes it really hard to turn pages?

It is your responsibility to ensure you can play through your pieces smoothly and without hesitation. Make sure you are comfortable turning pages during your performances (if you've decided you will not be performing from memory), or use a photocopied page if it allows you to have all 3 of your pieces laid out in front of you for example.


In general, you are not allowed to use photocopied music for an exam, unless an exception has been granted. You can use a photocopied page to assist with page-turning though. (As long as you have the original music too.)

What about downloaded music?

It's best to stay away from free downloaded music because it's usually illegal!

You will need to cross-check it with the original music, to make sure it's the same, and you also need to ensure copyright clearance.

Your teacher will advise you on which music you need to purchase when undertaking piano exams, to ensure you have all the appropriate legal copies.

Extra Lists

What are Extra Lists?

For your exam, the examiner wants to see that you've been doing more than just the same 3 or 4 pieces for the whole year, so they require that you learn a couple of extra pieces to show how great you are and how much you can do! Each grade will have a different Extra List requirement (see the list at the beginning of this article)

How many Extra Lists do I have to prepare?

In the exam, the examiner will hear just one (or even just a section of one) of your extra pieces. It really depends on what s/he feels like doing on the day! Most of the time, the examiner will specify which piece they want to hear, but sometimes they let you choose! So essentially, you have to prepare 2 Extra List pieces, even though you will only get to play one in the exam (but you don't know which one until you're in the exam!)

3. Sight Reading

This is when the examiner puts a short piece of music in front of you that you have never seen before, and you have to play it!

Don't panic! The piece is quite short (just one line for early grades) and you have roughly 1 minute to look over it before you have to play it. You are allowed to touch the keys during this time, but not actually play them so they make a sound!

You will work on sight-reading exercises during your exam preparation. Virtual Piano Academy has some neat little tricks to help you nail your sight reading, so stay tuned and let your teacher guide you with this.

4. Ear Tests

Ear / Aural Tests are small exercises (involving listening, singing/humming, clapping etc.) which help to strengthen your ability to hear beyond the surface level of music.

Being able to listen and develop a "good ear" is an important part of being a great musician.

Each grade has different Ear Tests that you will need to prepare for with your teacher.

In the exam, your examiner will first play the example on the piano, which you then respond to. The examiner will play the example twice, and you will then respond by singing or clapping back what the examiner just played.

Boys whose voices are at the "breaking stage" may respond to "pitch' tests by whistling instead of humming or singing.

5. General Knowledge

You are required to answer a few specific questions about the List Pieces you are playing (you don't have to worry about General Knowledge for Extra Pieces).

You can expect to be asked at least one question about each List Piece, with between 6 to 10 questions in total.

  • This can include questions relating to the following:

  • Title of your piece and what it means

  • Information about the composer of your piece

  • What key your piece is in (and any modulations or changes in key)

  • What all of the Italian terms in your piece mean

  • What all the musical symbols in your piece mean

  • What structure your piece is in

  • What period of music your piece of music is from

  • Ability to describe the musical characteristics normally associated with that period of music, and where these are in your particular piece

Your teacher will help you prepare for these questions in your lessons.

What is the AMEB?

In short, The AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) started in 1887 at The University of Adelaide and the University of Melbourne, emerging in 1918 as a national body.

The AMEB exists to provide a graded system of examinations in music, (assessment from the preliminary to diploma level) and is the most widely-used assessment system in the study of music in Australia. The AMEB is also the only examination body with formal links to the major Australian universities and Ministers for Education. It is internationally recognised and is one of the most rigorous and well-regarded music examinations boards in the world.

How often are exams held?

This depends on which Australian state you sit your exam in. But there are normally about 6 exam sessions per year to chose from.

The sessions are often held in the following months (but again, this will vary from state to state):

  1. March

  2. May

  3. July / August

  4. August / September

  5. October / November

  6. November / December

Please note: if you live in a rural area and can't attend an exam in a metropolitan city, you may only have 1 or 2 exam sessions available to you annually. Please consult your teacher about this.

Can I sit for an AMEB Exam if I don't live in Australia? Can I sit for my piano exam online?

You must sit for your AMEB piano exam in-person. This may change in future (let's hope so!), but for now, an in-person exam is the current requirement.

If you're preparing for an AMEB piano exam, you must sit your exam in Australia.

If you don't live in Australia, we recommend preparing for (and sitting) an ABRSM piano exam (which is very similar to AMEB, but enables you to sit your piano exam in a number of centres across the globe). Discuss this with your teacher.

What day of the week will my exam be on?

It could be scheduled on any day, including Sunday! Roughly 3–4 weeks before the exam, the AMEB will send Virtual Piano Academy the exam schedule, which will include the day and time of your exam. Once your exam has been scheduled, no changes can be made. You may need to think about which exam session you wish to enrol in and how this fits in with other commitments. Example: if you have a family holiday planned for October, it's probably best not to enrol for the October/November session. It's important you think about other exams you may have around these times (like school exams, uni exams or work-related commitments etc).

We can notify the AMEB when first submitting your enrolment if a particular date doesn't suit you (for religious reasons, school camps, overseas trips, etc), but once your application has been submitted, we are at the mercy of which day/time the AMEB schedules you. You will likely need to take a day off school/uni/work for your exam, so please allow for this when planning your annual leave days etc.

All piano exams are held in-person (not online) at an accredited AMEB location. This is different for each city.

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How long does the exam take?

The exam takes less time than you would expect! It flies by pretty quickly!

Piano Comprehensive

Grade 1: 14 minutes

Grade 2: 15 minutes

Grade 3: 20 minutes

Grade 4: 20 minutes

Grade 5: 25 minutes

Grade 6: 30 minutes

Grade 7: 40 minutes

Grade 8: 50 minutes

Piano for Leisure

Grade 1: 12 minutes

Grade 2: 14 minutes

Grade 3: 15 minutes

Grade 4: 16 minutes

Grade 5: 20 minutes

Grade 6: 25 minutes

Grade 7: 30 minutes

Grade 8: 35 minutes

What time should I get to the exam?

At least 30 minutes before your scheduled exam time. The last thing you want on your exam day is to get stuck in traffic or run late. If you don't turn up to your exam on time, they won't wait for you! You will miss your allocated exam spot, and you will need to re-apply for the next round of exams! Not what you want!

Sometimes, the student before you may not show up (probably because they are disorganised and are stuck in a traffic jam). In some cases, the examiner may ask if the next candidate is already waiting. If you're there, you might be able to go in early and get out early. Either way, it's a good idea to get there in PLENTY of time.

Bring a bottle of water with you (and take it into the exam if you need to). Make sure you have eaten something beforehand and are feeling calm, prepared and not rushed. Take the time to double-check you have all your music, all your pencil marks are 100% rubbed out and you're feeling good.

In what order will things happen in the exam?

The examiner can do whatever s/he wants on the day. As a rough guide, the exam will go in this order:

  1. Scales and Technical Work

  2. Pieces

  3. General Knowledge

  4. Sight Reading

  5. Ear Tests

What happens if I'm still not ready when its time to sit the exam?

We will not let you sit for your exam if we don't think you are ready. You will need to take our word for it. We've sat hundreds of students for exams, so we'll know if you're at a point where you are prepared and able to get a great grade.

If you start feeling like it's all just too hard and the world is crumbling around you, or other unforeseen stressors have impacted your preparation, we don't want you sitting for your exam. It's not worth it! Your health is more important, and if it's just not the right time for you to sit an exam, we recommend pulling out.

In this case, we have a few options:

  1. We can defer your exam to the next available exam session (which will cost you approx. $70).

  2. Continue your practice until you feel ready. We would then enrol you in another exam session later down the track. This will mean you need to apply for a whole new exam (we can do this on your behalf). You would forfeit your old exam fee, and have to pay the exam fee again for the new session. Each grade has a different exam fee (see below).

Virtual Piano Academy reserves the right to withdraw you from an exam you have already enrolled in if your teacher thinks you are not ready (and believes you won't achieve a very good result). In this case, the decision made by your teacher is final and non-negotiable. You will forfeit the exam fee (no refunds are given) and will be officially withdrawn from the exam. Your teacher will discuss your options for moving forward in this case.

What should I wear for my exam?

You should dress reasonably formally for your exam, but there is no dress code per se. Many students who come to their exam straight from school will simply wear their school uniform. Others make more of an effort with their attire and treat their exam as a performance!

We recommend dressing sharply, but still being comfortable. It's not a good idea to wear high heels in your exam if you've never practiced using the pedal with high heels on before! And don't wear overly long-sleeved jumpers, where the sleeve gets in the way of your fingers.

If you're not used to wearing a ring when playing, then don't suddenly wear a ring to your exam. Be practical, but look nice!

Who will be examining me?

You will be examined by a respected, professional working pianist, and receive a written examination form with a breakdown of how you went in each section of the exam (technical work, pieces, sight-reading, general knowledge, aural/ear tests etc)...and you will then receive a final, overall mark. Read this article for a breakdown of the exam marks (and what they mean).

How will I receive my exam mark?

Your exam report (and final mark) will be sent to Virtual Piano Academy (you won't get your result on your actual exam day). This takes about a week or so from the date of your exam. Once your report is received by Virtual Piano Academy, your teacher will upload a copy of your report into your Lesson Portal.

This exam report is an official report from the AMEB, and is final and non-negotiable. Once you receive your mark from the AMEB, you can not re-sit the same exam. You cannot call them to ask why you received this result. You cannot request a re-examination. If you are not happy with your result, you can enrol for the same grade in a new exam session and re-sit that Grade. However, this will require a new application, a new exam fee, a new exam date and you will have to repeat the exam process over as though it were a completely new grade.

How old (or young) do I need to be to sit piano exams?

Exams are open to anyone and everyone regardless of age! There are no age limits for certain grades. If you practice enough, technically you could sit for a Grade 8 piano exam at 5 years old! Or if you've started learning piano in your 60s, you can sit for your Grade 2 piano exam at age 64 if you want to!

Do I need to need to sit one exam before I move onto the next?

Nope! There is no rule saying you have to complete one exam before you move onto the next. So, the first exam you ever do could be Grade 8, if you want! Having said that, it's likely you wouldn't pass the exam if you didn't have the experience and practice of doing a number of exams beforehand.

We recommend following the Grades in order. However, Amy has allowed some of her particularly hard-working students to skip grades. Example: a student completes Grade 1 and receives an A+; then skips to Grade 3 (without doing Grade 2). This is totally possible, but is only available for students who receive an A+ and have worked really hard.

Are exams compulsory? What's the point!?

All Virtual Piano Academy students are here to achieve different goals. Some of you just want to learn for fun; and some of you are here to become serious, professional musicians. We tailor your learning experience to your goals, so there is no pressure for you to undertake exams.

However, exams are excellent tools for providing motivation, and a great sense of achievement. They help ensure a well-rounded musical education and also enable you and your teacher to assess your rate of progress.

If you think you might want to study music at a tertiary level, then undertaking exams in your instrument (and in music theory) is a prerequisite, and there are exam levels you need to achieve in order to even apply for a tertiary music degree. In this case, it is absolutely essential to undertake grades and reach certain levels. Usually a Grade 8 in your instrument (Piano Comprehensive syllabus) and a Grade 5 in Music Theory, is considered a minimum requirement.

Highly trained examiners conduct the exams and they always have some constructive suggestions for your playing. Plus, you get a report with a grade and a nice certificate (see below). These certificates are widely recognised and definitely worth having! If ever you decide you want to teach piano, you will be required to show an employer these certificates.

Even if you want to learn the lighter "piano for leisure" repertoire, exams are still a good idea. In fact, the "Piano for Leisure" syllabus exists for people who want to do just that!

For more information on the benefits of undertaking piano exams, read this article.

I don't want to sit for AMEB exams but still want something to work towards

Despite all the cool things that come with doing AMEB or ABRSM piano exams, it's not for everyone, and there is certainly no pressure to sit for an exam when you're a Virtual Piano Academy student.

However, it can be difficult to maintain focus and motivation when there's nothing to work towards or keep you accountable.

As an alternative, you can sit for an Internal Exam, right here at Virtual Piano Academy. This is a video submission exam that is marked by a panel of Virtual Piano Academy teachers. You will be required to play a number of set things in your exam, but this is tailored more closely to your goals and doesn't box you in to a set syllabus from an external examinations board.

Internal Exams dates can also be tailored around your schedule and set for whichever date you like (unlike accredited piano exams). Find out more here.

Tell me more about "Piano for Leisure". What are the differences?

The Piano for Leisure syllabus is designed for people who:

  1. want a less rigorous and technical approach to learning piano

  2. want to play a more "popular" music (as opposed to learning to play a wide variety of musical styles from different musical periods).

The music is not any easier, but there are fewer scales and less technical work, and you get to choose between either Sight Reading or Ear Tests for your exam.

The Piano for Leisure syllabus is less respected, and not considered adequate if you're planning on studying music at a tertiary level. However, if you're relatively serious about learning piano, and want to give your practice some structure by working towards exams and achieving graded levels (and certificates), this is a good option. It's less "pressure" and less rigorous, so might suit some students better.

Can I swap from Piano Comprehensive to Piano for Leisure (or vice versa)?

You always have the option of swapping from one syllabus to another.

Example: you could start by undertaking a Piano Comprehensive exam (say, Grade 2), then swapping to Piano for Leisure for Grade 3 onwards. We don't recommend swapping and changing each grade, but you can make the switch from one to the other without too much drama.

Keep in mind though, that if you start on the Piano for Leisure syllabus (say for Grade 1) then switch for the Piano Comprehensive for Grade 2, you will have a lot of catching up to do! Essentially it's easier to swap from Piano Comprehensive to Piano for Leisure (rather than the other way around).

You need to complete the equivalent Theory Exam in order to receive your piano exam certificate!

You need to make sure you've done the appropriate theory exam before you sit a piano exam.

If you haven't done the required theory component, you can still sit the piano exam, but the AMEB will withhold your certificate until you have completed the required theory exam.

Here are the pre-requisites:

While theory exams aren't "compulsory" until Grade 6 piano, it's a good idea to start theory exams earlier than Grade 6 piano, so you are not cramming for the required theory grade at the last minute.

We recommend starting Grade 1 Theory when you are in Grade 3 Piano.

Don't can learn and sit Theory Exams right here at Virtual Piano Academy. To learn more about theory lessons, read this article.

How often do I need to sit an exam?

This depends on many factors, including your level, age, ability, commitment, availability, etc.

On average, it takes about 1 year to prepare for each piano grade...but it could be less than this if you work REALLY hard.

Below is a rough guide for the piano levels that are available to you (all the way up to Grade 8) and how long each grade usually takes.

At Virtual Piano Academy, if you decide you want to undertake grades and commit to a structure, this will be the roadmap you'll follow:

The other piano exam systems such as the RCM, ABRSM and Trinity all work in a very similar way.

Okay, so I haven't even started exams yet. When do I start?

In general, a student needs to have between 1 to 2 years of lessons before they are ready to even start preparing for their first exam (Grade 1).

At Virtual Piano Academy, we will walk you through four "Pre-Grade" levels, to ensure you have the necessary foundational skills and technique required to start undertaking accredited grades. These are as follows:

Please note that this is a guide only, and will vary significantly according to many factors, including how often you practice, the type of piano you have and your focus during your practice sessions. Working through each of these "Pre-Grade" levels will take roughly between 3-6 months.

Your teacher will guide you through these levels and inform you when you are ready to start preparing for your first accredited piano exam.

How much do exams cost?

Please read this article for more information.

Piano Parades

All Virtual Piano Academy students preparing for an AMEB or ABRSM piano exam (or Internal Exam) can make use of our Piano Parades. Find out more here.


If you're currently a Virtual Piano Academy student and have any further questions about undertaking accredited piano exams, we recommend one of the following:

  • use one of your "life-lines" to ask your teacher a quick question

  • ask a question in one of our upcoming Q&A sessions

  • if you'd like to talk in-depth with your teacher about your exam options, please request an additional lesson. A form for requesting an additional lesson can be found in your Lesson Portal.

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