RCM Exams – To Do or Not To Do?


What is an RCM exam?


The Royal Conservatory Music (RCM) examinations are a Canadian national music exam standard for students, parents and teachers to track and measure progress and achievements. 


RCM exams are great for some kids, especially those who thrive in doing tests and are encouraged by their positive results. 


Having said that, they are not for everyone. 


What are the benefits of doing an RCM exam? 


  1. LONG TERM GOAL BUILDING & DISCIPLINE: Preparing for and successfully completing an examination enables long term goal building and discipline for students. Unlike most children’s activities today, studying music is not an instantly gratifying activity. Learning an instrument is a marathon, and the process is actually what is most beneficial for the development of young brains. 
  2. A MORE STRUCTURED APPROACH TO MUSICAL STUDIES: Planning and preparing for an exam is a more structured approach to musical studies and it instills a good and systematic way of thinking. 
  3. TECHNICAL SKILLS: Students gain a lot of technical skills that would not usually be included in more casual fun lessons. Some RCM exam components involve testing students specifically on technical ability as well as ear training – skills that students must practice with their teachers and in their own preparation.
  4. BUILDING CONFIDENCE & A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT: When achieving good exam results, students have a very satisfying sense of accomplishment and it builds their confidence. At CMC, our RCM exam preparation is very fine tuned, so if you follow every step, your result will be excellent.
  5. ACHIEVE HIGH SCHOOL CREDITS: Students can achieve up to 2 high school credits by doing RCM music exams!


MORE about getting up to 2 High School credits:


When you work towards and achieve a Level 7 practical instrumental or voice RCM exam AND a Level 7 theory RCM exam, you receive a Grade 11 OSSD high-school credit.


When you work towards and achieve a Level 8 practical instrumental or voice RCM exam AND a Level 8 theory RCM exam, you receive a Grade 12 OSSD high-school credit.




  • It takes years of doing other grades below level 7 too, since there are a lot of materials and skills you need to accumulate in order to successfully achieve these levels of exams.
  • You don’t have to do every single Level of exams below Level 7 and 8, but it is highly recommended to do at least a few of the lower grade exams so that you know what the RCM exams are like and will have enough exam-taking practical skills and experience under your belt.
  • For the theory requirements, music theory will need to be learned much earlier than Level 7, as it’s an accumulative subject with each Level building on the previous one. You need to learn the material, but don’t necessarily need to take the exams prior to Level 7.

CMC Mock Exams


Here at CMC we also offer a very thorough MOCK Exam process; we highly recommend for students to take at least 2 mock exams before each of their actual RCM exams. Our data from the last 25 years of CMC shows that students who take at least 2 mock exams do significantly better than those who only do 1 or no mock exams prior to their RCM exams.


Do they have exams for guitar, bass and drums?


For those who like classical guitar and bass pieces, the RCM does have classical guitar exams.

Some students only want to do pop, rock or jazz music on piano, guitar and drums, and there is no national exams board structured in those genres. So for them, the alternative to show their musical achievements beyond their private lessons would be to join or form their own rock band in addition to lessons to learn the skills of playing in a group, which is what these instruments are meant to do. Their successes are then shown through their solo performances at our recitals etc. 


In what instruments and subjects are RCM exams offered?


At CMC, we can help you prepare RCM exams in the following instruments:


  • Piano
  • Voice
  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Cello
  • Double Bass
  • Classical Guitar
  • Clarinet
  • Flute
  • Saxophone
  • Trumpet
  • Theory – all levels, including university levels

Do I have to take RCM theory?


The exam in your instrument (piano, cello, violin..etc) is called a ‘practical’ exam, and the exam for theory is simply called a ‘theory’ exam. 


In order to obtain an RCM Certificate of Achievement for your exam, theory is required from Levels 5 and up. Prior to that (RCM Levels Prep A to Level 4) only the practical exam is required. 


Please see Appendix A (below) for Practical Exam Certificate Requirements.


What other benefits do these exams give students?


For students who like/need structured, goal oriented lessons and exams, working towards these concrete goals is extremely helpful for them. Plus, being able to get up to 2 high school credits in Ontario is a major incentive. The amount of discipline and commitment that the exams require truly teaches students how to work in a structured long-term and organized way. Unlike other tests or exams that students do at school or other activities, the practical and theory exams have very high level demands that will equip them for real world experience in the future. Also, for some kids who may want to consider music as a career in the future, these accreditations would help them work towards their university auditions and preparations. If these exams are aligned with your musical education goals, please ask Lusiana about them, as they do take long-term planning and structured lessons as well as daily practicing towards achieving them. Most RCM level exams take at least 1 school-year of preparation, so if you wish to do an exam by June or Aug of next year, September and October is the best time to decide to do so, as you and your teachers will have to start choosing the best pieces to prepare for the exam.


Will my lessons still be FUN?


Yes, absolutely, your lessons will still be a lot of FUN; if anything it’ll be more exciting to plan and choose the best pieces that will show your best musical skills at whatever level you are at. 

We all want you to continue loving your lessons, and you will be even more encouraged and motivated when you see your good results after the exam. This is why planning ahead of time allows both you and your teacher to still enable you to play the pieces you want to play. In fact, there is a Popular piece choice you can include in your exams too. 


Planning ahead will alleviate the stress of doing things last minute and not being prepared. When you’re prepared and work hand-in-hand with your teacher and Lusiana is helping you do the planning, there is nothing for you to worry about! You will simply accomplish your goals while learning everything you can on your instrument, and have a lot of FUN while doing so.




RCM exams are not for everyone, and may not necessarily be your choice of musical experience. 


Some kids thrive and excel in doing exams, while others really don’t gain the desired benefits. Some kids and adults are extremely stressed about performing in public or in an exam situation, so in their cases, doing an exam or recital is really not beneficial. We are not here to put students in situations that are detrimental to their well-being. Simply doing an exam for the wrong reasons is not advisable. Just as not all children and adults for that matter take up sports, arts, dance, math, driving etc to the competitive level, this doesn’t mean they are not learning and gaining a lot of skills from the experience of learning a musical instrument. You are growing more connections in your brain, you’re learning more coordination between your eyes and hands. You’re making and enjoying music!


Progress can still be accomplished! 


Some students really would prefer to have lessons without having to worry about exams or tests, and they still practice everyday, still have amazing lessons weekly and enjoy their progress through our recitals and the more advanced pieces that they get from their teachers at their lessons. You can even ask your teachers for music that you’d like to play, and we can help you purchase the sheet music or order music books for you if we don’t carry them at CMC. Your teacher knows the pieces that would improve and teach you to master your instrument more and more each year.




If your child is already involved in a high-intensity activity such as competitive sports, dance etc. and if playing a musical instrument is their “balanced” artistic endeavor, then let it be so. One can achieve a tremendous satisfaction and learn a lot from playing an instrument and/or singing just from learning the instrument and playing it for years.




If your child or yourself really do not thrive in tests and exams situations then doing the RCM exams may not be in your best interest. We really want this musical journey to be about you, and help you learn in the best way you learn joyfully. So please do not have FOMO; if you don’t get any benefit from doing tests and exams, then please do not worry about it. There are many things we can help you with to get you to achieve whatever your musical goals are. Email [email protected] and Lusiana will call you and help you further.


So how do I decide if my kid should do an exam or not?


If you’re still unsure about whether or not your child should be doing an exam, let us help you sort it out. Email [email protected] and Lusiana will call you and help you figure out what’s best for you.



Appendix A: Practical Exam Certificate Requirements

RCM Exams Practical Requirements
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