Categories: Uncategorized

RCM Exams: Your Complete Guide


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.


PRACTICAL EXAMS – Practical exams are mostly about your ability and expertise on your instrument. They available from Preparatory to Level 10. Furthermore there are Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance and Pedagogy and Licentiate Diploma (LRCM) in Piano Performance. Exams take place in an examination room or remotely 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 a classroom setting with a supervisor or online with a proctor. The most common written exams are “theory”, “history”, and “harmony”. Theory Exams are co-requisite for Levels 5 to 8, then it is substituted by Harmony on Level 9, Level 10 Harmony & Counterpoint along with History for Levels 9 and 10. Finally, in order to acquire your ARCT Diploma you must take ARCT Harmony & Counterpoint, History and Analysis Exams. 

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.


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. Theory 5 —  1 hour, Theory 6 to 8 — 2 hours, Level 9 & above — 3 hours for all exams.


PRACTICAL EXAMS – Mark 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. The test is out of 100, with 60 being the passing grade.

WRITTEN EXAMSThe 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.

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.

Exam results are usually posted 1 – 2 weeks after the examination.


HONORS: 70-79
PASS: 60-69
FAIL: 0-59


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.


Published by

Recent Posts

10 Phenomenal Women who changed the Classical Music World

In celebration of the International Women’s Day on 8 March, here we will take a…

2 years ago

Beethoven’s Love Letter – My Eternally Beloved

Beethoven's love letter is very famous and often quoted in literary media as well as…

2 years ago

10 Things you didn’t know about Mozart

Mozart is probably the best known name in classical music, but there might be many…

2 years ago

What Would Life Be Like Without Music?

Music is the guardian of the heart and the messenger of our feelings. It is…

2 years ago

Top 8 Oldest Musical Instruments in the World!

Music is often called the world’s universal language. No matter where somewhere may be from,…

2 years ago

Where Christmas Carols come from? Brief history!

Ho ho ho.. Soon it will be coming that time of a year–a lot of…

2 years ago