Fair access guidelines for candidates with specific learning difficulties (including dyslexia and dyspraxia)

These guidelines contain information for candidates with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD). They detail the access arrangements and reasonable adjustments that ABRSM offer for our face to face instrumental and singing exams including diplomas, Practical Musicianship, Prep Test and Performance Assessments.

Separate fair access guidelines are available for our digital instrumental and vocal exams and our theory exams.

For convenience we use the term ‘SpLD’ throughout these guidelines to refer to people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, Irlen syndrome, processing difficulties and other specific learning difficulties as well as ADD and ADHD.

Before reading these guidelines, we recommend you also read our Specific Needs Policy, which can be found at www.abrsm.org/specificneeds.

ABRSM established these provisions for candidates with SpLDs in consultation with the British Dyslexia Association.

You should review the information in these guidelines before making an exam booking.

If you have questions or specific requirements that are not covered by these guidelines, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator.

It is important that you select the relevant access option on the online booking form for each exam. You should do this even if you have requested access arrangements or reasonable adjustments previously.

If none of the access options cover your specific needs or you have questions about the reasonable adjustments to which you are entitled, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator as early as possible before the entry deadline.

Please note that ABRSM is unable to provide reasonable adjustments or access arrangements where we are notified after the exam booking has been made or if you move your original exam booking to a different day.

In order to grant reasonable adjustments, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence. Please refer to our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy for further information.

All ABRSM examiners are provided with basic information relating to SpLDs and how this might affect a candidate taking an exam. In addition, you are welcome to supply any further information you think would be helpful for the examiner to know in advance.

It is important to understand that while we are able to make provisions for the administration of the exam, e.g. additional time or alternative tests, we are not able to make any concessions in the marking – all candidates will be treated equally.

You may feel especially nervous or anxious in an exam situation and examiners will be aware of this. Similarly, examiners know that some SpLDs may mean that you have difficulty with coordination and concentration. The additional time allowed will help examiners to take the time to ensure that you do not feel rushed.

Examiners have been asked to:

  • Speak slowly, clearly and concisely, allowing time for you to process the information and instructions
  • Repeat any instructions if asked or to allow five seconds before prompting
  • Understand that you may become muddled with your own words when asked to respond to questions
  • Be aware that memory lapses may occur in any section of the exam

Time: Examiners will allow as much time as they can. You may bring a timer of your choice to the exam if needed.

Written comments: Marks will always reflect the standard of your performance. However, examiners will aim to avoid comments that may draw undue attention to your specific needs and any access arrangements.

You may notify the examiner on the day of your preferred order, provided that it is logistically feasible – for example, it is better that elements requiring an accompanist are adjacent to cause minimum disruption.

The following options are available for candidates with SpLDs. Selecting any of these options will ensure the ‘General arrangements’ listed below.

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Processing difficulties
  • Irlen syndrome/scotopic sensitivity
  • Other specific learning difficulties

The following options enable all the same arrangements with the addition of the relevant alternative format. Further details can be found below.

  • Specific learning difficulties requiring large and extra time for Sight-reading print test
  • Specific learning difficulties requiring modified print and extra time for Sight-reading test
  • Specific learning difficulties requiring test printed on coloured paper
  • Specific learning difficulties requiring aural repetition test in place of Sight-reading
  • Specific learning difficulties requiring test printed on coloured paper

Additional time

You will have an additional five minutes added to the exam, of which you may use three minutes to prepare the Sight-reading test. You are welcome to indicate that you are ready to play before the three minutes has elapsed, but the examiner will not ask you to play before this time.

Tinted overlays

You are welcome to use a tinted overlay for any part of the exam and no prior permission is required.

Access to lyrics

If you have an SpLD you may bring a copy of the lyrics of your songs for reference. Please be aware that reference to the lyrics that is deemed to inhibit communication will mean that you may not be able to achieve the highest marks for your songs.


If you have an SpLD you may take the scale book into the exam room for reference only. This means that you may have the scale book open on a music stand and glance over if necessary. If the examiner deems you to be reading from the music, you will not be disqualified but neither will you be able to achieve full marks for this section.

Flash cards: If you wish to use flash cards for this section of the exam, please contact the access coordinator ahead of making an exam booking to discuss arrangements.

Replays: Examiners will be aware that you may forget which scale you are playing, and will allow a replay. Examiners will also be aware that you may need some processing time to recall the key signature and finger patterns required. No penalty will be made for a lack of ‘prompt’ responses. If you need to replay numerous scales, however, this may impact on the mark awarded.

Right and left: Examiners have been asked not to refer to ‘right hand’ or ‘left hand’ scales but to ‘this hand’ or ‘the other hand’, demonstrating if necessary.

Aural tests

Every examiner will follow the rubric printed in the new Specimen Aural Tests books, thus avoiding any variations in the way in which the aural tests are delivered. 

Making notes: For tests requiring you to remember what you have been asked before the playing of a musical extract you will be allowed to take a pencil and piece of paper into the exam room to make a note of which features you need to listen for. The examiner will collect this piece of paper at the end of the exam. 

Additional attempts: Examiners will use their discretion in allowing an additional attempt at the aural tests.

Large print tests

ABRSM’s default for large print tests is a 14mm stave on white paper. Tests may be printed on A4 or A3.

If you request a large print sight-reading test, you will receive a large print copy of aural test B at Grades 4 to 8.

Modified print tests

Rather than a straightforward enlargement, ABRSM can make further modifications based on your preferences, for example, larger note-heads and beaming, or a larger font for performance directions. 

If you request a modified print sight-reading test, you will receive a modified print copy of aural test B at Grades 4 to 8.

If you require modified print, you should send a covering letter at the time of entry along with a sample of the notation required. Please include details of all typographical specifications. You can email musical examples written in Sibelius or MuseScore to specificneeds@abrsm.ac.uk

Further information on modified stave notation (MSN) is published by the UK Association for Accessible formats (UKAAF) and their contact details can be found at the end of these guidelines.

Sight-reading tests on coloured paper

If you require tests on coloured paper you should indicate this by contacting the access coordinator before the published entry deadline. You will need to post three sheets of the required paper to ABRSM at the time of entry.

Sight-reading tests on separate sheets

If you require tests reproduced on a separate sheet of paper, you should indicate this by contacting the access coordinator before the published entry deadline. You are then welcome to make any notes on the test during the preparation time.


Use of large print or modified print scores in exams

You are welcomed to use your own large print or modified print copies in the exam provided you bring the original with you. This provision is made under the Code of Fair Practice published by the MPA, which allows you to make an accessible copy for your own use. No prior permission is required.

Aural repetition in place of Sight-reading

This test may be a more appropriate alternative for some candidates with severe learning difficulties or who learn music by ear rather than notation. If you select this provision on the online entry form, we may contact you to confirm it is the most appropriate option.

The aural repetition test consists of a short passage played three times on the piano by the examiner, who will first play and name the key-chord and starting note, and indicate the tempo before asking you to repeat the passage on your instrument. You will be given 15 seconds to try out the test following the second and final playings. You can obtain specimen tests from ABRSM.

Organ, Trumpet, Horn and Harpsichord exams

These exams involve either a transposition exercise or a figured bass realisation. The additional time will be split between the Sight-reading and these additional tests.

If you have an SpLD, you will not be required to play your exercises from memory. No prior permission is required for this provision.

If we cannot meet your needs within the graded exam system, you  may wish to take the Performance Assessment. In this assessment, you can play your own choice of repertoire and will receive a written report containing constructive comments and advice from an examiner.

There is no pass or fail for this assessment, and no assessment criteria. You should include a written statement with the entry detailing your specific needs (this is essential if the candidate is under 18) so that the information can be passed on to the examiner.

We can offer additional time or additional playings of tests as appropriate. Please contact the access coordinator before making your exam booking to discuss arrangements.

ARSM involves no supporting tests or anything that requires candidates to respond to questions from the examiner, so additional time allowances for candidates with an SpLD are not normally needed. However, if you have access requirements that the examiner should be aware of, please contact the access coordinator before making your entry with the relevant details.

Additional time for the Quick Study

If you have an SpLD you are entitled to 12 minutes rather than the usual five minutes additional time for the Quick Study.

Aural Repetition test in place of Quick Study

This test may be a more appropriate alternative for some candidates with severe learning difficulties. We advise you to practise this way of working before selecting this provision to ensure that this is a suitable option.

You will be given a short piece of music recorded onto CD. You will have 15 minutes to study the piece. The test will be recorded on the instrument being assessed. After the preparation time, you will be required to perform the test from memory.

Singing candidates taking the Aural repetition Quick Study

You will be required to incorporate the lyrics in your performance of the test and will be given the usual choice of singing in either Italian or English. You should confirm your language preferences at the time of entry so that the appropriate test can be recorded. You will be provided with a full recording of the score, a recording of the lyrics only, a recording of the melody sung to la with the accompaniment and a recording of the melody including the lyrics. You are responsible for providing your own CD player which should be familiar to you, reliable, portable, have a sufficiently long mains lead and be quick to set up. Further information can be provided on request from the Access Coordinator.

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