• Su Crossland

Why do we do exams?

With exam season fast approaching I thought I would have a little look at why we encourage students to take dance exams.

As I always say, exams are not compulsory and students who choose not to take them will still move up when they are ready. So why put students through the stress of exams at all if they don't need to do them? There are several reasons for this, which I will explore in more detail as we go along.

Moderation of Teaching Standards

Firstly exams are used by the ABD (Associated Board of Dance) as a way of ensuring their teachers are all maintaining their standards of practice. As a dance teacher, I work alone. I don't have a group of colleagues around me to bounce ideas off and check things out with on a day to day basis. The ABD team are only a phone call or email away - during office hours! When I am teaching in the evening it is just me and my students. And we all make mistakes. It's possible that I might have misinterpreted something in the syllabus and not realised, therefore I could be teaching it incorrectly. After each exam session I will get a feedback sheet to let me know if there's anything I need to improve on, am not doing correctly, or that I am doing well with my students. Regular exam sessions enable ABD examiners to ensure all their teachers are maintaining high standards as they will see this in the work the students present to them during the exam session.

Technical Competence

This is quite an obvious reason for taking an exam I suppose. At the end of it you will get a certificate that tells you how well you have done and feedback to say what you can improve on. Its always good to get this external validation and the feedback can be invaluable, especially for any students wishing to progress to a professional level in dance as they will need to be able to take feedback onboard and implement it. Although I do give feedback in class, and expect students to implement it, sometimes hearing that feedback from an external source can make the difference.

Although the above are great reasons for exams, they are possibly my 2 least important reasons. The following reasons for taking exams far outweigh the technical reasons discussed above as they help to develop each individual as a person to enable them to progress in life, not just in dancing. And that, to me, is worth every ounce of effort.

Achievement and aspiration

I think it is so important for students to have something to aspire to, something that they can work towards and achieve. Dance exams give students realistic aspirations that they can achieve on a regular basis. I won't enter a student for an exam if I don't think it is the right time, I want students to achieve as much as they do. For the younger students, they love to get a certificate or a medal and to see the joy on their face when they achieve that is great. For older students, they may want to improve on the score they got in their previous exam or even just know they have achieved a certain level of skill and competence. Some students believe they're ready for exams when they aren't and may be disappointed that I won't enter them, but by waiting, entering when they are ready, and then receiving the feedback and result they deserve they can learn to be realistic in their own goals.

Dedication and Discipline

It takes effort to do well in any exam and in working hard towards a dance exam students are learning self-discipline and the art of dedication to a cause. These are invaluable skills as students enter their GCSE or A-Level years at school, or even the work place. If they know how to apply themselves to their dancing to achieve a good grade, they can transfer this skill to their schooling to also do well in their other exams.

Positive experiences

Dance exams do require hard work but they can also be great fun. Most students want to show what they have worked so hard to create, especially in the medal tests which are more of performance than an exam, taken in costume and showcasing a particular dance rather than exercises. The ABD examiners enjoy seeing the students and also want them to do their best so they try to make the exams as enjoyable as possible for everyone involved. By making sure students are as well prepared as possible for the exam, making it an exciting day, and achieving something at the end, dance exams should be a positive experience for students. Ensuring students have positive experiences of exams from an early age can held reduce the fear and anxiety surrounding exams as they get older.


All of the above can really help increase students' self-confidence; they know they are able to set aspirational goals and achieve results, they know how to work hard towards this, and they know that, even if it is nerve-wracking, it's going to be ok. All this together can give a student the confidence to achieve more in life, not just in dancing.

This is why I encourage students to take exams!

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