Tips on Passing Your CMs

Jocelyn Chin, Staff Writer

Ah, the long awaited and dreaded Certificate of Merit (CM) test season. CMs are music exams and involve a playing and theory part. Many people will take the piano CM, but people can take other instruments such as flute or violin. CMs are incredibly stressful and scary, but these are some tips to get through them.

  1. Solidity

Regardless of what you’re testing for, you definitely need to practice! If you are planning on memorizing your song, then make sure it is solid. Memorize one measure of your music at a time, but be sure not to use muscle memory. In the exam room when you’re all nervous and your hands go clammy, your muscles will be unreliable. If you didn’t memorize your music, you’re allowed to bring in a copy of music.

  1. Stay calm

Being nervous is one definite reason why most people won’t do well on their CMs. They get nervous and they miss a lot of notes. However, missing a few notes isn’t the end of the world! From my experience, every time I take my piano exam, I will slip on a few piano keys, but I still pass. Most examiners are very nice and don’t look intimidating, so just take a deep breath and play like there’s no tomorrow!

  1. Know your signs and terms

Signs and terms and composers and dances are probably the most difficult parts of the theory test besides the ear training. What I would recommend is to come up with short sayings for each of them. For example, Dvorak is a Romantic composer. So the saying I would make up for it is “Divorcing with Dvorak is the best romantic comedy!”

  1. Take your time

Taking your time during a piano exam is a no brainer. For theory, you need to go slow and check your work at least three times to make sure the number of questions you got wrong is minimized. There are some people who rush so fast through their theory exams because they are anxious to get them over with that they end up missing pages and failing. Taking time during playing exams is also very important. If you start playing way faster than your usual tempo because you’re nervous, then you will miss a lot of notes because that is not the speed that you practiced at. Also if you play too fast, then the examiner can’t distinguish any of the notes in the song so you fail.

  1. Go backwards

Some parts in theory exams are really easy and some are really difficult. What I recommend is doing the difficult parts first. Before you enter the theory room and you’re outside waiting to go in, study your notes for the difficult parts. That way, when you get in the theory room, your theory notes are fresh in your mind and you can complete those sections right away.


A few tips can’t guarantee complete success in a CM exam so make sure to practice playing your music and practice completing your theory packets! Good luck to all!