Tips from a H1 student on how to boost your marks in every section of the Leaving Certificate music examination 

While Leaving Cert music is regarded as one of the more 'relaxed' subjects one could choose, it is notoriously difficult to get a H1 in the subject. There are many small aspects of the exam which students fail to prepare for or understand year in, year out, and it is this lack of preparation that causes the students' grades to suffer. I have compiled a list of practical tips which helped me to achieve a H1 in the subject - and will, if applied throughout the year, will definitely allow you to score higher! 


Here is an overview of how the subject is assessed: 


1. The listening paper - 100 marks (25%)

The listening paper is 90 minutes long and it is divided into the following 5 questions: 

Q.1 Set Works Long Question – 25 marks (6.25%)

Q.2, 3 and 4. The Remaining Set Works Shorter Questions 10 marks each – 30 marks (7.5%)

Q.5 Irish Music – 25 marks (6.25%)

Q.6 Aural Skills – 20 marks (5%)


2. The composition paper - 100 marks (25%)

This paper is 90 minutes long and is broken down into two sections:

Melody Question (Q.1 or 2 or 3) – 40 marks 

Harmony Question (Q.4 or 5 or 6) – 60 marks 


3. *The practical examination - 100 marks (25%)

The practicals take place around Easter time each year. 

If you choose the practical elective, you will have two choices as to how your exam could be structured:

1. Perform six pieces on the one instrument or using one discipline. These six pieces should be a grade - standard and will be assessed at a - standard. 

2. Perform eight pieces on two different instruments, or using two different musical disciplines. This is a better option to choose if possible, as your pieces will be assessed at a lower standard and therefore you will find it easier to score higher. 

Included in the practical exam also is the unprepared test. This test consists of sight-reading, an aural memory test


4. *Elective - 100 marks (25%)

The Higher-Level music elective will either consist of an extra practical element, either an increase in the amount of pieces performed, or music technology. 

*(most people choose either the practical elective, making the practical worth 50% of your overall grade) 


Preparation tips: 


1. Practice papers/past papers are your best friend 

This is undeniably the best way to test your knowledge and to practice the types of questions which will come up in the exam. It is important to do past papers as often as possible and to do them under exam conditions, i.e., listen to the excerpts only as many times as they would be played in the actual exam and allow only the 90 minutes which you would get for each paper. Remember, it is okay to get things wrong! This is why you are doing the past papers! 

After completing each paper, go back over it with the marking scheme and give yourself an honest result. Then, with a red pen, write in any necessary corrections. It may also be useful to take notes on what you got wrong in a notebook or somewhere that is easily accessible to you, for future reference. 


2. Make a playlist of your set works 

Using the likes of Spotify or YouTube, make a playlist which includes good-quality recordings of your prescribed works. Listen to them as often as possible, and from now until the exam, I recommend that at least once a week you listen to each work while reading the score. It is important that you are as familiar with how the music looks on paper to how it sounds. Mark in the important features of the music using coloured pens as a visual learning aid. 


3. Listen to as many musical genres as you can 

For the unheard works section of the Listening paper, it is important that you have an understanding of a wide range of musical genres. You should be able to differentiate music of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras by ear and know some defining features of each period. Familiarise yourself with some common musical features of jazz, country, rock and pop music as these are bound to come up at some point in the listening test. RTÉ LyricFm is an excellent resource which you can use to familiarise yourself with many different genres. 


4. Choose your practical repertoire well in advance & ensure it is suitable 

My biggest piece of advice for the practical is to choose your pieces well in advance so that you have months to prepare your repertoire to a performance standard. If you choose to perform eight pieces, you will have a total of 25 minutes in which to perform. The standard of the Leaving Cert practical is roughly grade 5, however, make sure that you choose repertoire which you know is doable and which shows off your skill set. I will be releasing a separate blog post just about the practical and how to deal with performance anxiety so stay tuned!


5. Don't forget to practice the skills needed for the unprepared element of the practical

There are samples of the unprepared test on as well as in the exam papers. Choose which type of test you wish to do, whether it be sight-clapping or sight-reading and practice the past examples under exam conditions at least once a week. This aspect of the practical is often overlooked and causes panic on the day. Ensure that you have given yourself the best chance possible to score highly by practising tests from previous years!


6 . On the day of the written exam....

In the Listening exam, you will be allowed a couple of minutes at the beginning of the exam to read over the paper. I strongly suggest that you underline the key words in every question so that it is very obvious to you what is being asked. Try to give detailed answers but do not give extra information that you weren't asked for, i.e, if you are asked for two features, do not give three as you will lose marks. 

For the composition paper, make sure that you have a few pencils, an eraser, and a sharpener ready to go. Do not begin any question until you are entirely sure of the key of the given bars. Use the rough work pages to plan out your melody and ensure that you include the necessary cadences and that you are continuing the style of the given opening. For the harmony question, make sure that you fill in your chord bank accurately. Write the chord options lightly in pencil over the boxes in the music and at the end go back and decide which chords you should choose to make a good progression. It is wise to find and fill in the cadences first.