How do we mark exams?

ABRSM exams avoid the potential bias of instrument specialism by:

  • applying universal, non-instrument-specific criteria
  • focusing on the musical outcome, not the technical means behind it!

The marking criteria

The tables below show the marking criteria that will be used by examiners in Jazz exams as of 1 January 2017. Please note that the structure of the exams themselves will not change.

Marking principles

In each element of the exam, ABRSM operates the principle of marking from the required pass mark positively or negatively, rather than awarding marks by deduction from the maximum or addition from zero.

In awarding marks, examiners balance the extent to which the qualities and skills listed below (broadly categorized by pitch, time, tone, shape and performance) are demonstrated and contribute towards the overall musical outcome.

Total marks

Jazz graded music exams are marked out of a total of 150, with:

  • 100 marks required for a Pass
  • 120 marks required for a Merit
  • 130 marks required for a Distinction


A Pass in each individual section of the exam is not required to pass overall.


Grades 1-5








  • Highly accurate notes and intonation
  • Solo has stylish and inventive note choices
  • Improvisation shows harmonic awareness
  • Fluent, with flexibility where appropriate
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed throughout
  • Convincing groove in the improvisation
  • Well projected
  • Sensitive use of jazz tonal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping in the Head
  • Solo has authentic detail
  • Assured
  • Fully committed
  • Vivid communication of character and style
  • Idiomatic embellishment


  • Largely accurate notes and intonation
  • Solo has controlled note choices
  • Coherent improvisation
  • Sustained, effective tempo and groove
  • Good sense of rhythm and feel throughout
  • Controlled rhythmic placement in the improvisation
  • Mainly controlled and consistent
  • Good jazz tonal awareness
  • Clear musical shaping in the Head
  • Solo has some expressive variety
  • Positive
  • Carrying musical conviction
  • Character and style communicated
  • Effective embellishment


  • Generally correct notes and intonation
  • Solo has some contour
  • Suitable tempo
  • Overall rhythmic accuracy and correct feel
  • Generally stable placement within the Solo
  • Generally reliable
  • Adequate jazz tonal awareness
  • Some realisation of musical shape and/or detail
  • Generally secure, prompt recovery from slips
  • Some musical involvement
  • Embellishment attempted

Below Pass

  • Frequent note errors and/or unreliable intonation
  • Solo lacks contour
  • Unsuitable and/or uncontrolled tempo
  • Irregular pulse and groove
  • Inaccurate rhythm and/or incorrect feel
  • Uneven and/or unreliable
  • Inadequate jazz tonal awareness
  • Insufficient musical shaping
  • Insecure, inadequate recovery from slips
  • Insufficient musical involvement
  • Ineffective or no embellishment


  • Largely inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Solo lacks coherence
  • Erratic tempo and/or rhythm
  • Groove and feel not established
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Musical shape and detail largely unrealised
  • Lacking continuity
  • No musical involvement


  • Highly inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Solo very incoherent or absent
  • Incoherent tempo and/or pulse
  • Groove and feel absent
  • No tonal control
  • No shape
  • Unable to continue for more than a short section


  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered
  • No work offered

Other exam elements

Grades 1-5


Scales and arpeggios

Quick study


  • Highly accurate notes/pitch
  • Fluent and rhythmic
  • Straight/swing feel consistently realised
  • Musically shaped
  • Confident response
  • Highly accurate given material
  • Improvised answer in keeping with style
  • Well-balanced and confident presentation


  • Largely accurate notes/pitch
  • Mostly regular flow
  • Straight/swing feel realised
  • Mainly even tone
  • Secure response
  • Broadly accurate given material
  • Controlled improvised answer
  • Largely secure presentation


  • Generally correct notes/pitch, despite errors
  • Continuity generally maintained
  • Straight/swing feel attempted
  • Generally reliable tone
  • Cautious response
  • Outline of given material in place
  • Improvised answer has basic contour
  • Cautious presentation

Below Pass

  • Frequent errors in notes and/or pitch
  • Lacking continuity and/or some items incomplete
  • Straight/swing feel not realised
  • Unreliable tone
  • Uncertain response and/or some items not attempted
  • Given material not sufficiently realised
  • Improvised answer lacking coherence
  • Insecure presentation


  • Very approximate notes and/or pitch
  • Sporadic and/or frequently incomplete
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Very uncertain response and/or several items not attempted
  • Very approximate given material
  • Improvised answer incoherent or absent
  • Very uncertain presentation


  • No work offered
  • No work offered

Grades 1-5


Aural tests


  • Accurate throughout
  • Musically perceptive
  • Confident response


  • Strengths significantly outweigh weaknesses
  • Musically aware
  • Secure response


  • Strengths just outweigh weaknesses
  • Cautious response

Below Pass

  • Weaknesses outweigh strengths
  • Uncertain response


  • Inaccuracy throughout
  • Vague response


  • No work offered

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