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What are the benefits of sight-reading?

Being able to sight-read is a valuable skill. It enables students to explore new pieces with increased confidence and speeds up the learning process.

Good sight-reading skills offer the satisfaction of independent musical discovery, as notation on the page is more readily transformed into sound.

Watch Grade 6 Guitar sight-reading

What happens in the exam?

  • In the sight-reading test the examiner gives the candidate a piece of music they have not previously seen
  • The candidate is given up to half a minute in which to look through the music and, if they wish, try out any part of the test before they are required to perform it for assessment
  • The examiner will suggest that the candidate may try out any part or parts of the test during their practice time before going on with the full attempt. It is suggested that candidates first try the opening bars and the end, followed by any passages containing accidentals and such things as awkward changes of position!
  • Details of specific sight-reading tests for each grade can be found in the syllabus for your instrument

When working towards this test, candidates should be encouraged to look slightly ahead, keep going at a manageable speed, ignore any slips and keep their nerve. It may be helpful to know that examiners rarely hear perfect attempts at these tests but will always appreciate evidence of the right approach, plus an awareness of key and time values which gradually increases with the grades.

Marking criteria for sight-reading

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.

All instruments (Grades 1-8)


Sight-reading / sight-singing*


  • Fluent, rhythmically accurate
  • Accurate notes/pitch/key
  • Musical detail realised
  • Confident presentation


  • Adequate tempo, usually steady pulse
  • Mainly correct rhythm
  • Largely correct notes/pitch/key
  • Largely secure presentation


  • Continuity generally maintained
  • Note values mostly realised
  • Pitch outlines in place, despite errors
  • Cautious presentation

Below Pass

  • Lacking overall continuity
  • Incorrect note values
  • Very approximate notes/pitch/key
  • Insecure presentation


  • No continuity or incomplete
  • Note values unrealised
  • Pitch outlines absent
  • Very uncertain presentation


  • No work offered

* Includes Transposition for Horn, Trumpet and Organ (Grades 6–8) and Figured bass realization for Harpsichord (Grades 4–8).

In these cases, of the total 21 marks, 12 are allocated to Sight-reading and 9 to Transposition (or Figured bass realization), and one combined mark is recorded.

Supporting sight-reading publications


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