I have students of all levels who do piano examinations for every grade level. I also have students who skipped all the examinations til the end and only do them at the advance levels for the highschool credits. Few have been positive experiences and few have been ugly.
Personally, the only piano examinations I did were for Grades 4, 8, 9, 10 and ARCT. I suffer from extreme stage fright and I specifically recall after my Grade 9 piano examination, running to the nearest pay phone to call my teacher in tears thinking I’ve failed it miserably.
I had a 15 year old student who has completed examinations for every grade found them so agonizing and upon her parent’s insistence, went in for her grade 7 examination. She was so nervous that when the examiner greeted her, she burst into tears.
A few of the students who are not self motivated to practice, I use examinations as a goal that forces them to practice to pass each level. Others, we work through all the requirements and instead of the required piece from each section and studys, I require the students to learn double the required pieces. On top of the technical requirements, we also work on sight reading and ear training. The kids are not losing in their lessons by not having an examination, but by knowing what I require from them to go on to the next level, they have their own goals.
By not having a specific timeline, as examinations are only held 3 times a year, most of my students who are self motivated to practice, complete the levels at a quicker pace. We do have regular performances held every 2 months which in itself allows the kids to work towards making their pieces performance ready.
The goal of learning the piano should be for the pleasure of it in itself. Rarely do I find a child who started piano to not like it. There is excitement on their faces when I play new pieces for them to select from. I haven’t met a student yet who did not beam in happiness everytime I checked their music and deemed it performance ready and finished – ready to move on to the next.
I found as long as the students know there is a clear structure to the levels as the RCM is great at providing and the students know clearly what is required from them to progress, examinations should only be used as a tool when necessary and not be the end goal in itself in learning.