Fair access guidelines for the use of amanuenses in ABRSM Music Theory exams

This page contains information for candidates, their teachers and amanuenses who are taking or assisting in an ABRSM Music Theory exam.

It applies to Grades 1-5 only. Our current guidelines remain unaltered for candidates taking Grades 6-8.

ABRSM use the term ‘amanuensis’ to describe someone who will either read questions aloud (a reader), write down answers (a scribe), or both. In the case of a scribe, this applies to either writing down answers on a hard copy question paper or inputting answers online.

We are reviewing and updating our guidelines for candidates working with an amanuenses to coincide with the launch of our online Music theory exams. We shall be consulting with relevant external organisations to ensure the guidelines are in line with best practice, and relevant to the requirements of an online exam.

These interim guidelines should be used for Music Theory exams from Grade 1 to 5 for the remainder of 2020 and will be updated in early 2021.

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact the ABRSM Access Coordinator.

Before reading these guidelines, we recommend you also read our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy, which can be found at www.abrsm.org/specificneeds.

We suggest that candidates, their teachers and amanuensis review the information in these guidelines before making an exam entry.

If you have questions or specific requirements that are not covered by these guidelines, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator.

In order to request the use of an amanuensis, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence confirming this specific need and that it is the candidate’s usual way of working. Please refer to our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy for further information.

Please ensure you select the relevant access provision on the entry form for an amanuensis.

It is important that you do this for each exam even if you have requested access arrangements or reasonable adjustments previously.

If none of the access provisions cover your specific needs or you have questions about the reasonable adjustments to which you are entitled, please contact ABRSM’s Access Coordinator as early as possible before the entry deadline.

Please note that ABRSM is unable to provide reasonable adjustments where we are notified after the exam entry has been made.

Who can use an amanuensis?

If you are unable to access the written paper or write down your answers, you may  request the use of an amanuensis.


  • A candidate who is visually impaired and cannot access a large print or braille paper may use an amanuensis to read the questions and write down their answers.
  • A candidate with specific learning difficulties may use an amanuensis to either read the questions or write their answers down, or both.
  • A candidate who has a physical disability or a long-term or chronic injury may use an amanuensis to write down their answers.

How to request an amanuensis

If you wish to use an amanuensis, you should select this option on the entry form.

Who will the amanuensis be?

It is your responsibility to provide an amanuensis. If you have been unable to source one then please contact the Access Coordinator no later than 3 weeks before the exam date. ABRSM is not able to provide an amanuensis.

Anyone can act as an amanuensis as long as they meet these criteria:

  • The amanuensis should be musically literate and educated to at least the equivalent level of the exam being taken.
  • Ideally, the amanuensis should have worked with you at least once before, either in music lessons or in another exam. If this is not possible, we advise that you and the amanuensis have sufficient time to practice ahead of the exam.
  • We ask that the amanuensis is not your music teacher or a relation, unless absolutely necessary.

Where will the exam take place?

You may take the exam anywhere you wish in line with our published guidelines. You should ensure that the amanuensis can see the screen and that they are in shot of the camera at all times.


The exam will be videoed and recorded using your device’s webcam and microphone. Videos and recordings will be reviewed to ensure that the support offered is in line with these guidelines.

Please ensure you have read and understood these guidelines for working with an amanuensis. It is important that the amanuensis does not read questions in such a way that offers an advantage to candidates.

When will the exam take place?

The exam will take place on the same date and at the same time as all other Music Theory exams.

Will there be extra time?

The following extra time allowance will be given to candidates using an amanuensis, provided we are informed on entry:

  • Grades 1–3: 30 minutes
  • Grades 4–5: 40 minutes                                                          
  • Grades 6–8: 60 minutes

If you routinely receive longer than 25% extra time for exams, please let us know when you make your exam entry so that we can ensure this is available to you.

Exam papers

You may request a hard copy paper if you have difficulties accessing or reading from a computer screen. Please ensure you select the option that most closely describes your requirements, for example ‘candidate with specific learning difficulties requiring a large print paper’.

If you request an additional hard copy exam paper, including a paper in large or modified print or Braille, this should be opened in front of the camera after logging into the online system.

Applicant’s responsibilities

  • Inform ABRSM at the time of entry that your candidate requires an amanuensis by selecting the relevant access provision on the entry form
  • Provide ABRSM the name and address of your candidate’s amanuensis as soon as possible and no later than three weeks before the exam date if you require a hard copy exam paper
  • Ensure that information is passed on to the amanuensis, as a signed agreement is required in order that the exam be validated

Candidate’s responsibilities

  • Abide by the exam regulations

ABRSM’s responsibilities

  • Provide you with results in a format that you are able to access on request


Anyone acting as an amanuensis for an ABRSM Music Theory exam should:

  • Be musically literate and educated to at least the equivalent level of the exam being taken


The candidate will be aware that you are literate in music theory, and may be embarrassed about dictating answers to you. It is therefore important that you are calm, quiet, reassuring (if appropriate), and patient.

If a candidate needs you to amend answers you have already inputted, you must appear not to mind.

Do not feel uneasy if there is a lot of silence during the exam – the candidate needs space to think through questions and to consider their answers.

Preparing for the exam

You should ensure you have read and understood the syllabus for the exam in question.

You should have worked with the candidate as their amanuensis at least once, either in music lessons or in another exam. If this is not possible, the candidate should arrange opportunities to practice with you. Practice questions are available online at www.abrsm.org/onlinetheory

Before the exam

You should establish the following points with the candidate:

  • What is required – a reader, a scribe or both?
  • Would the candidate like to be reminded of the time at any point? At what interval(s)? Note there is a clock on screen.

You will be required to read and sign the Amanuensis Agreement and hand this to the invigilator before the exam begins. 

During the exam

The amanuensis will:

  • Proceed according to the 'Working with your Amanuensis' material found in these guidelines
  • Read or re-read all or any part of the question or given answer as requested by the candidate at any point during the exam
  • Answer questions exactly as they are dictated by the candidate
  • Make any corrections as directed by the candidate
  • Give the spelling of any word which occurs in the question paper if requested, but ask the candidate for spellings of any technical terms used in the candidate’s answers
  • Give the candidate a choice at the beginning of the exam as to whether they would like to be reminded of the time and at what intervals, and advise accordingly

The amanuensis will not:

  • Lead the conversation or speak unless directed by the candidate
  • Give any undue assistance in answering any of the questions
  • Give any indication of whether the candidate’s answers are right or wrong
  • Read or re-read any questions or answers unless directed by the candidate
  • Give the spelling of any word which does not appear in the Theory paper
  • Advise the candidate regarding which questions to do, when to move on to the next question or the order in which the questions should be done unless prior permission for this type of assistance has been given by the access coordinator.

After the exam

You should hand in the exam paper to the invigilator and ensure that the signed Amanuensis Agreement has been submitted.

Using an amanuensis requires both the candidate and amanuensis to give careful consideration to communication. The guidance below, together with the sound recording, is intended to help candidates and their amanuensis consider how they will work together in preparation for the exam.

The examples do not yet replicate the types of questions found in our new online Music theory exams. Nevertheless, the principles remain the same.

If you have any concerns or questions, please contact the ABRSM Access Coordinator.

This recording demonstrates the most difficult example of using an amanuensis, where the candidate requires both a reader and a scribe. Please note that answers given are not always correct – it is the process of using an amanuensis in a Music Theory exam that is being demonstrated.

Musical examples

1. Add the missing bar-lines

    • For this question, well-prepared candidates would be aware that they do not need to know the pitch of the notes to work out the answer.  In this case the candidate should ask the amanuensis to read out only the rhythm. The amanuensis will, as always, follow the candidate’s instructions, so unless instructed to single out a specific aspect of the example, they will read out all of it.
 2. Writing tonic triads

3. Adding missing notes or rests

4. Context question: Identifying the loudest note

5. Context question: Identifying middle C (see extract above)

6. Rewriting in different time signature

7. Transposition up a perfect 5th

8. Context question: Describing chords

  • Where an amanuensis needs to communicate a longer extract of music to a candidate, the candidate must be ready to direct the amanuensis to give them the information they need. For example, they may wish to hear the whole extract through once, and then have specific bars or sections read to them again.
9. Context question: Identifying a Ic-V progression  (see extract 8)

10. Context question: Use of tenor clef  (see extract 8)

Remember to add bar lines where necessary in your answers. The amanuensis will always make it clear that there is a bar line when reading out musical examples but, when dictating your answers, you must remember to do this. The amanuensis will not automatically add them in on your behalf.

Remember to observe any sharp or flat signs that are read out, and don’t forget to apply them wherever the relevant notes occur later. The amanuensis will read notes according to their position on the stave and will not remind you of any earlier key signature or accidentals.

You may wish to have an extract read out several times, either in part or as a whole.

You should be aware that at the higher grades, musical examples can be quite long. Where amanuenses are required to read out an example, you may need to work on your memorisation skills in order to remember what is being read to you and to make sense of the extract as a whole.

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