Exam season can be scary, and dance is no different!
Whether you’re preparing for your first ever ballet exam or considering university applications and further career training, we’ve got you covered. From top tips to what to expect on the day, our ballet exam guide will make sure you perform at your best.
What is a ballet exam?
Ballet exams are an assessment of your dance skills based on a dancer’s ballet grade. They can be taken throughout a dance career, from childhood through to university age. As dancers increase in age and ballet grades, the exams increase in terms of complexity.
There are several exam boards used across the UK, so the specifics of the exam may vary depending on who you’re dancing with. Most dance schools or associations will have specific information on how their assessments work, so it’s always worth searching for any requirements for your exam board.
Usually, with a dance exam, dancers will have time to practice the syllabus for a few months until their teacher feels like they’re ready to take the exam.
How many grades of ballet are there?
The number of grades in ballet can vary depending on exam boards. For the Royal Academy of Dance, which is a recognised qualification regulator in the UK, there are ten grades of ballet in total – pre-primary, primary, then grades 1-8. The dancer's grade usually affects how their dance exam is set out.
If dancers are in an earlier grade, particularly pre-primary or primary, they’ll usually take their dance exam with other dancers, for example, in a group of four. Sometimes, their dance teacher will also be present during the exam.
Middle grades will also take their exams in groups, however, they will also be asked to perform some dances as duets or solos so that the examiner can focus more on the individual’s technique and performance qualities.
Older or vocational grades will perform most exercises as duets or solos and will have the addition of pointe work. Often, these higher grades come with a UCAS points weighting, which can go towards university applications.
What happens on the day of a ballet exam?
On the day of the exam, dancers head to the place of examination – this can either be their usual dance teacher’s studio, or the exam board’s examination studio. The exam will be taken with a professional from the exam board.
Students will wear their ballet outfits but will also be given a coloured ribbon or a number to attach to their leotard. This helps the examiner easily identify them. Dancers will usually wait outside until a bell rings to announce the examiners are ready.
When students enter the room, they will introduce themselves to the examiner and hand over their score forms, if required by their exam board. The examiner then gives instructions about the exercises they’d like the student to perform. Normally, this starts with barre, moving on to centre practice exercises and then the main dance or study. While many of the exercises are performed as a full group, centre practice will often be in pairs, with the main dance being a solo.
Once the exam is over, the examiner will dismiss the students, who should always make sure to thank the examiner and any musicians in the room.
What should I do before a ballet exam? 6 top tips
Do you have a dance exam coming up? Our top tips will ensure you’re ready to give it your absolute best.
1. Make sure you have everything packed early
Always pack your dance bag the night before an exam so you’re not rushing around on the day. Not only will this increase stress and nerves, but you may lose valuable warm-up time if you’re running late.
If you can, we’d recommend taking spares of all your essentials, especially your dance tights. A laddered pair of tights is never a good look, but especially not during your exams!
You should pack leotards, pointe shoes and accessories, ballet shoes, ribbons and elastics, leg warmers/warm-up booties, and a hair kit with pins, nets and hair ties. To make sure you’re prepared with everything you need on the day, check out our 'What to pack in your dance bag’ post.
2. Practice is key
It goes without saying, but the more you rehearse, the better you’ll be. Rehearsals don’t just help increase your skill level but help build your confidence, correct your mistakes, and ensure you know your exercises like the back of your hand. If you have a ballet exam coming up, don’t leave things to chance. Put in the work, and you’ll get the results.
3. Look the part
There is a lot of emphasis on looking completely professional for a ballet exam. This means slick, tidy hair, a fresh clean leotard, tights with no ladders, and clean ballet or pointe shoes. Some exam boards may have more specific uniform rules, so always double-check before your exam.
You should make sure all your dance clothing fits comfortably and neatly. It’s time to bring out your best leotard and shoes. If they’re brand new or you haven’t danced in them much before, you should try them on ahead of time to be sure they’ll remain comfortable and intact all day.
The same applies to hair – you want it to look neat and stay put all day, so bobby bins are going to be a must! If you’re unsure about how to wear your hair, our ‘How to do a ballet bun’ guide tells you everything you need to know to perfect your ballerina look.
4. Eat and drink
A healthy breakfast is a must, and water is your best friend! While you may feel a little nervous on the morning of your exam, you need to make sure you’ve eaten enough to give you the strength to get through the day. Food is fuel, so snacks such as fruit, nuts or cereal bars are great to have to hand, especially if you’re going to be spending a while waiting to go into your exam. It’s vital to keep hydrated, too – take plenty of water to keep sipping throughout the day.
5. Warm-up and cool down
Warming up and cooling down is important whenever you’re dancing, especially during an exam when you want to perform at your absolute best. Stretching before your exam will minimise the chance of injury while ensuring your body, muscles and joints are as flexible as possible. If you anticipate waiting a while to go into your exam, leg warmers or warm-up booties are ideal for keeping you warmed up and ready to dance.
6. Relax and have fun!
The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. Any kind of exam is always nerve-wracking but breathing through it and remaining composed is the key to success when it comes to dancing. Ballet is all about composure and how you look while you’re dancing, so a relaxed, serene expression is perfect!
If you feel yourself getting anxious, sip some water and focus on deep breaths. Having a pre-exam routine to carry out is great to keep you busy and focused. Most of all, try to enjoy yourself – after all, you’re here because of your love of dance!
Ballet exam results, explained
So, once you’ve finished your ballet exam, what about your results?
Results can vary slightly depending on your exam board so, as always, double-check with your dance school for specifics. Usually, scores are as follows:
Distinction: between 80-100 points, distinction signifies a very high level of achievement and is the highest mark available.
Merit: between 60-79 points, merit signifies a very good level of achievement.
Pass: between 40-59 points, pass signifies a good or satisfactory level of achievement.
Not attained: 39 points or fewer will result in a ‘not attained’ result, which means you haven’t reached the required level to pass the exam.
If you’re thinking about taking the ballet exam and want to test your knowledge first, our ballet exam quiz will let you know what level you’re currently at.
We know exams can be scary but try to see them as a way to show off everything you’ve learned so far in your dance journey – and remember your teacher wouldn’t enter you if they didn’t think you’re ready!