The little details of grade exams
Although grade examinations have recently come into vogue due to their future role as a pre-qualifier for the TCRG exam, they aren’t new.
For many years, grade exams were offered primarily in countries around the world that had little to no access to feiseanna. Hard working dancers were looking for feedback and a tangible goal to work towards and so grade exams were offered as a way to improve and advance when feising wasn’t possible.
In a relatively isolated part of the Irish dance world ourselves (we have one local feis per year with the next closest being a nearly ten-hour drive away), we were keen to have our students begin the exam process as an additional measure of their progress and way to participate in Irish dance. We’re so pleased that to date we have had a 100 per cent pass rate but more than that, the exams have been a wonderful, positive experience for our students.
The grade exams syllabus from CLRG offers a great breakdown of what is required for each grade as well as the rules for taking them. The little details though, are best gained from experience. Like how good do you have to be to take an exam? How many dancers are in the room at a time? What do I need to wear?
A good place to get some insight is from the score sheet (see below). Grade exams are meant to assess your skill and help you improve. Therefore, it’s expected you will receive feedback on areas for improvement so dances don’t need to be absolutely, 100 per cent perfect to take the exam (the pass rate for exams is actually 40 so there is a fair amount of room for error). However, unlike a feis where you will still get ranked regardless of performance, grade exams are pass or fail so you want to make sure you feel comfortable with the material required and can perform it to a reasonable standard. For context, we’ve had young dancers in the beginner level sit grade one (beginner reel and light jig) and pass successfully. We waited until dancers were in advanced beginner however to put them forward for grade two (beginner slip jig and single jig) to ensure dancers had all their steps down cleanly.
In terms of what to expect on the day, dancers should be prepared to dance by themselves – including counting themselves in – however it’s likely other candidates will be in the room at the same time. The examiner will also likely have at least one person in the room assisting them with music and paperwork. Teachers and parents will be asked to wait outside so dancers should be prepared to a level that they can be independent during the exam process. It’s our experience, however, that the examiner will do whatever they can to put the dancers at ease and bring out their best performance. Dances are performed in order according to the syllabus and candidates stay in the exam area until all grades are complete. Certificates are handed out before leaving so it is always an exciting reunion when the dancers come back out to the family/teacher waiting area with their new credentials.
Another way that grade exams are different from feiseanna is costuming. No wigs, dresses or vests are worn during exams. Instead, candidates wear sports clothes, simple dresses, school spirit wear etc. Think something you might wear to dance class, but kicked up a notch.
More than anything though, expect the unexpected and have your dances prepared well. Each exam is run by a different school/group and a different examiner so there may be small differences in execution of the process. As long as dancers know their material confidently and are prepared to go with the flow, all will go well.
Closing pro tip: In order to take future grades, a dancer must prove they have passed the previous ones. Hold onto your certificates, grading sheets, maybe take photos so you have digital copies just in case, and bring them to your future exams to ensure a smooth process.