Guidelines for candidates with autism

These guidelines contain information for candidates with autism. They detail the access arrangements and reasonable adjustments that ABRSM offer for our face to face instrumental and singing exams including diplomas, Practical Musicianship, Prep Test and Performance Assessments.

Separate fair access guidelines are available for our digital instrumental and singing exams and our theory exams.

For convenience we use the term ‘autism’ throughout these guidelines to refer to autistic spectrum disorder, autistic spectrum condition, Asperger’s, high-functioning autism as well as associated conditions such as Pathological Demand Avoidance and social and communication difficulties.

Before reading these guidelines, we recommend you also read our Specific Needs Policy, which can be found at

We also publish the following guidelines which may also be relevant:

  • Guidelines for candidates with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD)
  • Guidelines for candidates requesting a chaperone

You should 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.

It is important that you select the relevant access option on the online booking form for each exam. You should do this even if you have requested access arrangements or reasonable adjustments previously.

If none of the access options 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 or access arrangements where we are notified after the exam booking has been made or if you move your original exam booking to a different day.

In order to grant reasonable adjustments, ABRSM requires appropriate supporting evidence. Please refer to our Access Arrangements and Reasonable Adjustments Policy for further information.

ABRSM is grateful to the SEND Teaching School who provided valuable suggestions for the revision of these guidelines.

All ABRSM examiners are provided with basic information relating to autism and how this might affect a candidate taking an exam. In addition, you are welcome to supply any further information you think would be helpful for the examiner to know in advance.

It is important to understand that while we are able to make provisions for the administration of the exam, e.g. additional time or alternative tests, we are not able to make any concessions in the marking – all candidates will be treated equally.

On the day

We are aware that you may experience heightened anxiety associated with getting to an unfamiliar exam venue, warming up alongside other candidates, meeting an unfamiliar examiner and even the change to your regular routine. You are welcome to arrange a visit to the exam centre in advance. Please see the list of ABRSM local exam centres. Before you get to the exam room, our stewards and honorary local representatives are given training to help make the exam visit as positive an experience as possible. The additional time in the exam will help examiners to ensure that you do not feel rushed.

Examiners have been asked to:

  • Be understanding of the difficulties posed by unfamiliar settings, people and routines
  • Speak slowly, clearly and concisely, allowing time for you to process the information and instructions
  • Repeat any instructions if asked or to allow five seconds before prompting
  • To use the same wording for any questions they repeat to avoid confusion
  • Understand that you may become muddled with your own words when asked to respond to questions
  • Be aware that memory lapses may occur in any section of the exam

Time: Examiners and invigilators will be aware that you may either need reassurance that there is plenty of time for the exam, or alternatively may need firm guidance regarding time remaining.

Written comments: Marks will always reflect the standard of your performance. However, examiners will aim to avoid comments that may draw undue attention to your specific needs and any access arrangements.

Order of the exam: You may notify the examiner on the day of your preferred order, provided that it is logistically feasible – for example, it is better that elements requiring an accompanist are adjacent to cause minimum disruption.

The following options are available for candidates with autism. Selecting any of these options will ensure the ‘General arrangements’ listed below.

  • Autism with no additional time for Sight-reading
  • Autism with additional time for Sight-reading
  • Social and communication difficulties

The following options enable all the same arrangements with the addition of the relevant alternative format. Further details can be found below.

  • Autism requiring large print and extra time for Sight-reading test
  • Autism requiring modified print and extra time for Sight-reading test
  • Autism requiring aural repetition test in place of Sight-reading

Additional time

You will have an additional five minutes added to the exam. The extra time may be taken wherever is most helpful, for instance at the beginning of the exam to allow you to familiarise yourself with the exam room and the examiner.

If you select the relevant option above, and the supporting documentation confirms this, you will be entitled to use up to three minutes of this to prepare the Sight-reading test. You are welcome to indicate that you are ready to play before the three minutes has elapsed, but the examiner will not ask you to play before this time.


Replays: Examiners will be aware that a candidate may forget which scale they are playing, and will allow a replay. Examiners will also be aware that you may need some processing time to recall the key signature and finger patterns required. No penalty will be made for a lack of ‘prompt’ responses. If you need to replay numerous scales, however, this may impact on the mark awarded.

Aural tests

Every examiner will follow the rubric printed in the new Specimen Aural Tests books, thus avoiding any variations in the way in which the aural tests are delivered. 

Making notes: For tests requiring you to remember what you have been asked before the playing of a musical extract (as in the C or D test, depending on the grade), you will be allowed to take a pencil and piece of paper into the exam room to make a note of which features you need to listen for. The examiner will collect this piece of paper at the end of the exam. 

Additional attempts: Examiners may allow an additional attempt at the aural tests if they consider there is reason to do so, with no penalty. Any further attempts may be allowed at the examiner’s discretion. Where The examiner will be ready to prompt, where appropriate, though this will affect the assessment. 

Tests involving singing: We are aware that some candidates with autism find singing particularly challenging or impossible. If this is the case, you should contact the Access Coordinator at the time of entry to discuss suitable alternatives.


You may be more comfortable with a familiar person to accompany you into the exam. We refer to this person as a chaperone. The chaperone should not be your parent or music teacher unless there is no other option. You must have advance written permission from ABRSM. Please review our guidelines for candidates requesting a chaperone.

Large print tests

ABRSM’s default for large print tests is a 14mm stave on white paper. Tests may be printed on A4 or A3.

If you request a large print sight-reading test, you will receive a large print copy of aural test B at Grades 4 to 8.

Modified print tests

Rather than a straightforward enlargement, ABRSM can make further modifications based on your preferences, for example, larger note-heads and beaming, or a larger font for performance directions. 

If you request a modified print sight-reading test, you will receive a modified print copy of aural test B at Grades 4 to 8.

If you require modified print, you should send a covering letter at the time of entry along with a sample of the notation required. Please include details of all typographical specifications. You can email musical examples written in Sibelius or MuseScore to [email protected].

Further information on modified stave notation (MSN) is published by the UK Association for Accessible formats (UKAAF) and their contact details can be found at the end of these guidelines.

Use of large print or modified print scores in exams

You are welcomed to use your own large print or modified print copies in the exam provided you bring the original with you. This provision is made under the Code of Fair Practice published by the MPA, which allows you to make an accessible copy for your own use. No prior permission is required.

Aural repetition in place of Sight-reading

This test may be a more appropriate alternative for some candidates with severe learning difficulties or who learn music by ear rather than notation.

This test consists of a short passage played three times on the piano by the examiner. They will first play and name the key-chord and starting note, and then indicate the tempo. After two playings, the examiner will give you approximately 15 seconds to try out the test yourself. After a third and final playing, the examiner will ask you to play or sing the test from memory.

Further details

Singing candidates

If you choose the aural Repetition test, this will be accompanied by the examiner who will play the vocal line, together with its own accompaniment, three times. You can sing the vocal line to ‘la’ or to any other vowel sound.

Specimen aural repetition tests

Specimen aural repetition tests are available from ABRSM.

Aural tests

If you request the aural repetition test in place of Sight-reading, the following arrangements apply to test B:

Grades 4 and 5: this is conducted as a ‘Talking Score'. The examiner will first play and name the key-chord and tonic and will then read out each note in turn, indicating whether the pitch rises or falls, for you to sing back.

Grade 6: The examiner will play the single line melody 3 times with a 30 second break in between the first two playings. During this time you may try out any part of the test.

After the third and final playing, you will be asked to sing the melody with the piano accompaniment played by the examiner.

Grade 7: The examiner will play the upper part of a two-part phrase 3 times with a 30 second break in between the first two playings. During this time you may try out any part of the test.

After the third and final playing, you will be asked to sing the melody with the lower part played by the examiner.

Grade 8: The examiner will play the lower part of a two-part phrase 3 times with a 30 second break in between the first two playings. During this time you may try out any part of the test.

After the third and final playing, you will be asked to sing the melody with the upper part played by the examiner.

If we cannot meet your needs within the graded exam system, you  may wish to take the Performance Assessment.

In this assessment, you can play your own choice of repertoire and will receive a written report containing constructive comments and advice from an examiner.

There is no pass or fail for this assessment, and no assessment criteria. You should include a written statement with the entry detailing your specific needs (this is essential if the candidate is under 18) so that the information can be passed on to the examiner.

We can offer additional time or additional playings of tests as appropriate. Please contact the access coordinator before making your exam booking to discuss arrangements.

ARSM involves no supporting tests or anything that requires candidates to respond to questions from the examiner, so alternative tests for candidates with autism are not needed. We will add five minutes to the exam to allow you time to prepare for your performance. This does not alter the criteria for the length of your programme.

If you have access requirements that the examiner should be aware of, please contact the access coordinator before making your entry with the relevant details.

Quick Study

You will not receive extra time for preparing the Quick Study automatically.

If you require this reasonable adjustment you should indicate this by contacting the access coordinator at the time of entry. We may ask to see additional supporting evidence to support this request.

Aural Repetition test in place of Quick Study

you will be given a short piece of music recorded onto CD. You will have 15 minutes to prepare before being asked to play the test from memory. The test will be recorded on the instrument being assessed. You may, if you wish, use the piano as well as your own instrument during your preparation time. You are responsible for providing your own CD player which should be familiar to you, reliable, portable, have a sufficiently long mains lead and be quick to set up. Further information can be provided on request from the Access Coordinator.

Specimen aural repetition quick study tests

As there are no specimen tests at Diploma level, you should use ABRSM syllabus material at Grade 6 for DipABRSM, Grade 7 for LRSM or Grade 8 for FRSM.

Singing candidates taking the Aural Repetition Quick Study

You will be required to incorporate the lyrics in your performance of the test and will be given the usual choice of singing in either Italian or English. You should confirm your language preferences at the time of entry so that the appropriate test can be recorded. You will be provided with a full recording of the score, a recording of the lyrics only, a recording of the melody sung to ‘la’ with the accompaniment and a recording of the melody including the lyrics.

Viva Voce

Examiners will make every effort to ask questions clearly and concisely. They will also be happy to repeat questions or ask follow-up questions as necessary. If you have particular concerns or questions about the Viva Voce, please contact the Access Coordinator at the time of entry.

Contact details


Access Coordinator
4 London Wall Place
T +44 (0)20 7467 7342

Information on Modified Stave notation

UK Association for Accessible formats (UKAAF)

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