During the Junior Cycle of secondary education, students are expected to study a variety of core (English, Irish, Mathematics and History) and optional subjects, one of which is Music. At the end of the third year of Junior Cycle Music, students will be expected to complete practical and written examinations to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the learning material.
In this article, we'll discuss what the written exam for Junior Cycle Music involves, what students can expect from this paper, and how to prepare for this during revision.
The Junior Cycle Music exam
The Junior Cycle takes a varied approach to assessment to ensure that students can demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the learning material. Junior Cycle Music students are tested via two Classroom-Based Assessments, a practical exam and a final written examination.
The Classroom-Based Assessments involve a composition portfolio and the preparation of a programme note in readiness for their upcoming practical exam performance. During the practical exam, students will perform three songs or musical pieces, either solo, in a group, or a mix of the two. The practical exam assesses fluency, technical control and musicality and can be presented through a variety of instruments or a mix of vocal work and instruments. Students will also sit an unprepared test that assesses aural memory, sight-reading or improvisation.
The final Junior Cycle Music written examination takes place in June at the end of the third year. It is studied at the Common Level and is set and marked by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). It accounts for 70% of the marks for the students' final examination, with the practical exam accounting for the remaining 30%. The written exam is one hour and 30 minutes long. Students must provide written responses to stimulus material to demonstrate their understanding and ability to engage with the material.
What to expect in the Junior Cycle Music written exam
During the Junior Cycle Music exam students will listen to a variety of different musical excerpts and respond to related questions. Adequate time is given between the excerpts to write answers in the examination booklet, and the excerpts will be played more than once to ensure students can listen to them thoroughly.
Students will be expected to respond to the excerpts in a variety of different ways. This may entail matching a pre-determined description to an excerpt and providing a reason for this description. In some past papers, students have been asked to give definitions for technical terms and provide examples.
Students may be asked to identify verse forms, rhythmic features or instruments, add stems and beams to the notes provided on sheet music to complete the rhythm of a musical excerpt, or describe how a composer has managed to achieve imagery within their music.
The number of questions in the exam can vary from year to year, but the number of questions for a specific exam will be provided on the second page of the answer booklet. Each question is broken down into multiple parts, and the number of marks available for each part of each question varies.
Students must write in blue or black pen, but a pencil can be used for graphic and staff notations. The answers must be written in the spaces provided in the exam paper because all booklets are scanned in order to be presented to examiners on screens—anything written outside of the answer areas may be missed and therefore unmarked. There is space at the back of the booklet for rough work.
How to revise for the Junior Cycle Music written exam
A great way to revise for the written Junior Cycle Music exam is to practice with past papers and sample papers. This allows students to familiarise themselves with the nature of the exam and get used to the process of listening to excerpts and responding to them. It's a good idea to mimic exam conditions; find a quiet space, set a timer to one hour and 30 minutes, and go right through the paper without pausing. Afterwards, students can check their work and identify areas requiring further study.
Another revision tip is to apply music theory to everyday life. Whenever music is playing students can actively listen and consider it from a theoretical point of view to put their knowledge into practice. They should also get into the habit of checking the key signature, time signature, clef and accidentals when looking at sheet music.
Mnemonics is a great technique for remembering technical terms related to music theory. This is the process of developing systems to assist memory. It might be associating words with relevant and memorable images to remember music vocabulary, or coming up with phrases to reflect the order of notes on a staff.
Although it can be tempting to test knowledge on topics that we feel confident in, it's important to identify and work on topics we're less sure of. Students should identify areas they think require more development—perhaps with the help of sample papers—and keep practising these until they get as many answers right as possible.
Edco exam papers
Sample exam papers are a fantastic way for students to get used to the format of the written examination for Junior Cycle Music and identify knowledge gaps.
Edco Junior Cycle Music Exam Papers is perfect for revising both the practical and written exam. It features an official SEC sample paper and seven Edco sample papers. Access to a free mobile app is included for students to listen to sample excerpts. It also includes a guide to achieving better grades, a section on the practical examination and guidance for completing the programme note Classroom-Based Assessment.
Other resources for revising Junior Cycle Music
Less Stress More Success Music Revision is a condensed and organised revision guide to help students study efficiently. It includes guidance on how the exam is marked, advice on exam technique, a short guide on music theory and a glossary of musical terms for quick reference. As well as highlighting key information, it provides in-context exam questions and tips for mastering the practical exam.