The sight reading part of the test is worth 21 points with a pass mark of 14. The test is not meant to be daunting and is progressively more involved as you go through the grades. You will have around 30 seconds to prepare the piece and during this preparation time you are able to play sections of the piece.
The pieces written for the exam are replaced every year so the only chance of seeing the same piece is if you have to retake the exam in the same year. There are different sight reading pieces for all instruments at all the grades.
As you would expect, the sight reading pieces are progressively challenging as you progress through the grades. Grade 1 for example will have very simple rhythms and will be quite short usually two or three lines of music. Grade 8 however could involve some complex time signatures with complicated rhythms, varying tempo and the expectation to perform at a suitable tempo and in the style stated.
The key signatures for sight reading will match the scale requirement for the grade you are taking. So for grade 1 for example, the key signature will be nothing or one flat/sharp. Grade 5 up to four flats/sharps and grade 8 anything goes. Do note that minor keys can feature in all grades!
So how is the best way to prepare if you have only 30 seconds? Try to adopt the following;
TIPS. If you mess up. Keep going and don’t let the examiner know by frowning, tutting or reacting in some other way. The examiner may not notice and by behaving oddly will only let the examiner know that something didn’t go well which will impact the mark.
I cannot emphasis point 5 above enough! Don’t rush!!!
Bluff!! If you are having a bit of trouble with a rhythm, a scale passage or othe aspect of the sight reading, make it up and keep going.
Finally, if you play a wrong note, do not go backwards. If you stay on the wrong note and continue with the piece, there is a chance it will sound ok and the examiner may think that was how it was supposed to go.
Is it ok to start again? Generally I recommend not starting again unless you are in the first or second bar and have made a proper mess of things. You are more likely to get away with a restart in the early grades. If you do need to start again, just do it. Most examiners are sympathetic and allow for nerves.