graduate diagnostic exam notebook

So, friends. I’ve been busy recently, and not writing a lot. I have just moved 80% of my belongings by volume a hundred miles (the other 20% are coming this weekends). I have started a new job, and I have done like 7 orientations for graduate school. And scariest of all – I took a thing called the Graduate Diagnostic Exam. Dun dun DUNN.

I’ll admit, until I took those two tests, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I’m a hardcore overachiever, and it was super stressful not having a list of stuff to brush up on for this. I didn’t even know the format of the tests! I barely knew what they were for!

However, they’re over now, and I’ve received notification that I passed the history exam – the theory exam is still pending – so I feel like I can help spread the knowledge to people applying to start music grad school in the fall.

What is a Graduate Diagnostic Exam?

These tests are essentially preliminary tests that accepted grad students take to see whether or not they need to take some refresher courses on subjects related to their degree. For music, the most common are the History and Music Theory exams. They’re usually pass/fail, though at least at my school the Theory exam had three parts, each individually graded P/F, each of which could land me in a refresher course.

How do Diagnostic Exams affect my degree?

If you “fail” an exam, you aren’t kicked out of the program. Instead, a class or set of classes is added to the required list of courses you need to take to get your degree. It essentially is a placement exam, to make sure you start at the level relevant to your own knowledge.

How do I prep for a Graduate Diagnostic Exam?

This is the hard part. First of all, if you’re still in your undergrad career, KEEP ALL YOUR NOTES. I know some people HATE music history, but if you’re thinking about grad school, absolutely keep those notebooks instead of burning them. They are a great resource to review in the time before you take the exam. Second, check and see if your school posts guidelines or tips about the exam online. Some schools do, some don’t. If yours doesn’t, you can always just go to the University of Kansas or Bowling Green State University websites and check out their requirements. They aren’t likely to be too far off.

WHY IS THIS SO SCARY?

Because you care about the results! That’s a good thing! Just remember than your worth as a musician and as a person is not dictated by your exam results. After all, you got into grad school in the first place. These tests are supposed to make sure that everyone comes out of their Master’s with the same base level of proficiency. If the school thought needing to brush up on music history meant you didn’t belong in the program, it would have been part of the application process. Regardless of the results, you’re still a grad student now!

I’ll be honest, my fight-or-flight instinct kicked in hardcore before and during these exams. That’s okay! They’re nervewracking. If they don’t make you at least a little nervous, then you might be overconfident. But even if you are nervous, you’re gonna be okay!

You’ve got this.

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