All Graduate students in Music at Hunter College must take various proficiency exams in music history, dictation, music theory, keyboard skills and sight singing (guidelines for the exams are found below). M.A. students also need to take a foreign language proficiency exam (Music TEP students do not need the foreign language exam). These exams test skills we assume that you should have learned as undergraduate music students.
To find out when exams will be given during the upcoming school year, click here. Although there is no penalty for failing the exam, students whose proficiency exam test scores suggest special problem areas might be asked to take remedial undergraduate courses to remedy these weaknesses. In any case, students can retake any or all of the parts of the proficiency exams.
Each student must take these tests upon beginning the program (after receiving official acceptance from the Admissions Department), and must pass the proficiency exams before completing more than 18 credits towards their degree.
Guidelines for the Proficiency Exams
Dictation: The dictation exam consists of four sections: (1) rhythmic dictation exercises; (2) two melodic dictation exercises; (3) identification of intervals and chords; and (4) a harmonic dictation, where the students are asked to notate the outer voices and the Roman numerals of a short excerpt. Students having severe trouble with this exam are urged to either get tutoring or register for an undergraduate course in ear training.
Sight singing: In the sight singing exam, students will be asked to sight sing a short excerpt, without stopping, using correct pitches and rhythms (use of solfege syllables is entirely optional). Students have the additional option of bringing a prepared solfege exercise to the exam, which might help in borderline cases.
Keyboard skills: The keyboard exam consists of four sections: (1) demonstration of keyboard proficiency by playing a short piece on the piano (students who have a concentration in Piano Performance are exempt from this requirement); (2) sight reading a simple piece on the piano (students who have a concentration in Piano Performance will be asked to sight read a more complicated piece); (3) demonstration of basic theory knowledge by playing scales, triads, and intervals on the piano (for instance, a student might told to "play a C# melodic minor scale" or a "D diminished triad).
Harmony: Harmonizing (in four parts) a short melodic progression and realizing a figured bass.
Analysis: Students listen to a recording of a piece to which they are given a score. They must then answer questions regarding the piece, including questions about its cadences, key and modulation scheme, phrase structure (including sentence structure and period structure), form (possibly including questions about binary forms, ternary forms, sonata form, rondo form, and similar forms), and motivic organization.
Language: Using a dictionary, translate into English a short passage in a foreign language of your choice. (Note: Music TEP students do not need to take the foreign language exam.)
Music History: The Music History proficiency is in two parts: part 1 is devoted to pre-1750 music, part 2 is devoted to post-1750 music. Each part has questions on (1) composer identification; (2) terminology; and (3) score analysis. To help you prepare for these exams you might want to download the Guidelines for Music History Exam, part 1 and Guidelines for the Music History Exam, part 2; you may also download a Sample Music History Exam, part 1, as well as the scores for this sample exam (the Music History Exam part 2 has the same basic format as the exam for part 1).
Most exams take an hour to complete (with the exception of the dictation exam, which takes around one-half hour, and the keyboard skills and sight singing exams, which take about 5 minutes each). Please note that there is no penalty for failing an exam; students who fail an exam may retake it until they pass. If after reading the guidelines above you remain confused, you should nevertheless plan to take the exams at your earliest possible convenience--that way, even if you need to retake the exam, you will at least be more prepared for the exam the following time.