For California MTAC Teachers:
How to Prepare Your Students for Certificate of Merit

Note: This is written primarily for California teachers who are members of Music Teachers' Association of California (MTAC), but some (or all) of the advice may be applicable to other evaluations. After adjudicating, I thought some observations from an evaluator might help teachers.

Like any other organized adjudication, Certificate of Merit has guidelines. These exist only to aid teachers and evaluators in making CM a positive experience for students. The guidelines are not products of caprice but were developed after years of assessing what works and what does not. Following them will make a marked improvement in student readiness.

Tell the Student What to Expect

Prepare your students for all aspects of the evaluation. There should not be any surprises. Surprises undermine confidence. Can your students name all parts of the evaluation?

Walk your students through the entire session by doing a practice evaluation. Can all elements be accomplished in less than the time limit? How is memory playing? Are the needed scores available and properly prepared?


The most common problem in student preparation is sight-reading. First, make sure your students understand that there will be a sight-reading component to the evaluation. Second, prepare your students for sight-reading. Success here sets the tone for the rest of the evaluation because most evaluators begin with sight-reading.

Technique Demonstration

Although a few students clearly do not know the material, the usual difficulty with technique is time. Students unable to complete their demonstration in the allotted time must eliminate a portion of it or sacrifice literature time to complete it. Naturally, this is unnerving and usually causes the literature demonstration to be less well-played than it could be.

Most often, the time crunch is caused by inability to play the exercises at the speed required to do them within the time limit. Some students, however, are flustered by the time constraint itself.

Tell your students how many minutes they have in which to play their exercises. Time them in their technique presentations at the half-way point of the CM preparation process - no less than six weeks before the evaluation date. How much off the mark are they?

Set up weekly "time trial" goals so technique is up to speed no later than two weeks before CM. Ask your students to practice with a stopwatch at home.

Literature Demonstration

Likewise, time each piece of literature selected. Long, slow pieces are poor choices for CM.

Encourage piano students to play their pieces on as many different pianos as they can find. The keyboard or pedal "touch" on the evaluation piano may be quite different from students' home pianos or your instrument. Teach your students to deal with a variety of instruments.

Drill students in stopping and restarting so they can do it with poise if time runs short or if the evaluator wishes to move to another section of the piece. Imagine as many scenarios as you can and prepare for them. (What if the evaluator sneezes loudly or someone walks into the room by mistake or knocks on the door?)


Your students should have all books open to the correct pages and in the order of playing when they enter the room so the evaluator does not have to spend time looking for the material. The first page of each piece should be marked with a paper clip or a sticky note. (Unattached bookmarks fall out.) If students are playing with music, a second copy should be provided for the evaluator so he or she need not read over performers' shoulders. (Photocopies are not allowed.)

Number all measures. Not just at the beginning of the score or every five or ten measures. **Number ALL measures!** Assign this task to the student -as soon as- the piece is chosen for CM. Numbering all measures in literature selections is **the single most important thing** you can do to ensure more meaningful and detailed remarks from the evaluator! (Mark *both* copies with all measure numbers if your student is playing with music.)

**Number ALL measures!**

When the student and teacher take just a few minutes to prepare the materials completely, the evaluator can use the allotted time to write specific commentary rather than count measure numbers while half-listening to playing going on several measures beyond the point where a written observation is needed. The evaluators strive to do a conscientious job, but they need a little help from the teachers!

CM consumes a great deal of studio time and energy during the school year. Maximize your students' and your own benefits by doing as the CM guidelines stipulate. The evaluator wants to give you the most useful report possible. Following the directions will make this a reality. Talk to your branch's Certificate of Merit chairman for the latest information. Evaluators all across the state will thank you!

copyright 1998, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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