To Examine or Not to Examine . . .  

The 3 Personality traits that determine a student’s likely disposition towards sitting examinations . . .

The following article highlights 3 common personality traits and suggests which type of student may or may not benefit from sitting an exam. The different personality traits are: extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness[1].

 ‘Let’s kick some goals and sit the next exam!’

Extraversion is the trait, which drives and motivates a student to pursue and capture the next extrinsic goal. Extraverted students tend to thrive in a competitive environment where they can set a goal and practice hard until they can achieve that goal. Their goal may be to sit an examination; or to record a piece of music and upload it to YouTube; or it may be to perform/compete in an eisteddfod etc. An extraverted student who is driven to set goals, feels an extrinsic sense of reward when these goals are completed.

A student who is low on the extraversion scale may not be outwardly motivated to seek extrinsic reward. He/she may study examination material for his/her own personal intrinsic gain of simply learning and enjoying music. So, the question we should ask ourselves as teachers is, ‘What benefit is sitting an examination for a student who is intrinsically motivated to learn without the extrinsic need for reward?’ i.e. an examination certificate. If there is no benefit in sitting the examination, perhaps it is in the student’s best interest to continue the challenges of learning and branching out to explore a broader breadth of repertoire.

‘I really want to embark on Grade 5 but just not do the exam . . . Please?

Neuroticism is the extent to which students feel stressed and worried about something[2]. The stress and worry can drive them to try hard, yet it can also lead to anxiety and that’s not what the study of music should be about.

 There are some students who truly don’t enjoy performing under the pressure of an examination situation. And let’s face it; exams can be quite a daunting experience for some students. This type student may be highly extraverted and highly neurotic, thus truly motivated to study the examination material yet far too daunted by the prospect of performance pressure to sit the exam. So why push a neurotic student to sit an examination? If they are motivated to practice and don’t require the deadline pressure of a date, surely this should negate the need to sit an examination, shouldn’t it?

‘I have my theory examination in June, my VCE music SAC in August, when is a good time to sit my 8th Grade Violin? ‘

Here is a highly conscientious student who is using planning skills to ensure that his/her goals are achieved. Highly conscientious students are disciplined, organized and self-controlled[3]. They may be highly extraverted which may drive them to complete an examination and also highly conscientious which would give them the willpower to pursue their goals through their disciplined approach to learning. A student of this calibre is definitely a goal setter and achiever and would thrive in an examination situation.


Let’s look for the moment at the opposite of the conscientious student. How would a student who is impulsive and has a weakness of the will (in music practice) go if they had an examination date booked in the near future? These students would certainly require more help from their teachers or guardians in organizing a practice schedule. They may find the ‘boring’ elements of the examination (for many students this would be technical work, would it not?) a bore to practice and may not plan to practice the tedious bits until the pressure of the examination is felt like a dragon breathing fire down their neck! These students could potentially do well in the examination if the right support was available and if they were willing to commit to a medium-term practice goal.

These 3 personality traits can be highly present in a student or appear as a combination, and they all play a factor in determining a student’s disposition towards sitting an examination. Whether our students are highly neurotic, super conscientious, struggle with a weakness of the will, are motivated extrinsically by the desire to ‘kick goals’,’ or are somewhere in between we, as teachers, should try to recognize where our students are within this continuum and take into consideration their needs when planning their next musical goal.

For those violin and viola teachers who may have students wishing to learn purely for the intrinsic reward of playing beautiful music, I invite you to visit for some fantastic repertoire ideas for your students. For those teachers who have ‘goal-kicker’ students I also invite you check out the above website.

Students who learn through the Violin Time series are taught theory, musicianship, technical work and beautiful repertoire, which prepares them for the scope of knowledge, required for sitting music examinations or for the pure enjoyment of learning!


By Nicole Billimoria A.Mus.A, BMus, Grad. Dip. Ed, MHRM

Author of Violin Time and Viola Time Book 1 and 2



[1] Daniel Nettle, Personality, 2007

[2] Daniel Nettle, Personality, 2007

[3] Daniel Nettle, Personality, 2007