The status quo of the collegiate entrance exam in music theory analyzed from the perspective of test theory

Anna Wolf, Reinhard Kopiez, Friedrich Platz


The entrance exam at music colleges is of pivotal importance as its results regulate if the prospective student may or may not enter the chosen program of studies. The objective of entrance exams is to provide evidence of "an exceptional artistic qualification" (Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media, n. d.)[1]. Proficiency in both musical practice and music theory are tested, the latter in a written exam. Such a written exam is developed from scratch every year and tests distinct knowledge in music theory and aural training.

This study presents the results of a statistical analysis of music theory entrance exams from a German music college. Having accessed a comprehensive sample of entrance exam candidates (overall n = 302), we analyzed the distributions of the results from the perspective of test theory. The item analysis has shown that the items are mostly Rasch-conform, however, the item difficulties are within a too narrow range. Additionally, the other tasks cannot be marked objectively and are therefore not analyzable. This provides evidence that the task design does not conform with established standards in test design (Hornke, 2005).

This statistical analysis is the starting point for the prospective development of competency-oriented items and the advancement of a competency model for music theory and ear training. On a long-term basis we suggest the development of an item pool which could supply theoretical based test items for the entrance exam in music theory and aural training. Such an improvement would define subject-specific standards and enable young musicians to prepare themselves for an entrance exam in an optimized and goal-oriented way.


Keywords: Item reponse theory, Music theory, Proficiency assessment

[1] translated by Anna Wolf

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©  b:em Beiträge Empirischer Musikpädagogik/ bulletin of empirical music education research

Supported by the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media

Supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG)