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VSA Exams

Vidya Subramanian discusses the newly launched online music certification program of Vidya Subramanian Academy. In an interview with Soumya Ranganathan, Director of Examinations, Vidya shares details and answers FAQs on the 6-level online Carnatic exam series.

Frequently Asked Questions (text) : To be read in conjunction with our FAQ video

Note: Exams will be conducted internally and certificates issued by Vidya Subramanian Academy (VSA). We are not affiliated to any University or any private or public organization.

Glossary of Terms :

VSA: Vidya Subramanian Academy :

AT: Assigned Teacher :

DE: Director of Examinations :

EE: External Examiner:

1. What are the certification courses and exams that are available?

As our Academy has grown over the years, students, parents and teachers have felt a need for an optional certification program to help students - Goals include the following 1. Keep students motivated 2. Enable students to benchmark their own performance and progress over time 3. Help them broaden and deepen their understanding of Carnatic music theory and practice - We plan to offer 6 levels of certification exams for our students - Purely optional ; there is an extra fee involved in applying for and taking these exams - Assigned teacher (AT) will be the primary resource in helping students prepare and apply for exams.

2. What is the specified or suggested time span to complete all levels of certification conducted by Vidya Subramanian academy?

As with most of our programs, we wish to keep our exams flexible and student centric. There is no pre-fixed or recommended time span that we have designated to complete any of these levels. - Time taken for each level depends of student’s aptitude, practice, attendance - Broad syllabus has been given to teachers for each level. AT indicates to the student when she is ready for the exam. - Goal – retain flexibility while enabling students to derive a sense of satisfaction that they have completed or mastered a certain level in the course of their training.

3. Are these examinations limited to only Carnatic vocal or are they available for instrumental music and other art forms as well?

VSA will initially offer these exams to our Carnatic vocal students - We plan to extend these exams in due course of time to our instrumental as well as dance students, once we have the procedures in place

March 2021 update: We now offer VSA Exams for melodic instruments (violin, veena and flute) as well as percussion (kanjira and mrudangam).

4. Does one have to be a student of Vidya Subramanian Academy to take the examinations?

Yes, this certification program is currently limited to VSA’s enrolled students - Reason: Our teaching methods are geared towards customized, online learning which should help students excel in our examinations - Exceptions may be made for students studying in person with one of VSA’s teachers

5. Do you conduct special sessions to help students prepare for these examinations? Will a special teacher train them for these exams?


The student will typically be guided by AT and can request for additional lessons closer to exam day, if they need help - For levels 5 and 6, AT and student may discuss and decide to seek the help of another teacher of VSA for advanced training, if the need is felt

6. Can you describe the exam process and test taking format?

Exams and entire certification program are purely optional and at additional fee - Once a student signs up for exam, the student will work closely with their AT who will be the primary resource person - AT will guide student as to whether or not student is ready for a given level of exam - AT will intimate the VSA Director of Exams (DE) as well as the student when AT determines that a student is ready for a particular level of exam - AT will share broad syllabus with student - Student needs to remit exam fee and have some paperwork completed - DE works with Vidya to assign External Examiner (EE), another teacher in our Academy - Exam will be a Skype 3-way call with student, EE and AT. AT acts as a silent facilitator during the call. EE will put forth questions. - Exam duration expected to be 30-45 min and includes 3 components: o Practical (singing) component o Theory (oral questions) component o Aural (listening / music appreciation) component - AT will submit the list of items ahead of time. EE will select compositions or improvisation elements that the student needs to perform during the exam based on the list - VSA wishes to ensure a low-pressure exam environment where focus is on learning and enjoying the entire process, so students need not worry too much about getting asked questions they haven’t been taught in class! - EE will share feedback after the exam. Goal is to ensure students move to a better level than they were at earlier while having fun with music!

7. Is the entire examination process done online?

Yes! Every step in the exam process, including application, fee remittance and the actual testing is done online. The student can complete the process from the comfort of her home

8. How is the examination date (testing date) determined?

The student can expect to take the exam within 4 weeks from the date of receipt of exam fee by VSA - Exam date and time slot will be intimated by DE after consultation with AT and student - Evaluation, feedback sharing and e-certificate issue will be completed within 3-4 weeks from exam date

9. How will knowledge gained through these exams help a student in understanding and mastering the art form? Can you describe the exam format with some examples of typical questions?

The syllabus has been carefully drafted to continue to give teachers and students broad flexibility in customizing the lesson plan to suit the student’s interests and goals. - Taking the exam will help students in various ways such as: o Helping students benchmark their progress in a non-competing environment as each level of exam is of increasing difficulty o Helping build on the knowledge gained in the previous level - The actual exam will be broken into 3 components or segments at every level: a. Practical (singing) component where the EE will ask the student to sing a song, exercise, manodharma aspect or combination thereof (depending on exam level). Example of a Level 1 practical question would be asking a student to sing jhanta varisai plus a geetham or bhajan from the student’s song list b. Theory (oral questions) component which enhance a student’s theoretical knowledge in a student friendly way and help them become better practitioners over time. Example of a Level 1 oral question would be asking students to name the saptaswaras and talk for a minute about a well known Carnatic composer, say Saint Thyagaraja c. Aural (listening / music appreciation) component which help students develop into better rasikas by deepening their general knowledge and music appreciation sense. Example of a Level 1 aural question would be have students recognize apaswarams (off-key notes) when a pattern in Raga Mayamalava gowla is sung by EE or asking students to singing Sa-Pa-Sa in alignment with tambura for various shrutis

10. Can these examinations be customized to suit an individual student’s needs? Will teachers from Vidya Subramanian Academy provide the necessary training?

Absolutely! Students need not feel scared or nervous about these exams - VSA’s exams will be coordinated by our DE, Soumya Ranganathan, who will be the student’s secondary resource for all queries related to the examination process - Vidya Subramanian can be reached as an additional resource for feedback or further assistance

11. Suppose I enroll for an exam today, what is the time frame to get my certification for that particular level?

Upon receipt of exam fee by VSA, DE will work with your AT to finalize the exam date in consultation with the student. - Exams are conducted throughout the year and the time slot is fixed after obtaining confirmation of availability from student, EE and AT. - For students aged 16 and below, a parent is expected to be present in the room throughout the testing on the exam day - You may expect to take the online exam via Skype within 4 weeks of payment of exam fee - The exam will be a video call, so please make sure your computer is properly set up with webcam and audio (microphone/speakers/headset) - The evaluation process will be completed in 2 weeks from the exam date. You can expect to receive your e-certificate and feedback form via email within about 8 weeks from the date on which your exam fee was received by VSA

12. What are the possible outcomes? Awards and grades?

For each of the 6 levels of exams, a student will receive a completion e-certificate which indicates one of the following three outcomes: o Completion with honors – indicating an average score of over 70% in each of the 3 components o Completion with merit - indicating an average score of over 50% in each of the 3 components o Participation – indicating that the student needs to repeat the same level exam; one repeat test will be allowed at no additional fee - Student also receives a feedback form that describes her performance and points out strengths as well as areas that need work

13. Will I be able to retest or reschedule, if required? Can I get a refund I am unable to take the exam on the scheduled test date?

Sorry, we are unable to refund exam fees under any circumstances. However, we do recognize that some students may not perform at the best of their ability or may be underprepared, unwell or simply unavailable on the exam date. Under such circumstances, the student may request exam coordinator to reschedule the test to another date. The rescheduled test must be taken within 6 months from the date of receipt of fee by VSA and rescheduling may be done only one time. If for any reason, the student is unavailable on the 2nd test date or does not make the cut in terms of score, the exam fee will need to be paid again before the student can retake a test.

14. Can a student with prior training skip one or more levels?

Students with prior training may choose to apply to directly take Level 2 or Level 3 but not beyond - Evaluation fee is payable by students looking to skip directly to Level 2 or 3 - In such situations, AT submits a form in prescribed format to DE - Student will subsequently be asked to submit video samples (uploaded on Google Drive / Youtube) from a selection of Level 1 and 2 practical questions. DE will select songs / exercises from Level 1 and 2 practical syllabus and inform AT; student thereafter submits video recording of selected items. a. DE evaluates the video sample b. Direct skipping application is accepted / rejected based on outcome of evaluation c. If direct skipping application is accepted, student can directly take Level 2 or Level 3 as desired by the student; AT should thereafter submit a declaration that the student is proficient with the syllabus of the skipped level(s) d. If direct skipping application is rejected, the student is sent a feedback form by DE. Student may choose to go back to Level 1 or resubmit the direct Skipping application e. No direct entry beyond Level 3

15. When are examinations conducted? How long will my exam session be?

Exams will be conducted on a rolling basis throughout the year. - You can expect your exam to be 30 min in duration for Levels 1 and 2 and about 45-60 min for Levels 3-6. - Kindly be ready and full set up on Skype 15 min prior to scheduled exam start time and please keep yourself available for a 90 minute time window on the day of your exam

16. How much time will a new student need before she is ready for her first exam?

AT will assess the student’s current singing level at the time of signing up for online lessons with VSA and guide students with respect to expected time frame - A student who has mastered Level 1 requirements at the time of signing up with VSA can take the Level 1 exam after a few review lessons with AT. These lessons may be used to fine tune the student’s preparation and orient her to VSA’s exam pattern. - There is no minimum waiting period for eligible students.

17. What is the exam fee transfer mode?

Fees are payable via online money transfer. - Fees for students located in Asia are designated and payable in INR - Fees for students located outside Asia are designated and payable in USD - DE will provide the fee structure and payment instructions as applicable to your location and exam level. - Please contact AT, or email DE at if you need assistance!

18. How and when will a student receive her e-certificate after taking an exam?

Certificate will be emailed to the student’s email ID within approximately 4 weeks from exam date. - Expect the entire process to be completed within 8 weeks from date of receipt of exam fee by VSA

19. Is Vidya Subramanian Academy’s Certification program affiliated to any University or a private organization?

VSA’s success has been rooted in our mantra of customized one-on-one learning in a student friendly and flexible learning environment - To enable us to offer these exams with the same vision, we have decided not to apply for any University affiliation at this time - The exams will be conducted internally and certificates issued by VSA. - We are not affiliated to any University or other private or public body

20. I have more questions before I sign up for exams. What do I do?

Please discuss with your AT - If there are questions that remain unanswered, AT will contact Vidya or DE to help clarify your query - You are welcome to email DE at if you have additional questions or need any assistance

Thank you!

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