My daughter Rosie is acting obsessed. It’s been her dream to follow a career in this tough profession since she was a little girl. And as she’s got older, her interest has only increased. Gaining some form of qualifications to prove her skills in this area seemed a logical step.
As a home educator, it’s difficult (although not impossible) to sit a Drama GCSE, but LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) exams are an excellent, if not better alternative. I’m very thankful we discovered them, so wanted to share our positive experience with others. (Note I’m not being paid to write this post nor am I LAMDA tutor! It’s just my honest opinion).
There are communication and performance LAMDA exams, ranging from qualifications in public speaking, to acting, to musical theatre, to Shakespeare, and many more.
The benefits of taking LAMDA exams are not just for those wanting to go into the acting industry. Any career with even a modicum of public speaking requirement would benefit hugely from the skills required by these exams. Even if this is not an official presentation but instead arguing your case from around a meeting room table. Or in fact any career within the book industry, since literary analysis is a large part of the assessment.
They are also straightforward to organise and study from home, and at the higher levels, can gain you some serious UCAS points for university entry. Furthermore, the LAMDA lessons and exam preparation time count towards the skills section of Duke of Edinburgh awards. What’s not to like? So, first up, what are they exactly?
What are LAMDA exams?
LAMDA was founded in 1861 and is the oldest drama school in the UK. They started running official examinations more than 130 years ago. Today, these qualifications are available internationally. LAMDA exams are the speech and drama equivalent of a music grade qualification, such as ABRSM. They start at a basic entry level and go up to Grade 8.
At Grades 6, 7 & 8 (also known as Bronze, Silver and Gold), UCAS points are available. So, for example, a distinction in an exam at Grade 8 would earn you 30 UCAS points (for reference, a C grade at A Level is 32 points). See this link for the full list.
You can gain qualifications in the following disciplines:
- Speaking Verse and Prose
- Speaking in Public
- Reading for Performance
- Devising Drama
- Musical Theatre (Solo/Duo or Group Performance)
If you’re interested, take a look here for more detail on each qualification. Broadly though they all involve a performance element of pre-prepared pieces, an improvised performance (in some of the higher grades), and then a series of questions about the topic.
Rosie recently completed her Grade 6 Acting LAMDA exam (still waiting for the results). To give you an idea of how the qualifications work, this is what she had to cover:
Grade 6 Acting
1. Performance of a solo piece from a play or television/film screenplay from one of the following periods:
- Ancient Greek and Roman
- Elizabethan and Jacobean
- Restoration and Post-Restoration
She chose a Juliet monologue from her favourite Shakespearean play.
2. Performance of a post-2000 solo piece from a play or television/film screenplay (a minimum of three minutes and no more than five)
She chose a monologue from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A piece in which she played Judy, explaining to her autistic son – Christopher – why she couldn’t cope anymore and felt she had to leave him. It was a heartbreakingly honest and painful piece, which allowed Rosie to showcase real maturity in her acting skills.
3. Answer questions on:
- The breathing techniques used to support the voice in each scene performed (this involved a GCSE level explanation of the physical mechanics of breathing, which helpfully overlapped with her biology studies)
- The character’s objectives in each scene performed
- The character’s role within the context of the play as a whole
Here are her notes for this last question:
How can I study for/sit LAMDA exams?
Although I’m sure you could study for these exams independently as the various syllabi are available on the LAMDA website along with guidance on their marking, I would highly recommend using a good tutor. We found our brilliant LAMDA teacher (at a very reasonable rate) to be invaluable (her site is Beehive School of Dramatic Arts).
Rosie has one thirty-minute online lesson per week, and it took her six months to prepare for the Grade 6 level (although she was already very familiar with one of the pieces). Note though that she also has acting skills lessons with another, excellent teacher, who has also helped her make huge strides in her performance ability.
Other than the week before the exam, she did very little work outside of her LAMDA lessons. It took her the same time for the Shakespeare Level Two exam (equivalent to Grades 4&5 in the other disciplines) for which she gained a distinction.
This is something Rosie did independently of me. Apart from helping her nail the lines and driving her to the exam, I had no other input. Her LAMDA tutor helped her prepare answers to all the required questions and knew exactly what the examiner would be looking for. Without a tutor, it would undoubtedly have taken me ages to work out exactly what to teach her and how to score the highest marks.
In terms of the exams themselves, you can either do them online or face-to-face. We chose to do them in-person. Here’s the list of available examination centres.
Students are assessed by official LAMDA examiners and gain marks for interpretation, technique and knowledge. The exams can feel quite formal, but all the LAMDA reps we’ve met are very warm and welcoming. The assessment last ten minutes for a lower grade up to thirty for the highest grades.
And once you’re done, you just need to wait six weeks for the results!
Benefits of LAMDA exams
There are, in my humble opinion, many benefits of studying for and sitting these examinations. Here are a few.
Standing up and reading/reciting/acting/presenting in front of audience, whether it be one or one hundred, takes guts.
I remember distinctly the sick feeling I used to get when I had to stand up and present in my previous career. Legs wobbling and with an effort to control my shaking voice, the focus was simply getting through the encounter. And then I could relax. I’m sure anxiety was radiating from me in waves making it a rather nerve-wracking experience for the audience too.
And whilst in this heightened state of stress, no spare thought could be given to articulating clearly, projecting my voice, using humour or movement to keep the audience engaged.
Imagine then a different woman. One who like my daughter, has grown up practising these very skills from an early age. First in the friendly embrace of a church congregation (she started reading prayers there aged four) and then on to acting classes and through many LAMDA examinations. This woman doesn’t give a second thought to worry or stress. She’s more interested in how she’s best going to engage the audience. How she’s going to have them hanging on her every word. How she can best portray whatever she’s delivering. Be it a story, a beautiful poem, a new concept, an idea, or a request for assistance.
Her inner confidence shines through, and the audience are drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Many of the LAMDA exams require the children to examine in detail a piece of their choice from a selection of classic plays and novels. Many of these are the same set texts for the English Literature GCSEs. They’re asked to look at aspects such as the literary techniques used within the passages or how the author is using the character in that scene to achieve a specific objective.
And then they’re asked to look broader at the story in its entirety. Here, they analyse the plot, specific character’s roles, the interplay between characters or the key underlying themes within the whole story/play.
For the poetry/sonnet selections, they study the content and its mood, along with the verse form, rhythm and metre. In the higher grades, they also need to discuss the emphasis and modulation, including features such as stress, pitch, inflection and intensity.
At some grades, the life, work and influence of the authors themselves need to be investigated. Or the writing style or period in which the author was working.
All of this can be prepared for in advance of the exam. The children have time to think about and consider their thoughts without any time pressure. They are also free to interpret the literature in their own way. There’s no wrong or right answer here. The aim is to help the children enjoy the stories they’re studying.
But ultimately, to give the best performance, having a deep understanding the character they’re portraying is hugely beneficial. And this in turn gives them a more profound appreciation for the book and its aims. The whole process gently improves their literary analysis in a way that feels relaxed and fun. Always the most effective way of learning in my opinion!
Structuring Arguments/Persuasive Speaking
It’s one skill to analyse the literature. But it’s quite a different skill to structure this into a coherent, logical and persuasive answer to a question. LAMDA students get practice at this too.
Although there is plenty of time to prepare their answers ahead of time, the examiners will be looking for them to have a fluency and naturalness around their answer. It shouldn’t sound pre-prepared and formulaic.
Practice here is key. Students approach it in many ways. Rosie has always found it best to write down an answer, and the process of writing acts as her way of learning the key points. So then when she’s rehearsing the questions with her tutor, she’s not speaking the answer in a memorised/rote way but can easily pull into her mind the salient points. This feels more natural allowing her to engage with the examiner as she persuades them of her opinions.
Furthermore, the exams stick to a strict schedule. You have a set amount of time, and they don’t deviate from that. If you’re likely to run over, they will cut short your answers. So, it’s important then to make sure the most important points are included early in the response, and that you’re succinct.
Throughout this process, they’re learning incredibly important life skills. More valuable in my opinion than much of what they learn for their written GCSEs!
When Rosie decided to play Judy, the mother in the book, A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, she first wrote her character a back story. One that was completely made up. But one that helped her understand why Judy behaved towards Christopher the way she did.
Rosie is an empath. If someone is behaving in a way that others would find wrong, Rosie will do her best to suggest reasons for their actions. So, if someone cuts me up when I’m driving and I start to grumble, she’ll calmly say something like, “They’ve probably had a bad day. Or maybe they’re desperately in a rush to be with someone who’s in trouble.” And it makes me think (genuinely I learn so much from this precious child).
She did something similar for Judy. She created for her a childhood which was at first perfect, but then changed dramatically on the birth of her autistic brother. All attention was now drawn to help support this child, and she felt neglected and hurt. On the discovery of autism in her own son, she felt like history was repeating itself. Once again, she would have to put her own needs second as she struggled to care for little Christopher.
Crafting this story helped Rosie step into Judy’s shoes. Now she could see things through Judy’s eyes, appreciate her pain and understand why she behaved as she did. And bringing Judy to life helped Rosie deliver an excellent performance as this character.
But it’s not just characterisation which helps develop their performance skills. Through the LAMDA process, they also learn to:
- Project their voice
- Vary their tone, inflection, pace and volume
- Appreciate the value of the pause
- Articulate each word effectively
- Use the space and their body movements within it to convey messages
- Engage with the audience through eye contact and body language/stance
- Think on their feet and improvise (in the higher grades)
- Receive and act on creative criticism and constructive feedback (never an easy one!)
Memorisation & Vocabulary Improvement
By the time you reach the higher grades, the passages are long. Five minutes of speaking time equates to a lot of words to remember! And memorisation is like exercise for the brain. It is said to “increase the size and improve the function of memory-related brain structures.”
We understand the need to exercise our bodies, but there’s clearly a high value associated with doing the same for our minds.
Also, many of the texts are from classic literature and include a much wider vocabulary than current books. To perform these selections well, students must fully understand the meaning of each and every word. Often this means discovering new words/different meanings for words, thereby expanding their own lexicon in the process.
Official Examination of Non-Written Skills
Most other assessments of an individual’s capability come in the form of a written exam. Some people excel at these, and others don’t, regardless of their underlying ability. These LAMDA assessments then provide an ideal opportunity to demonstrate and be recognised for your talents without writing a single word on paper. For some this is a lifeline.
Furthermore, they’re a chance to practice getting used to taking exams in a safe but still formal environment. And trust me, there’s a real sense of achievement that comes with receiving your official award through the post.
This smile says it all 😊