I am not the kind of teacher for whom exams are the 'be-all-and-end-all' of piano study. Having said that, time is increasingly at a premium today, especially for teenagers who are more likely to be taking this all-important step towards the advanced amateur grades. Homework pressures, clubs, hobbies etc. all make demands on their time. Unless they definitely do not want to take an exam and we can explore different repertoire, then exam pieces will take up most of what time they have; unfortunately it's time restraint that often dictates it. However, some come to me from other teachers and I am dismayed if they say that they have 'not done any theory', as if it's an alien concept and nothing to do with the music they have been studying. If they begin study with me, then we learn 'theory' through their pieces. I'm not advocating abandoning theory work books - we do use them - but just taking time to note how rhythms vary within a pulse, or naming notes, intervals and talking about chords makes all the difference from early on and it's vitally important to make reference to things within the context of the 'real stuff'. Only yesterday with a pupil studying for Grade 5 theory and practising a Bertini study at about Grade 6, we fell into a discussion about suspensions and how they are prepared, sounded and resolved; it made what to listen for so much more meaningful. It doesn't matter that they don't need to 'know' how to write them for Grade 5 theory either - we were learning and that's what it's about, not when it's time to get another certificate.
Just a word by way of recognition. I know that Grade 5 Theory OR practical musicianship OR Jazz is required to go beyond Grade 5 practical with ABRSM; if you use this boards, as I do, whichever route you choose will depend of course on the interests and strengths of your own students. I find practical musicianship materials good for helping with aural skills and harmony. Any student who is strong with aural work and can harmonise 'on the spot' would be a good candidate for Grade 5 Practical Musicianship if they want to do it, instead of the theory exam. A discussion of the merits of other routes may come later!
As far as preparation for milestone theory exams is concerned, my strategy is to work on written exercises alongside practice, and when we feel ready, we have a go at previous years' papers which I ask parents/pupils to buy. Although I can't stop them from buying answer books, which now are readily available, I try to discourage them so they learn more through their mistakes! Eventually I will ask the pupil to do at least one of these within the given time limit for the grade, so they do practise 'sitting it'; we assess it and move on unless they have a great desire to collect the certificates one by one. I really don't think it's necessary - they're tested and examined enough. Taking the all-important Grade 5 should come as no shock if a long-term curriculum has been worked on sensibly.
Everyone knows of good resources and they are readily available. Since finding Christopher Dunn's 'Take Five and Pass first time', for example, quick reference has been a breeze. I really recommend it. But we all have our favourite ways of remembering things - lines and spaces etc. Many students know Father Charles for the circle of fifths of course, but, Father Christmas Goes Down All Escalators Backwards and Busy Elves Always Do Good Chores in this house! Whatever gets the message home works - just use it early on and make it fun.
Diane's Crudentials Essentials...
Good luck later on, Grade 5 theorists!