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A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam (karma: 10)
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:10 PM
Made sticky by Sumayah (204191) on 2011-10-24 21:46:31

I've taken the TCRG exam twice now (sadly, have not yet passed but that will come), and I know there are other TC's and TC candidates on these boards too, so I thought it might be useful to gather our knowledge into an insider's guide to the TCRG exam. There is a LOT that goes on at the exam that's not indicated on the syllabus and that can be intimidating if you don't have the inside scoop, so hopefully this will be helpful. Those who have taken the exam -- please pipe in with your own tips!

When should I take the exam?
Even if you're dancing regularly and assistant-teaching regularly and know most of the ceili dances, you will need to do a great deal of prep work for the exam. From my own experience, and what other candidates and teachers have told me, giving yourself a year to prepare should probably be the minimum amount of time. And during that year you must have a good deal of spare time to work away at building up the knowledge and material you need. This is not an exam you can cram for.

Some people like to chip away at it casually -- like spend a couple of years learning all the ceili dances and perfecting their set dances. That's fine if it works for you. For me, I needed a hard deadline to work toward; otherwise I'd procrastinate too much. So I applied for an exam, got in, and then spent about 10 months seriously preparing.

How do I know when there's going to be an exam, and how far in advance do I need to apply?
CLRG lists upcoming exams on their web site, but the problem is that once an exam is announced, it's almost always immediately full. You need to apply at least 8 months in advance, and sometimes even as far as a year in advance (if you're a first-time candidate -- if you're repeating sections they can often squeeze you in later).

So it helps to know the general pattern of when CLRG holds its exams. In general, there is usually one in Los Angeles in late January. There is typically an exam in Ireland or the UK in May, and sometimes one in the UK in July. There is always one in North America in the fall, either September or October (last year there were 2). And then there is always a late-fall exam in the UK or Ireland too, in November or December or sometimes both.

So technically you could apply to CLRG saying, "I would like to get into the next available North American exam in the fall of 2012" and they are usually OK with that.

What does the exam consist of?
Below is a mix of my own experience, the experience of other people I know, and the official syllabus, for each part of the exam. But first off, you have to be 20 years old or older, you have to have the support/signature of a TCRG, and you have to be able to pay the fees (which are roughly around 600 Euros right now).

Part A - Practical Stepdance Test
What the official syllabus says:
You must be prepared to dance the following:
-- 2 steps of the jig, single jig, slip jig, reel, treble jig, and hornpipe
--9 set dances of your choices (4 must be HP, 4 must be TJ, and the other one can be either HP or TJ)
--the 4 traditional dances Blackbird, St Patrick's Day, Job of Journeywork, and Garden of Daisies (*note: starting in January 2013, you will also have to be prepared to dance Jockey to the Fair, King of the Fairies, and Three Sea Captains)
You will be graded on time and rhythm, execution ("feet placement"), dancing without stopping, using suitable material, not repeating any steps, dancing the trads in the traditional manner and style

Preparing for the dancing test
Choreographing 9 set dances, 4 trad dances and 2 steps of everything else takes a lot of time, even if you know a lot of steps to begin with. So give yourself a lot of time (I took a year) to get comfortable with all of your steps. You must not repeat any steps among your set dances, but you could take your third competition treble jig step and use it as the opening to a set dance, for example. So find creative ways to use stuff you already know.

Finally -- and this is the most important thing -- you are not competing against anyone! You only are being marked to your own ability! So you do NOT need the fancy tricks. Do you kinda suck at bicycles? Don't put them in your steps! This is all about making you look good, and feel comfortable, as a dancer. The examiners are not looking for the most cutting-edge or difficult material -- they are looking for good technique. Many TC candidates have passed using Prizewinner-level material. Use what looks best on you, and what you're least likely to screw up.

How the dancing test works - my experience.
--Be prepared for any kind of dancing surface -- one of my exams was on plywood taped down to carpet in the tiniest room ever. My next one had proper Marley. I've heard of dancers having to dance right on slippery ballroom floors before too.
--You can wear whatever you want. Some people wear practice gear. But I personally believe you are there to make a good impression, so look halfway decent if you can -- pull your hair up off your face, light makeup, skirt and plain shirt and tights or socks.
--You are not given time to warm up or run through your steps, so get to your exam room early and warm up outside until you are called in.
--Approximately 6 candidates will be assigned to one room, with 3 examiners in it. First you'll be in softshoes and the examiners will tell you what softshoe dance you're doing -- slip jig or reel. Then you line up and do your steps stepabout style -- i.e. one step at a time down the line, with no pauses in between.
--As you're changing your shoes, the examiners will tell you which hardshoe dance you're doing -- either treble jig or hornpipe. Then once again you will line up and do your 2 steps, stepabout style.
--When that's done, the examiners tell everyone what your first set dance will be, from the list of 9 dances you've all submitted. Then everyone gets sent out of the room and called back in one at a time to dance your sets (you bring a CD of your own music). Once you've finished your first set, the examiners tell you what your next one will be, and you go outside and wait for your turn again. You dance 3 of your 9 sets in total.
--Once all the individual sets are done, everybody is called back into the room together to do 2 of the trad sets. You dance in groups of 2 or 3 for this. Do not pay attention to what everybody else is doing, because there are different variations to the trad sets!
--After all that stress and dancing, you're done this section!

This is getting long, so I'm going to post the other parts of the exam in separate replies.

35 Replies to A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam

re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam (karma: 1)
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:21 PM
Part B - Written Ceili Test
What the syllabus says:
You must know all 30 dances in Ar Rinci Foirne, the ceili handbook, and there will be 16 questions which test your knowledge of the dances.

Preparing for the written ceili exam
This is where you'll probably need to study the most, because as Irish dancers we are not often called upon to know ceili dances in such minute detail. Give yourself a full year to learn them all and make sure you are writing them out by hand, using similar language to what the book uses.

The best thing you can do to prepare for this test is do practice exams. If you apply to CLRG for the proper exam kit, you will get a stack of past exams, which are really helpful. Some internet boards about the TC exam also post past exams, so search around for some online if you need more.

How the written ceili test works - my experience
All of the exam candidates (there are usually around 40-50) sit in one big room, in rows of tables, to write the ceili exam. You will also do the music exam right after -- more on that test in a minute. It's just like writing final exams at high school or university -- you've got rows of students concentrating hard while the examiners act as monitors.

You will write a LOT during this exam, and you will likely take almost all of the whole 2 hours. That's OK - just keep breathing and keep writing, and if you're stuck go and answer another question first. You are also allowed to ask questions of the examiners if a question does not seem clear.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam (karma: 1)
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:34 PM
Part C - Ceili Teaching Test
What the syllabus says:
--You will be expected to teach a couple of dances, or certain parts of dances to a group of volunteer dancers.
--You must be able to lilt tunes for the students to dance to. This means generic jigs and reels, but it also means memorizing and lilting the correct tunes for those ceili dances that are done to specific tunes (the syllabus does not specify this part; it is just known to be true). The ceili book indicates which dances are done to specific tunes.
--You will be marked on setting the dancers up correctly, knowing the movements and the dance, instructing in a clear/concise/audible way, guiding the dancers through the movements, correcting errors, breaking down the movements, showing confidence, having discipline with the dancers, knowing the correct time/rhythm, and teaching the movement successfully.

How to prepare for the ceili teaching test
In some sense, you prepare for the written and practical ceili exams at once -- because you need to know the dances really well for both.

But while you can get away with written practice for the written exam, you can't rely on your book knowledge to pass the teaching part of the ceili test. You must practice teaching groups of students how to do various ceili dances, because that will teach you how to explain things in a way that make sense, and to spot and correct faults.

You do not have to practice with actual Irish dancers -- beg 8 of your closest friends to come over to your house, and try to teach them the dances. If non-dancers can get the gist of it, that means you're doing pretty well.

You should also practice lilting (singing) the music for the dances out loud, since you'll be expected to do this during the exam.

How the ceili teaching test works - my experience
First of all, note that the ceili teaching and solo teaching tests happen at the same time -- first you do the solo teaching, and then you do the ceili teaching right away. But I'll continue to talk about them separately.

So you walk into a room with 3 examiners and a bunch of kids (volunteers from a local ID school). You will be told one ceili dance to start teaching them. In both cases I was able to first write the dance down on a piece of paper (to jog your memory in case your nerves get the best of you). I was also able to choose my dancers, although sometimes the panel will choose for you. If you get to choose your own dancers, choose in a way that makes it easy for you to distinguish between ladies and gents -- for example, make all the tall girls be the gents. Sometimes you'll have actual boys as well! I have also heard of candidates bringing props to better identify the gents -- like hats or bandannas.

So you start teaching your dancers, but the examiners will frequently interrupt you to ask questions or question your method of teaching. It's very unnerving at first, so it's best to be prepared for this. You must remain confident and in control, even if you're getting questioned. Sometimes the panel of examiners will talk to each other while you're teaching too, and you can't let it distract you. You have a tough job -- you have to remember the dance you're teaching, teach it in a clear voice to kids who may not know the dance, address the questions of the panel, lilt the correct music, and also keep the other kids in the room quiet. This was the most terrifying part of the exam for me, hands-down. It's easy to forget stuff when you're nervous. I forgot the tune I was supposed to be lilting, but sometimes the panel will get you started on the first few bars.

The examiners will tell you to stop teaching after a few minutes, and then usually they'll give you just one figure of another dance to teach. And then you're done.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:46 PM
Part D - Solo Teaching Test.
What the syllabus says:
--You must have at least one step of every dance (SJ, TJ, HP, Reel, single jig, jig) in every single level prepared, because you could be asked to teach a dancers of any level.
--You must also be prepared to teach basic traditional movements like crosskeys.
--You must lilt the music while you are teaching and while you are demonstrating.
--You will be marked on checking the standards of the dancers you're teaching, teaching steps of a suitable standard, demonstrating the step in the correct style and rhythm, breaking down the material in a suitable manner, progressing at a suitable pace, identifying and correcting faults, showing confidence, giving clear and audible instructions, having discipline, and successfully teaching the step.

How to prepare for the solo teaching test
So you need a lot of steps ready to go for this section. At least one for each dance in each level, and you also have to think about whether you'd teach a boy differently (I got boys in both my exam attempts). So I'd say a minimum of 4 steps each for the reel, SJ, treble jig and HP, and 2 each for the jig and single jig. You should be practicing how to break your steps down into manageable parts, how to sing the steps, and how to drill certain parts if your dancers get stuck. This can really only be done if you can teach your steps to actual students, so try to do that if you can.

What happens at the solo teaching test - my experience
Like I said earlier, this happens at the same time as the ceili teaching test -- so you walk into a room full of 3 examiners and about a dozen volunteer kids, and you are told to pick 2 students and teach them a hardshoe dance. You are expected to first get the kids to demonstrate a step for you, so you can assess what level they're at (don't forget to lilt for them while they're dancing!). And then you choose a step to teach, and demonstrate it for the examiners.

So you start to teach, and you have to give as many corrections as possible while still getting your students to understand the step. As with the ceili teaching exam, you will be frequently interrupted by the examiners, as they ask questions or wonder why you're teaching in a certain way, or sometimes they'll ask you to stop dancing the step with the students and get them to just try it by themselves.

You will likely only get through the first 4-6 bars or so, depending. And you must be prepared to have a different step ready to go in case the panel thinks your steps is not difficult enough.

Although it's entirely possible you'd be asked to teach a beginner, that seems increasingly unlikely these days. Most are asked to teach champ-level students, which can be intimidating. You need material that is current and difficult enough for such students, and you also need to be able to find faults in their dancing, even if it looks pretty great to you.

This was also a pretty nervewracking experience for me, but the volunteer kids in general are super-nice, and they really do try hard to please you.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:52 PM
Part E - Music Identification Test
What the syllabus says:
--You must memorize 38 set dance tunes from a list that CLRG gives you when you apply for the exam prep pack.
--At the exam, 19 of those will be played out loud, and you must be able to identify the name of the tune, its timing, and how many bars are in its step and set.
--They will also play a reel, hornpipe, slip jig, single jig, and jig, and you have to identify those as well.

Preparing for the music identification test
OK, so there is no way around this - you have to listen to all 38 tunes over and over and over and over until they drive you crazy and haunt your dreams. That's the only way to memorize them. Often people make up lyrics to go with the tunes, too, as a way to better remember the more difficult melodies.

You really should get the official exam pack from CLRG for this, because they send you the exact same CD of set tunes that they will play at the exam.

What happens at the music identification exam - my experience
This one is simple -- you either know the tunes or you don't. After writing your ceili written exam, you get a bit of a break, then they start the music exam. They play each of the 19 sets out loud, and then they play them all over again. This is really helpful, because if you aren't sure the first time, you can leave that one blank and return to it when they play it again.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By seannettaPremium member
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 04:59 PM
General Notes about the TCRG exam:

This is where other past test-takers chime in with their own tips & tricks!

One thing I didn't note above is that you have to get 70% in each section to pass. If you get somewhere between 50-70% in a section, you can just do that one section over again at a later point. But if you get below 50% in any section, you have to re-do the entire exam.

Keep in mind that the majority of candidates will fail their first attempt, and that's OK. This exam is HARD. It's also subjective in certain parts, so sometimes one panel of examiners will like your teaching or dancing style better than another panel. The pass rate is somewhere between 30-50% for each exam, generally.

There are some online sources which are helpful, like the Voy Board for TCRG candidates. If people know of others, please add them in a reply.

In general, I'd say you have to devote your life to this exam for a good year and your friends will think you're crazy and eventually you'll think you're crazy, but it's certainly worth it if you can be certified as a teacher in the end.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Hop_123member has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 06:18 PM
Edited by Hop_123 (173279) on 2011-10-24 19:04:49
Not a TC or a TC wanna be, but wow, you put a lot of effort into this. This seems very sticky worthy!

I knew the TC exam was hard, but I never realized the full extent of what you had to know and be prepared for when you walked into the exam. Yikes!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By pols
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 06:41 PM
I find it amazing to think of all that work behind the qualification. It shouldn't surprise me (I'm a primary school teacher) but it just goes to show how much you take for granted as a kid. I never once imagined my TCRG going through all that.

Thank you so much for writing this post. I don't intend to take the exam but I still enjoyed reading every word of it.

I second that this ought to be a sticky.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By tighnamara
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 06:43 PM
Definitely sticky worthy!!!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Realtreble
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 08:00 PM
What a beautiful and thorough summary of CLRG testing expectations. You did confirm something I always suspected: the test covers nothing about physiology, sports "medicine," or competitive psychology.

A great teacher helps her dancers be successful in competition. The best choreographer makes up steps that don't easily lead to injuries. An insightful instructor knows when to limit drills to prevent over-use injuries.

With the athleticism that characterizes Irish Dance today, we need to encourage entering TCs to be more than marine drill sargents who can dance. They need to be aware that physically and psychologically, children just aren't miniature adults. Just because we were all children once, doesn't mean we have the training and tools to work with them effectively.

Thank you again for your valuable post.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By sjerosemember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Mon Oct 24, 2011 09:24 PM
This is so awesome and helpful! Thank you for taking the time to write this all out! Karma and more karma for you! :) I also don't have any intention of ever taking the TCRG exam, but I have toyed with the idea of one day taking my TMRF so I've looked into the realm of CLRG exam-taking and I find it so interesting. Also, my current instructor just took his exam in Vancouver this past week, so this overview really helps me see just what he had to go through.

If you don't mind my asking, are you told what specific part(s) you don't pass if you fail the exam as a whole? Do they tell you what you need to improve on, or is it just a "pass/fail" response? (No worries if you don't feel comfortable sharing your personal experience.)
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By reel_faerie85member has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Tue Oct 25, 2011 05:19 AM
Wow thanks for that information. It would be really interesting to see the differences between the CLRG TCRG exams and exams held with other organisations.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By seannettaPremium member
On Tue Oct 25, 2011 06:41 AM
I'm so glad this post is helpful. To answer sjerose's question, yes, you do get a breakdown of what you've passed or failed.

Two months after the exam (approximately) you get an email with a single word: "successful" or "unsuccessful". Then your full results follow in the mail.

The results are broken down into sections. If you pass a section, you just see your mark and that's it. If you fail a section, you get a checklist that checks off the sections where you did NOT meet the standard. For example, say you failed solo teaching and your checkmarked sections say "teach step of suitable standard" and "teach in an audible clear voice." That means that those are the reasons why you failed, and the things you have to work on for next time.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By rttew
On Tue Oct 25, 2011 09:09 AM
Edited by rttew (136970) on 2011-10-25 09:10:11
Spot on Seannetta, I echo your statements from my own experience.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By ID_Addict
On Sun Oct 30, 2011 10:20 AM
Edited by ID_Addict (218710) on 2011-10-30 10:37:49 added a link
www.payneacademy.co.uk . . .

Here's a link to some info about the TCRG exam. Most of it has already been covered by seannetta in this wonderfuly helpful post, but there are also past exam papers and a few helpful hints for remembering the sets and ceilis.

www.bernards.cz . . .

And here's a link to a pdf version of Ar Rinci Foirne that I just found online.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Mara_
On Sun Nov 06, 2011 01:36 PM
This is a fantastic post, karma!!

I am planning on passing the November-December exam in the UK or Ireland, next year (just waiting for them to put up the info about it), so I'm trying to study at least three evenings a week, teaching almost daily and practising a lot until then. I've kind of lost touch with my non-dancing friends in the meantime, but it's absolutely worth it.

One thing I was advised by my TC to do for the Ceili written test is to try and cover questions 13-16 first, because they bear the more points, so this is logical and only then go on to the 1-12 questions - they have fewer points and if you've made sure you'll get all those big points already, you will be able to go through the simpler questions quite quickly anyway.

I've also seen on one of these boards someone saying that they practised writing down all the movements in all the dances really really fast after the beginning of the exam, so this helped them, because they had everything down right there.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By colleeflower28
On Tue Dec 13, 2011 01:10 PM
just starting my studying - SO NERVOUS already!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By IDtcrg
On Tue Jan 03, 2012 05:44 AM
Hi there,

There is a new website with resources for both the TCRG and ADCRG exams. There a lot of resources for download.

www.wix.com . . .

Best of luck with your exams!!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Mara_
On Tue Jan 03, 2012 12:48 PM
This website is amazing, I've only got to browse through it a bit and I've already found some info that I was missing! Congratulations for the idea and making it real!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By IDtcrg
On Tue Jan 03, 2012 01:03 PM
No problem Mara, I hope you find it beneficial and best of luck in your exams whenever you are taking them.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Mara_
On Wed Jan 04, 2012 02:31 AM
Thank you! :)
Question: I can't seem to find the two new sets, do you know of a good resource for them?
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By IDtcrg
On Wed Jan 04, 2012 02:37 AM
Hi Mara_

I have streamed the Charlady on the site www.wix.com . . .#!music
but if you want to download it yourself, it is available here:

www.nimbitmusic.com . . .

For the Vanishing Lake, the composer is Francis Ward and I am trying to get his permission to allow me to stream it on the site so try back soon and hopefully it will be there.

Both tunes are really nice and a welcome addition.
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Nyssasisticmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Jan 04, 2012 07:56 AM
IDtcrg wrote:

Hi there,

There is a new website with resources for both the TCRG and ADCRG exams. There a lot of resources for download.

www.wix.com . . .

Best of luck with your exams!!


Oh hey, my youtube playlist was used for the ceili dance videos... I feel special now :) So good to know that it's useful for others!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By IDtcrg
On Wed Jan 04, 2012 08:10 AM
Edited by IDtcrg (244568) on 2012-01-04 08:11:13
Hi Nyssasistic,

I hope you don't mind me adding the link to your youTube compilation - it's an amazing resource. I wish I had known about it when I took my exams!
re: A guide to CLRG's TCRG exam
By Nyssasisticmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Jan 04, 2012 08:13 AM
Not at all- when I first made it I posted a link to it here. Like I said, I'm certainly glad it's being used!
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