Undergraduate Music Theory and Aural Skills Placement and Exemption Exams

We are looking forward to your attending George Mason University. We have an outstanding faculty which is dedicated to providing you with challenging, comprehensive, and rewarding educational experiences. Our goal is to assist you in developing your musical and academic skills to their highest potential.

All new music students are asked to complete the Intro to Music Theory Placement Test, whether they have studied music theory before or not. The purpose of the placement exam is to determine whether you are ready for Intro to Music Theory and Aural Skills I, or if you should take supplementary coursework first.

Students who get a high score on the Placement Test are then eligible to take Exemption Exams, which award credit-by-exam for certain theory and aural skills courses at Mason.

Detailed information on administration of the tests is provided below.

Intro to Music Theory Placement Test (required for all new students)

Taking the test

The Intro to Music Theory Placement Test can be taken at any time but should be completed before the beginning of the semester.

Follow this link to go to the test. You will need to sign up for an account with uTheory in order to take the test.

Test contents

This test will assess your mastery of music fundamentals such as notation, scales, key signatures, intervals, and triads. If the test shows areas that need improvement, you’ll be given the opportunity to complete online lessons and practice in these areas.

Each section of the test is timed. The test takes about one hour to complete.

Studying and retaking the test

If the test shows areas that need improvement, you’ll be given the opportunity to complete online lessons and practice in these areas. It’s a good idea to take the test first so that you know precisely where your weaknesses are—the test will point you toward the appropriate lessons for you. You can do this with a free account, or you may choose to purchase a monthly unlimited pass to uTheory for $6 USD per month.

This test may be taken up to 10 times. Your highest scoring attempt will replace any other attempts.

We very highly recommend that students self-study and retake the test until they reach a passing score, rather than taking extra coursework! This system is meant to encourage you to work on your skills over the summer.


Your highest test score is the only score considered in placing you.

Placement outcomes for various grades are as follows. For course details and section numbers, set up an appointment to see the Academic Programs Manager.

  • D–F (<70%): Failed exam. Students are strongly encouraged to take MUSI 100 (3 credits) or MUSI 280 (0 credits) before MUSI 115 (Intro to Music Theory), or self-study and retake the placement test until earning a better grade.*
  • C (70–79%): Placement into Intro to Music Theory: First Edition. This course is a special section of MUSI 115 that meets for additional time each week. When enrolling, look for a yellow banner that says that this section “is for students with limited Theory background.”
  • B (80–89%): Placement into Intro to Music Theory (MUSI 115).
  • A (90–100%): Opportunity to take the MUSI 115 Exemption Exam.

* In many cases, it’s better for the student to self-study and retake the test until they reach a passing score, rather than taking extra coursework. Intro to Music Theory (MUSI 115) does cover all the topics on the placement test, so you will have an opportunity to learn/review them within MUSI 115. However, these lessons move at a quick pace, and the focus of the course is on building speed and fluency with these topics, so it helps to know a bit about the topics in advance.

Exemption Exams for Music Theory and Aural Skills

Transfer students and new students who get an A on the written theory components of the placement test are eligible to take further exams to receive credit for certain courses at Mason. These exams are administered on Blackboard and mimic final exams in each of the relevant courses. You will be contacted to take these exams if you are eligible. Unlike the placement test, you only get one attempt at an exemption exam.

Music Theory Exemption Exam

At Mason we have five theory courses: MUSI 115, three 200-level courses (215, 216, 217), and one 300-level course (317).

The music theory exemption exam has sections that correspond to each theory course.

The MUSI 115 exemption exam is a uTheory test with strict time limits, which exempts students from MUSI 115. The link is provided on Blackboard.

The remaining parts, which are administered entirely within Blackboard, exempt you from 200-level courses. These are intended mostly for transfer students but a new music student with extensive experience with music theory may take them. Analysis I is for MUSI 217; Analysis II is for MUSI 215/317; set theory and triadic post-tonality together are for MUSI 216. You will be given credit for each section on which you receive a passing score (or in the case of 216, for receiving a passing score in both). Exempting out of one of these classes does not necessitate your exemption from another. (For example, a student who exempts out of 216 may still be asked to take 215.)

Aural Skills Exemption Exams

The Aural Skills Exemption Exams ask students to complete transcriptions of short duets within an hour.

There are three separate exams, one corresponding to each level of aural skills (I, II, and III). You can take as many or as few of the exams as you like.

You will be given credit for the course you pass and all lower-level courses. (For example, a student who only takes the Aural Skills III exam will get credit for Aural Skills I, II, and III as long as they pass that one exam.)

If you do not pass an exam, there are three possible outcomes: 1) you do not receive any credit by exam, 2) you may be given credit for lower-level courses, or 3) you may be asked to take a lower-level exam to evaluate your abilities further. Which outcome is most suitable for your scenario is determined by the exam proctor.

If you decide you’d like to take more than one exam, you may do so at any time before the deadline. There is no penalty for taking more exams.


For more details on these classes and the theory curriculum, set up an appointment to see the Academic Programs Manager.