Before we discuss how to choose between ABRSM and Trinity, we must discuss the answer to the question: why exactly should we take either of these music exams? There are different reasons for this. Some people who learn an instrument as a hobby simply want an independent assessment; this is the most common reason to take any of these exams. Other people think in a more professional manner; for these people, exams indicate milestones in their professional development. Before you approach these exams, you must determine what you expect from them. This will help you choose the right body: either ABRSM or Trinity.
Once you determine why you want to take an exam, you can consider which one to take.
ABRSM is the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is one of the oldest bodies and was founded in 1889, so it includes a number of colleges and the royal schools in the UK. ABRSM is quite famous around the world; its certificates and diplomas are well-recognized. Unlike Trinity, it focuses on everything about the music. Find more on their website – http://www.abrsm.org/
On the other hand, Trinity College London is one of the oldest colleges in London; it also offers certificates and diploma exams. Unlike ABSRM, Trinity also offers Rock & Pop exams, for those who want to play more modern music. You can learn more at http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk.
In terms of the practical exams, let’s talk about what is common. In both syllabuses, Trinity and ABRSM, you must get three pieces from their books. Each provides a list of publications where you can obtain the pieces, and each has its own publications as well. You must perform three pieces for your exam. Also, you will have technical work to show. Students must play a number of scales and arpeggios, as well as studies (Trinity) by heart.
What is different? In ABRSM, there are two other necessary parts: Sight-Reading and an Aural Test. Therefore, the complete ABSRM practical exam for any grade includes three pieces, scales and arpeggios, sight reading and aural tests. In Trinity, the student must also play three pieces and show technical work, and may choose two supporting tests: Sight-Reading, Aural, Musical Knowledge and Improvisation. There are some limitations from grade to grade; for more information, please check the syllabus.
Another important thing to mention is that in ABRSM, once the student wants to proceed with Grade 6 or higher, he/she must pass Grade 5 in either Music Theory, Practical Musicianship or the Jazz exam, or submit a substitution listed in the syllabus. Trinity does not have any prerequisites of this kind.
In conclusion, regarding which exam to choose, no one answer exists for all people. Both syllabuses offer demands at similar levels, with minor differences, and both are well-recognized throughout the world. I cannot say that one is better than the other; in my opinion, each has its own pros and cons. I always consider the right one for each individual student. As the last bit of advice on this matter, you will learn much more by reading the syllabuses mentioned above. With all this information, you will be able to make the right choice. Good luck with your exams!