From the view of a person who wishes to advance to a career as a professional musician, it's important to go through exams, so that this person may also teach other students how to pass those graded exams. However, if a person is only a hobbyist playing for leisure (like me), it may not be necessary to take the graded exams. In fact, many guqin masters did not take any graded exams at all. haha. It is possible for a person who is a beginner guqin hobbyist to use a few months (of daily practice) to jump straight into and learn just one difficult piece which is that person's favorite, such as 平沙落雁 or 廣凌散 or 流水 or 瀟湘水雲 at a very leisurely pace, as the techniques in guqin tunes (unlike western classical pieces) are not much more difficult than the so-called 'beginner' pieces. They are simply longer and hence require more memorization efforts. A longer piece is made up of shorter sections, which a person can simply pretend are separate shorter tunes.
Just to share my own experience, after learning for 3 months from Mr.John Thompson last year in 2012, he taught me an approximately 10 minute long piece called 梅梢月 Mei Shao Yue, which I gladly learned as it was a very beautiful piece. It took me about 2+ months (of nightly practice at home) to memorize the entire piece (8 pages long). I simply pretended the sections were separate pieces, as they sounded a little different from section to section anyway. haha LOL
Here's one of the raw video footages which I took of myself to check for my own mistakes.
In my personal opinion, it's useful to film oneself when playing guqin, as I realized that I might have thought my pitch control was perfect when I was playing the guqin, but later after I reviewed my own video, I discovered many technical mistakes! Maybe I was tone-deaf, like how people who sing terribly yet very loudly at karaokes. haha *smile*
What do you think of guqin exams, dear ladies and gentlemen? Please post your thoughts? Thanks!