EXCLUSIVE: BPTC Providers’ Wildly Differing Exam Lengths Provoke Unfairness Accusations

BPTC students are up in arms about the wildly differing lengths of exam times between course providers.

Last Thursday City University gave its BPTC students just three and a half hours to complete their opinion writing exam. Yet students at competitor law school BPP will get four hours and 15 minutes when they sit theirs – an hour increase on the three hours and 15 minutes BPP gave its students last year. A spokesperson for BPP told Legal Cheek the exam time was increased “in response to student feedback”.

A Northumbria University BPTC student takes a short rest during her opinion writing exam

Kaplan Law School and College of Law students get around the four hour mark for their opinion writing papers, too. Meanwhile, Northumbria University gives its students a near trans-Atlantic flight length five hours in which to complete theirs.

Unlike trans-Atlantic flight passengers, though, Northumbria students “are free to leave at any time other than the first hour and the last 30 minutes,” according to opinion writing tutor Ross Fletcher.

The reason these discrepancies are allowed is because opinion writing, like most BPTC exams, is not centrally set. The only BPTC exams which are centrally set are civil litigation, evidence and remedies; criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing; and professional ethics.

With regard to the opinion writing exam, the BPTC handbook states:

“Assessment must consist, as a minimum, of one formal unseen time-constrained invigilated examination (where ‘open book’ materials may be used as specified in advance). In addition, at least five opinions covering a broad range of scenarios should be undertaken by students as formative exercises. Each exercise must require the application of legal research and legal knowledge, and on each of the six occasions, the student must receive individual feedback from the tutor. Poor English, grammar and syntax must be penalised.”

Bar Standards Board (BSB) head of education standards, Dr Valerie Shrimplin, hinted that more centralisation could take place in the future when she told Legal Cheek:

“As stated in our BPTC handbook, we do not specify this level of detail in exams that are not centralised, but it is one of the reasons why we are centralising in some areas.”

She added: “Regardless of the timings set, students should be assured that they will be marked accordingly – i.e. higher expectations if a longer period.”

However, this reassurance wasn’t enough for City BPTC students, who feel hard done by under the current arrangement. One told Legal Cheek: “If there is not consistency between providers about exam length, how can there be true consistency of grades?”

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