EXCLUSIVE: BPTC Students Point Finger At Bar Standards Board Following ‘Disastrous’ And ‘Unfair’ Exams

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The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has had a bad week.

First, Richard Moorhead publicly slammed their less-than-brilliant research on advocacy in The Guardian. Then Legal Cheek exposed the dire financial straits their boss finds herself in.

The latest calamity to befall everyone’s favourite regulator of barristers?

Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students are blaming the BSB for screwing up the centrally set criminal and civil litigation and ethics exams they sat earlier this month. The wannabe barristers describe the exams as “disastrous” and “unfair” – and are worried their future careers could be scuppered as a result.

Here are the students’ complaints…

1. The exams tested knowledge that “cannot reasonably be expected from a student” – because it wasn’t in the syllabus.

2. The questions were so poorly worded it made it “difficult to navigate the papers”.

3. The exams “went well beyond the ‘what should a practitioner know by heart’ standard, into abstruse and irrelevant points”.

The response of the BSB, which is responsible for appointing the members of the central examination board that set the exams, was essentially that they’d look into it and, if necessary, adjust the marks.

OK, so a moment of sympathy for the BSB. It must be a pain dealing with smart arse wannabe barristers.

But in view of the BSB’s recent bad run, which goes beyond the much maligned advocacy research, you’d be inclined to give the students the benefit of the doubt.

The correspondence between the students and the BSB is published in full below.

16th April 2012

Bar Standards Board 289-293 High Holborn London WC1V 7HZ

Re: Complaint about the centrally set exams (“the Exams”)

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are writing this letter of complaint as a collective response to the Exams held on the 11th and 12th of April 2012. We understand that this is the first year when the Central Examination Board (“CEB”) -under the auspices of the Bar Standards Board (“BSB”)- has set the Exams. These are now regarded by a large number of BPTC students from different providers as being unfair. This applies both to the setting and the content of the papers.


You will be aware that all students were notified at the start of the Civil and Criminal Litigation Exams of a change to the marking rubric for the Short Answer Questions (“SAQ”). Rather than indicating how many sub-points were required to gain full marks, as in all the mock papers provided by the CEB/BSB prior to the paper, candidates were expected to use their “common sense” to answer questions fully. This is clearly unfair. Firstly, it cannot be a good practice to declare a fundamental change in the rubric at an exam hall just before the start. It was distressing to many students who had prepared to answer a paper formatted according to the guidance and examples provided.

Further, the change will have a direct impact on the marks awarded to candidates and has the potential to greatly affect an over-all grade. Common sense would usually dictate that to gain the full 3 marks for a question, that question could reasonably be fully answered in 3 short answers. If that is not the case, and six short answers are required with a half-mark value each, that should be clearly indicated. To penalise candidates for not appreciating that more points were needed to answer a question than the marks allocated to that question, when no candidate would have had reason to practice this particular skill in advance of the Exams, is wrong.


More importantly, there were real problems with the content of the Exams. The BSB’s stated purpose is to “ensure that students intending to become barristers acquire the skills, knowledge of procedure and evidence, attitudes and competence to prepare” for the rigours of Pupillage.

Civil Paper

The content of the Civil litigation paper, in particular, went far beyond a thorough and precise knowledge of the syllabus provided to us. The mock reflected the syllabus and indicated the standard of specialised knowledge expected. The real paper bore no resemblance to the mock papers in this respect. If candidates had been allowed to take the paper away after the Exams, we would be able to conduct a more forensic analysis. As the matter stands, the most memorable irregularities are:

MCQ 31, on ‘full and frank disclosure on interim injunctions’, referred to matters ‘in the application’s actual knowledge’. This issue does not appear in the syllabus. Applications do not have knowledge, although applicants do, and given that MCQs often turn on fine verbal distinctions it is not good enough to say this was ‘an obvious typo’. Even a candidate with the White Book open during an exam would have had to weigh the wording of CPR Part 25 against the leading authority of Siporex Trade SA v Comdel Commodities Ltd [1986] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 428.

MCQ 40 Another example is this MCQ on serving a ‘summary of evidence’ that the witness could give, which does not appear on the BSB syllabus we were given.

SAQ 4 was particularly abstruse: this question on default judgment went far beyond testing knowledge of the full procedural elements of variation/setting aside. Default judgment is on the syllabus, but it seems unjust to go to that level of detail.


The Criminal paper had fewer problems. However, we feel it is inappropriate to penalise students for lacking a specific piece of knowledge by testing for that knowledge over a number of questions. For example, a minor aspect of the relationship between s.76 and s.78 of PACE 1984 determined the correct answer for a number of questions over the MCQ/SAQs. Similarly, there was more than one question on the permissible majority verdicts on juries. The Criminal paper, therefore, accorded disproportionate weight to these matters.

Professional Ethics

Although this exam took place on the 26th March, this paper again focused on an abstract academic and theoretical understanding of ethical problems, rather than testing a student’s knowledge and application of the Code of Conduct and the documents listed on the syllabus. It again bore no relationship or similarity to the mock exams provided by CEB, and simply was not a paper that we had prepared for. As such, many students considered it unreasonable in content.


As a result, these Exams are perceived to have been unfair:

(a) testing knowledge that cannot reasonably be expected from a student or Pupil barrister;

(b) in some cases was not on the syllabus at all;

(c) poorly worded questions made it even more difficult to navigate the papers, which in turn also affected timing in answering the other questions on the papers. In most cases students were left with too little time to answer the SAQs properly.

These Exams went well beyond the ‘what should a practitioner know by heart’ standard, into abstruse and irrelevant points.


The consequences of these disastrous Exams are far-reaching. For all of us, it marks the culmination of a year of hard work and preparation. A fail grade seriously jeopardises the careers of those of us expecting to be Called this summer and begin Pupillage in October. It will also adversely affect the chances of those seeking to obtain Pupillage. These are professional examinations, and they should have been set to a professional standard. They were not, and it seems that only the students will suffer as a result.

The pass mark for both the Exams must be scaled down. We therefore propose a more lenient approach towards marking of the scripts. The strict condition of passing individual parts of the Exams (SAQs and MCQs) with a high threshold of 60% should be substituted to a combined pass requirement as with the Alternative Dispute Resolution paper.

It is therefore submitted to the CEB and the BSB to act on this complaint immediately to prevent conscientious students from suffering the consequences of what we strongly believe to be an unjust examination process.

Yours faithfully,

The undersigned (Please find the signature-sheet attached with this letter)



“The BSB has formal procedures for obtaining feedback from Provider institutions regarding content of the centrally set assessments, including reference to issues such as syllabus coverage, level of detail required, and whether there are any concerns relating to whether or not the questions are fit for purpose, or whether the solutions are appropriate. The external examiners attached to each Provider will also be reporting on the assessments at the institutions for which they are responsible.

Evidence gathered through this feedback process can be used by the central examiners in determining whether, in the event that there is a statistically significant deviation in the level of candidate performance that might have been expected, there is a case for cohort marks being adjusted (usually through scaling of marks). The Central Examination Board will also have access to statistical data on student performance, and expert statistical analysis to assist in the interpretation of this data.

Students are, of course, free to make whatever comments they wish about the assessments to Provider institutions. It is for the Provider institutions to reflect on whether any such comments raise substantive points of principle that they feel need to be included in the formal feedback.”


I say it with love

Welcome to hell, people.

Just remember, it’s not them – it’s *you*



If students spent less time drafting whining letters and more time actually working, then they might find the exams a bit easier…do you lot seriously think these kind of difficulties aren’t exactly the same as faced by barristers every day in practice? Questions of law don’t come ‘neatly bundled’ in an exam-friendly format, so why should your exams pander to the rote-learning approach that you’ve been bottle fed on throughout your education?

Rant over.



I certainly do not agree with you said that BPTC students should stop complaining and actually working (if I understand it as studying). In that perspective, what are you expecting us to study now? Our marks will not improve even if we keep studying Civil or Criminal litigation because these exams are done. And this letter was sent to the BSB after the exams were conducted. Considering how many of us studied day and night for these exams, I take it as insult that someone tells me that I should have studied. You did not see if each BPTC student was lazying around or studying, right? So, how can you infer that we did not study?


BPTC Student

You clearly do not understand the basis upon which the students are complaining.

It is not about ‘questions of law coming neatly bundled in an exam-friendly format’! It is about providing answers to these questions exactly as they match the BSB’s mark scheme coupled with shameful and ambiguously drafted questions. ‘Barrister’ as you call yourself, you should be aware that one’s interpretation of questions of law differs from barrister to barrister, judge to judge, and therefore the arguments you put forward are also different. If this were not the case, every barrister would be exactly the same.
How can you expect each student to tick the answers in their mark scheme box and if u provide anything else relevant no marks can be awarded or a slightly different interpretation leading to a different reasonable answer cannot be counted?
Further ‘Barrister’, how many CPR rules, procedures and tests do you remember off hand without any reference to your White Book? Unless your answer is ALL you have no idea what the BPTC students are complaining about.
Under exam conditions with time not in your favour I am sure “these kind of difficulties aren’t exactly the same as faced by barristers every day in practice”!



I’m sure if you had to do what BPTC students are now required to do you wouldn’t stand a chance. The fees have been increased, BCAT introduced also at a cost, grading scale changed for the worse and exam questions are ridiculously harder. Now explain to me why we shouldn’t express our views?! Students know the information but failed the entire course by a mere few points. How fair is that!!!!?


Richard Moorhead

On a quick scan, are the BSB saying they will not consider these concerns direct? I can understand the desire to manage their workload but I wonder about the wisdom of that restriction (if indeed it IS a restriction). There is a risk that complaints by students will be toned down by BPTC institutions. For instance, a complaint that something was not taught might be bacuse it was not in the BSBs syllabus or because the teaching institution dropped the ball.



I think the comments written by “Barrister” above are unfair and misguided. I came to the Bar within the last five years, when BVC providers charged the sum of £9,900 to read for the Bar. Now that fees are at an all-time high, why should students not demand the very best for the education? Setting questions that are not contained within the syllabus, surely is not the fault of the students. The BSB has a responsibility to facilitate the BTPC providers and ensure reasonable questions are set. That’s not to say I believe the questions should be easier, just relevant to the course content. Moreover, Barristers do face daily problems, however as members of the Bar we chose to follow this career problems, gripes and all! To present the actual problems working at the Bar is a matter for pupillage.



This is just the latest in a series of mess-ups by the BSB. Some of the complaints look weaker than others, but it seems fundamentally unfair to bring such a significant set of changes into the exam without giving students adequate ability to prepare.

The marks point in particular is significant. In a BPTC paper you simply cannot tell how long your answer is required to be because each question can call for a varying level of detail. The allocated marks are the key indicator of what sort of information the examiner is looking for. It’s no different to a judicial indication of how long you are expected to spend on a particular point. Simply saying “use your common sense” is inappropriate. There’s no apparent consideration of the necessary evil of exam technique.


Jane Zacharzewski

The BSB response does sound like a big f off. Surely they can graciously thank the students for their feedback rather than telling them to moan to their colleges instead because the BSB won’t listen to them direct. (Talk to the hand?)

Anyway, good luck to all this year’s students. Hope you get the results you deserve.


BPTC student

I sat these exams and have never complained about an exam before. The change in marking scheme didn’t need to have a major effect, but it was done by a handout given in the exam hall just before starting the exam. Given that we had previously taken two BPTC exams using a different marking scheme (ie with a clear indication of how many points were required for each mark) and had practised mock exams using this method, I think it’s understandable that students were unsure during the exam of how much detail each question required. This had an impact on the time available across the whole of the paper, including the multiple choice questions, because students were writing answers that were too long just to try and make sure they had covered all the bases. It seems as though BSB made a mistake by leaving out the mark scheme for each question, and was just trying to cover it up!

I agree that some of the points in the actual letter aren’t as strong as others, but the BSB has set these central exams for the first time this year. I think the wider point being made is that these subjects aren’t very suitable for centrally set examinations. It’s one thing making everyone take the same driving theory test (where the information can be contained in a single book) and quite another setting exams that have almost infinite possibilities in terms of the level of detail that questions can go into. As the letter points out, the syllabus from the BSB just listed broad topics and it was up to providers and students to guess how much knowledge of that topic was actually required.

Several of the BPTC exams have been a bit of a mess this year, to be honest, and the cohort of students feels slightly like guinea pigs. The BSB seems to be trying to make the BPTC more respected by Chambers, but it’s going about it in completely the wrong way. Instead of improving the teaching or the students being accepted onto the course, it just keeps increasing the exam pass marks. It’s ridiculous encouraging students to spend £16,000 on a course that many will now fail, and also ridiculous to have grade boundaries that mean almost everyone who passes will now come out with a ‘very competent’ grade. There is such a variation in ability within that grade that it renders the grading process both unfair and unhelpful.



The problem with BPTC students is that they are all bright, have got good A Levels, sailed through university, and think that life is all that easy.

I recall when I was on the BVC a fellow student being unhappy at one of her marks and saying that she was going to get her “Durham tutor” to call the law school to plead her intelligence and try to get her mark bumped up. I choked on my Sainsbury’s sandwich.

Life isn’t easy. Questions like this reflect practice. Outstandings aren’t easy to get. Take your competent, brush yourself down, and move on. Just please, please quit moaning.


BPTC Student

Unless you did the BPTC you shouldn’t try to impart your experience here. The BVC was starkly different with your 50% pass mark (as opposed to 60% on both parts of the paper), no centrally set exams, allowed to use your White Book/Blackstones/Archbold assessments. Shuffle on sir



I understand that a part-time member on the MMU course has, as of last week, sought advice from Chambers in Manchester to commence Judicial Review proceedings against the BSB on behalf of the part-time students. Their particular qualm was that what was taught to them in their first year was not the same as the syllabus to be examined on the centrally set assessments. I am reliably informed that following the consultation with Counsel over this issue, proceedings will be commences against the BSB in due course.

I have never complained about an exam in the past. I accept all the above about ‘life at the Bar’ etc. Lots of people undertaking the BPTC have ‘life experience’ in many, many other areas be it previously employment or studies; they are not people who routinely complain or moan or make a fuss. However, when an individual pays up to £16,000 for a year-long course, they are entitled to expect that the work they have put in is tested in the manner in which students were informed they would be tested. Anything else is unreasonable. I believe there is a lot more to come on this.

As an additional aside, it’s easy for those in practice to tell people to ‘get on with it’. You’re there already, though. Dare I say, had we taken the exams when your individual providers set the test papers, it would have all been a different story.


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

How has this gone? Personally I think its rather daft to try and JR them but it seems quite interesting in theory (if daft in practice).



Look, I’d agree to some extent but students have to be given a fair crack at sitting the exam. It’s not right to say it “reflects practice” because the purpose of the exams aren’t to simulate your worst day in court but provide a decent assessment of the student’s general ability. If the exam is set in a way that doesn’t let the student know what is required of them, then that’s not going to be achievable.


Nigel Henry

In practice, you can refer to the white book.

I would be happy to scrape a pass for that exam, but I do not think pure exam ability reflects the sort of challenges you get in practice anyway.

Good luck to everyone


Are BPTC students being conned?

The Bar Professional Training Course: Course specification requirements and guidance (August 2011) states in Appendix I (STANDARDS FOR THE BPTC) on Page 164 that:

“Bunching of assessment must be avoided”

Yet most of the assessments on the BPTC are unnecessarily bunched together e.g. Civil Litigation, Evidence and Remedies and Criminal Litigation, Evidence and Sentencing were held back to back (day after day) in 2012.

This introduces an element of physical endurance into the assessment process.

Is the BPTC really supposed to be some sort of physical endurance challenge, which will no doubt adversely affect some disabled students (if not most students)?

The timing of assessments is a very important feature of a course, especially if it impacts negatively upon students.

This factor should be taken into consideration when comparing the results of different cohorts of students e.g. one cohort of students may have a good, fair timetable (well spaced) and another cohort of students may have a poor, unfair timetable (not well spaced) i.e. the 2012 cohort.

There should be some sort of assessment timetable consistency between the cohorts, if results are to be compared between the cohorts.

Subtle changes can have a big impact!


Are BPTC students being conned?

Unfair assessment requirements:

The knowledge areas:

1) Civil litigation, evidence and remedies
2) Criminal litigation, evidence and sentencing
3) Professional Ethics

All of the above utilize an unfair and unnecessary assessment provision i.e. “Both parts must be passed” i.e. at 60% or above (referring to Part A (MCQ) and Part B (SAQ)).

This provision is an unfair, unnecessary and unreliable method of determining a student’s knowledge of the subjects as listed above (1-3) as it can and often does lead to the following undesirable outcomes e.g.

A) Two students can achieve the same overall mark e.g. 65% and one student can pass the exam and the other student can fail the exam. Can it really be reliably deduced that one student has more knowledge of the subject matter than the other? NO!

B) One student can e.g. achieve an overall mark of 69% and fail the exam where as another student can e.g. achieve a significantly lower overall mark of 60% and pass the exam. How can it be reliably deduced that the student with the significantly higher overall mark has less knowledge of the subject matter and therefore deserves to fail the exam? IT CANNOT!

The exam has switched from a knowledge exam to an exam time management (etc) exam under these circumstances.

C) It is also interesting to note that the student in B) above that achieved 69% at his first summative attempt at the exam will be forced to re-sit the exam (and pay a fee for the privilege) and his mark will be capped at only 60%. He will therefore achieve a lower overall score in the re-sit if he passes, than he did at his first attempt. This is a very odd situation.

These assessments are therefore invalid under the circumstances as described above e.g. B) as they are no longer testing / differentiating on knowledge of the subject matter.

This problem can be instantly resolved by a simple aggregation of the marks for Part A + Part B with an overall pass mark set at 60%, as is currently employed in the ReDOC assessment.

The current system is not raising standards at the bar, it is in fact lowering them, as it can and does, often reward students with overall less knowledge of the subject matter.



The requirement: “Both parts must be passed” is clearly an unfair and an unjustifiable technical feature of the course which needs to be removed.

I suspect that it is probably the end result of another piece of astonishingly crass and deeply flawed research by the regulator.



Yet most of the assessments on the BPTC are unnecessarily bunched together e.g. Civil Litigation, Evidence and Remedies and Criminal Litigation, Evidence and Sentencing were held back to back (day after day) in 2012.

This introduces an element of physical endurance into the assessment process.

Are you being serious? How are you going to cope in a trial which involves you shock going to court day after day and working in the evening? Grow. Up.



You wouldn’t pass the course now.



Milly – you missed out the bit where you also have to actually know exactly what is in the 5 or 6 lever-arch bundles full of your case papers and be able to pinpoint it quickly and accurately for the court.



Oh yeah. That constant questioning from judges, rather akin to being examined day after day after day, is a right old drag. I wish I had thought to tell the judge that law shouldn’t be about endurance, physical, mental, or otherwise. I am sure s/he would have had every sympathy for my plight.


BPTC Student

And of course Milly and Zoe you cannot under any circumstance refer to your brief, notes, White Book or Archbold when you are being questioned or during your presentation to the court can you?….ahh i mustve missed that.
When you are unable to do that in practice then I will welcome your sarcasm


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

I think that is somewhat uncalled for to someone who obviously feels there were problems in the exams. True, the bunching of assessments isn’t exactly the strongest indictment but it does sometimes feel as though the BSB and in many cases the BPTC Providers are sending us to the crease only for us students to find they’ve broken our bat.

The arguments put forward in that letter all hold some weight but some are weaker than others (and some since have been even weaker….such as the exams being bunched). I came late to seeing the letter and considering the urgency of the people pushing it I didn’t offer any suggestions even though it probably needed them. I don’t think anybody can seriously suggest that it is fair to examine students on law that falls outside the syllabus set by the BSB. For some of the questions in the exams the tutors who had taught us didn’t know the answers, even those who remain in part-time practice. We’ve heard anecdotally that some asked other members of chambers only to find that they were equally stumped by them. It feels that instead of being assessed on what we were taught, and what we were expected to reasonably know, we were assessed on pernickety and fiddly bits of procedure which any practitioner would simply refer to the White Book, Archbold, the Code of Practice (or the fabled Ethics hotline) for the answer.

However something the letter doesn’t make clear is how the questions were set and in my view how they were set boils down to the unfairness that crept into the exam. For instance the Ethics Syllabus was this:

1. The Eighth Edition of the Code of Conduct
Section 1 – The Code of Conduct
Section 2 – Annexes C, D, E, J & S
Section 3 – The Written Standards for the Conduct of Professional Work
2. Code Guidance
Guidance on Practising Rules and Requirements
Holding out as a Barrister
Guidance on the Administration of a Barrister’s Practice
Knowledge Management Guidance
Confidentiality Guidance
Guidance on Self-employed practice – March 2010
Guidance on the Professional Conduct of Barristers
The preparation of defence statements
The preparation of witness statements
Witness preparation – arising from R v Momodou and Limani
A barrister’s duty when pleading fraud – arising from Medcalf v Mardell
A barrister’s duty to disclose previous convictions
The reporting of professional misconduct of barristers by members of the Bar
Commenting to the media on cases
Issuing of documents in Court by a barrister
Refusing work in criminal cases and in respect of Plea and Case Management Hearings
Undeeming of Criminal Graduated Fees
Conditional Fee Arrangements
3. BSB Equality and Diversity Code
Parts E and F only
A Barrister’s general obligations under the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate, in particular sections 20, 21 and 47 of the Act
(An updated successor to Part G of the Equality and Diversity Code which takes account of the change in Discrimination Law is not yet available)
4. Crown Prosecution Service Publications
The Code for Crown Prosecutors 2010
The Farquharson Guidelines – The Role and Responsibilities of the Prosecution Advocate
5. Money Laundering
Money Laundering Regulations Guidance, Money Laundering Regulations and POCA 2002 in outline only

Yet out of all the questions on the assessment there was not a single question MCQ or SAQ on Section 3 or 5 of the Syllabus. Within Section 2 (and this may be wrong as I’m doing it from memory), the considerable bulk of the syallbus, roughly just over half of the topics were assessed and within Section 4 the Farquharson Guidelines didn’t come up.

The questions for the assessments come from a bank of previous questions submitted to the BSB by all the providers. The BSB then randomly select the questions from the bank and that forms the assessment. It seems though that the BSB did not catagorise the questions into the Sections which resulted in around 5 of 20 MCQs dealing with Legal Services Commission problems. From what we’ve heard the BSB have been given a hard time of this from the course providers and external examiner. Already the Ethics Assessment mark scheme has been amended (allegedly…I feel like I’m on HIGNFY).

So to wrap up what does seem a vague rant looking back, the exams did have flaws and simply dismissing them for being reported by whining students does us a disservice and lets the BSB get off the hook for the shambles.



Can’t see exactly what you are replying to, but if it is to me, I put the quote in my initial response to make clear exactly what I was referring to, which was the ‘endurance’ element of the complaint. Sorry, but that is simply whining.


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

I said it was a weak argument so glad we agree on that!


BPTC Student


I want the exams to be hard. I want them to challenge me (and am therefore not concerned so much with the timing of the exams). I want to fail because I’m not good enough or haven’t worked hard enough because then I at least I can move on with my life and go back to earning some money.

I took issue with a number of points raised by the student letter and don’t agree with all the points that have been raised thus far, but what I do agree with is that the exams were not a fair test of who is ready for and/or capable of completing pupillage.

If you fail to memorise everything in those 5/6 lever arch files, then you’ve not done your job properly and you deserve whatever the judge throws at you. Just as you deserve to fail if you don’t learn the procedures you’re expected to know. But, and I’m talking hypothetically, if you do memorise those 5/6 lever arch files, only for the judge to question you on something that your solicitors failed to include, because it wasn’t thought to be relevant, then you’d probably be a little annoyed.

The point that we’re trying to make is that we were told that these exams would test rules, procedures etc that we would be expected to know about before starting pupillage. The advice that has been received is that some of these questions went above and beyond that. When people have paid £15,000 for the privilege of taking the course, is it not reasonable for them to complain if they don’t feel they’ve been given a fair chance to show they’re abilities? And we’re not just talking a handful of bitter students plotting over cheap pints down at the union. The letter had 400+ signatories, with many others choosing to take action through their institutions. These are students who are achieving VCs and Outstandings in other subjects and who have good academics going back to the days of the 11+. Some already have pupillage (and therefore must have done something to impress a set that they’re worth £12,000), but are now feeling somewhat uncertain about their future after the centrally set exams.

We’re not asking you to agree with us, but to maybe understand why we want the BSB to take another look and consider changing the exams and/or the way they are marked.



But that wasn’t what we were commenting on, as is quite clear from the commencement of our thread – we were commenting on the ‘endurance’ point.

It is quite concerning that you are the second student to misunderstand that, despite our points starting with a direct quote. I’m not trying to have a crack at you, but precision is something of a necessity in a lawyer.


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

My only true reply to you was in the first paragraph Milly. I was commenting on the piece and some other comments also.


BPTC Student

I understand that your main issue was with the endurance point and I have to say I completely agree with you on that. Whilst the exams being back to back was a bit annoying, it’s no doubt much easier than a week in practice.

However, I seemed to get the impression – and if this is me reading far too much into things then I hold my hands up and apologise – that you were dismissing us all as being whining students throwing our toys out of the pram because the exams were too hard. All I was trying to say is that beyond suggestions of it being physically enduring, there were genuine complaints to be heard, which seem to be being overlooked. Probably ended up going off topic for which I apologise – I’m becoming far too bitter and twisted :s



Noooo, I wasn’t having a global dig, it was a contained one. If the BSB has screwed up, then the BSB needs to be taken to task over that but I don’t know enough detail to come down on either side of that fence. All I would say is that you all need to be very sure of your grounds in going into that battle, but don’t let their dismissive attitude put you off.


BPTC Student

My mistake then, so apologies for the rant. The BSB’s reply was disappointing, as was the response from some practitioners who think we just like having a moan. Glad to hear that you’re not in that camp. Now for more important things i.e. wine.


Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells

i think the overall point here is that the BSB failed to comply with their own standards;

“The Bar Professional Training Course: Course specification requirements and guidance (August 2011) states in Appendix I (STANDARDS FOR THE BPTC) on Page 164 that:

“Bunching of assessment must be avoided”

Yet the exams were ‘bunched’, I agree that endurance in itself is not an issue as in a career before the Bar I was challenged to endure physically considerably more than back to back exams, or jumping on the tube 5 days in a row for a week long trial. Regardless;

I would agree that the back to back exams seem to introduce some form of endurance capability. If endurance (no matter how slight) was included in the syllabus and was to be tested by the bunching of exams, I think the students would not take issue with it.
However its seen that the situation here is clearly in dispute with the BSB’s own requirements.

Not a great way for the BSB to start off with their first go at centrally set papers.



the trouble is the course keeps changing.

I started my pt BVC in 2005. My understanding was the previous year’s course was harder because they had to sit in the library & do pleadings in two hours and we were allowed to take ours home.

A friend who became ill had to take our exams two years later said the course had changed again, with topics and pass marks changing. Now BTPC changes have meant providers have had to go back and rethink the entire syllabus.

It therefore doesn’t surprise me students have flagged up “teething” issues that need addressing.

I understand where Milly’s coming from. In my LLB day (94 grad) we were told to buy a textbook of our choosing and to just get on with it and work it out for ourselves. Any feedback on written work consisted of “not quite right” rather than a detailed analysis of how I could improve my approach.

I now teach a LLB course and times have changed in higher ed. We have a define syllabus, “learning outcomes” and feedback key points we have to address. A random sample of my marking and reasons for the mark are sent to an external examiner to ensure quality and consistency.

The BSB has the remit and role re the BTPC course and providers. I’m therefore with Richard on this one – the BSB does need to at least listen to the concerns.



I am a BPTC student at the moment and I have taken the exams that are being complained about. Many of the above comments are pretty unfair (and mean) about students. Some have quickly labelled us as whiny, moany etc, making it all too easy to brush aside the bona fide complaints. If you can resist assuming we are all lazy, then please actually consider the important issues that are raised.


Are BPTC students being conned?

Re: “Bunching of assessment must be avoided”

I think that this is an important issue for the following reasons:

1) The provision exists in ‘THE BLUE BOOK’ for a reason and it should not have been ignored. The provision includes the word “must” which means that it should not have been treated as an optional course of action.

2) The good practice of avoiding assessment bunching is particularly important with regard to students with a disability. Several universities operate the system properly, as it enhances equality and diversity.

3) Many students (Disabled and Non-Disabled) are not happy with the assessment timetable, as it causes unnecessary problems e.g. with work for P/T students, etc.

So in summary, I am being serious and I think the point is a valid one.



Point 3/ has long since been a problem; certainly at City Law School.

P/T students were, throughout, prejudiced by having to sit exams at the same time as F/T students. The consequence was that those P/T students who were part-timers because of their work or home commitments were expected to complete research assignments etc., in half the timescale afforded to the F/T students who, mainly, had no other calls on their time. The only way in which the schedule could be sensibly accommodated was for P/T students deliberately to fail exams, and to take them on re-sits instead. Students who tried otherwise typically ended up failing the whole course.

There was nothing to be achieved by complaining. The only positive course of action was to try to dissuade future students from going anywhere near City Law School.

Even so much as bothering with the BSB is a waste of time and effort. Since inception, it has been held to be a worthless body comprised of time servers and shills for the vested interests of the Bar. In the context of its remit for student education, it exists only to add a legitimate veneer to the suspect existence of the law schools. A few years ago, when there was a huge stink caused by BPP students with an express allegation of corrupt marking at BPP, the BSB has changed its own rules so that it no longer hears any student complaints. All fur coat, and no knickers.


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

I’ve said 3 things and someone has gone and pretty much nicked my moniker. Nice.


BPTC Warrior

The final draft of the letter sent was considerably better drafted.

Also, more than 400 BPTC students from 8 different providers signed it, showing the level and breadth of unhappiness with the papers.



Why are BPTC students being treated so badly and unfairly by their own regulator and their own institutions?



BPTC students wishing to complain may find the following information interesting:

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator

“The Higher Education Act 2004 required the appointment of an independent body to run a student complaints scheme in England and Wales. The OIA was chosen to operate this scheme, to which all universities in England and Wales must subscribe. Our role is to review individual complaints by students against universities. We have no regulatory powers over universities and cannot punish or fine them.

The first Independent Adjudicator was Baroness Ruth Deech. The current Independent Adjudicator and Chief Executive is Robert Behrens.”

Do these names sound familiar?

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is made up of 15 people, a combination of lay people and barristers. From January 2012 the Board will have a lay majority.

Baroness Ruth Deech ########

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC

Barrister Members:
Ms Sarah Clarke
Mr Simon Lofthouse QC
Mr Matthew Nicklin
Ms Patricia Robertson QC
Mr Sam Stein QC

Lay Members:
Ms Rolande Anderson

Mr Rob Behrens ########

Dr Malcolm Cohen
Ms Paula Diggle
Mr Tim Robinson
Professor Andrew Sanders
Mr Richard Thompson
Dr Anne Wright



Coming back to the ‘endurance’ issue. The BSB has set a standard so I guess it is right that they should be held to account if they have no adhered to it. However, it seems a rather unnecessary standard to set given what will be expected when working at the Bar.

Bunching of exams is varied amongst students even at GCSE and A Levels. My son had 8 of his exams across 4 consecutive days for his GCSEs in 2011, yet some of his friends had no clumping at all. Should he moan and ask for extra consideration in his results for this, NO! He had his timetable, knew the position, so it was a test of his ability to time manage his workload. A key skill for any job!



A few points:

1) Unfair BPTC exams are a very different kettle of fish to GCSE and A Level exams. Most BPTC students excelled at GCSE and A Level exams.

2) Exams and working life are two very different things and are not really comparable.

3)Unfortunately your son was subjected to a harsher assessment timetable than his friends. As a result his friends probably had a significantly less stressful examination period. Therefore their examination performance may have been enhanced as a result and was probably a much more reliable indicator of their true ability in the subjects tested.

4) Your son’s friends who had no bunching of examinations did not have to deal with the added time management burden that your son had to deal with. They were not tested for their ability to time manage their workload to the same level as your son was.

5) This type of situation is clearly unfair to your son. Whether or not you choose to make a complaint/issue about it, is of course a matter for you.



Please see the BBC article:

Heads warn of exam ‘congestion’



Haha… these BVC students crack me up. I bet most of them wouldn’t pass the BPTC now even after years of practice. Let’s match up shall we.

Open book vs Close book
50% pass rate vs 60% pass rate in each part
Provider set exams (basically study the SGSs or SPSs) vs Centrally set exams

I’m not exactly sure about this one. But someone told me that BVC students were never assessed on Professional Ethics. So if that were true, have you seen the syllabus BVC students. Try doing that with your Litigation courses.

You passed the course just by attending dinners in London. Try it now.


Concerned of Tumbridge Wells

BVC Students were assessed on Ethics but it was carried out through assessing the other modules i.e Do you tell a client to plead Guilty/change their evidence in Conference just to get them a lesser sentence even if they maintain their innocence?

Stop trolling by the way.



Haha fair point about trolling.


[…] Body Is Chaired By BSB Member Posted on May 8, 2012 by Alex Aldridge A recent article, ‘EXCLUSIVE: BPTC Students Point Finger At Bar Standards Board Following ‘Disastrous’ And ‘Un…, elicited over 40 comments from Bar students. A BPTC student looking to make a complaint against […]



Right. Why, may not that be the skull of a lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillities, his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? Why does he suffer this mad knave now to knock him about the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be in’s time a great buyer of land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt? Will his vouchers vouch him no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The very conveyances of his lands will scarcely lie in this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?
(Hamlet, 5.1.97), Hamlet to Horatio



This is a copy of a letter sent to the BSB regarding the civil and criminal litigation exams. It makes the points made above but I believe gives a better overall picture of the effect it had on students and why.

1. Syllabus change: it was felt that the 2010/11 students were all examined internally and therefore whatever changes were put into the Syllabus by the BSB were managed by staff at the respective providers in what was a transitional year. Part-time students undertook the tort Syllabus in 2010/11 but undertook the exam in 2012-the first externally assessed examination. Part-time students invariably work at least part-time but many work full-time and do not have time to revisit a Syllabus in the light of any changes. It is felt part-time students are severely disadvantaged by the lack of facility afforded by this change which uniquely affected the 2010/11 intake of part-time students.
2. Clustering of the examinations: the BSB advise BPTC providers not to cluster examinations. However the civil and criminal litigation exams in 2012 which were originally scheduled for the 11th and 13th of April were put together on the 11th and 12th of April after Jewish students complained that the 13th was their holiday. Why couldn’t the BSB make it the following Monday if they were so concerned about providers clustering examinations? The civil and criminal litigation papers represent the widest syllabus of any subjects on the BPTC. The decision to put them next to each other affects all students, but is particularly hard on part-time students who do not have the luxury of a three-week break from work to prepare for their studies.
3. Mock examinations: mock examinations were undertaken in January 2012. All students therefore had the opportunity over the Christmas and New Year break to prepare for those examinations. It was understood that the purpose of the mock examinations, which are not compulsory for students, was to prepare them so that they will be better able to manage examinations proper in the April 2012. What appears to have transpired is that the level of difficulty in the MCQ questions was significantly raised from those of the mock examinations. There is a very strong suspicion that the BSB, who marked the MCQ questions directly in London, have used the results to raise the difficulty level of the questions and thereby lower the pass rate. If this is true it makes a mockery of the idea that these examinations represent an objective standard and thwarts the idea of mock exams as preparation for students.
4. Question areas: it appears that questions appeared on the civil litigation papers which were either not recorded on the Syllabus or were specifically excluded from it. One question involved the enforcement of County Court judgements and the precise level of cash limits before transfer to the High Court another represented the percentage of interest charged on future loss of earnings damages. Quite apart from whether it is necessary to know this level of detail in such a vast subject it would appear that these particular areas are not covered by the Syllabus on the BSB website.
Marking system: on the morning of the examination students were informed that a different marking system was to be put in place. Students were no longer to assume that because there was three marks attributed to a particular SAQ question it did not necessarily mean there were only three points required. It could mean six points were needed, each representing .5 of a mark. Students prepared on the basis of BSB advice to adopt a bullet point answers attributing the number of points to marks indicated

Remedies sought which APPLY TO ALL:

1. Because of the points raised it is felt these examinations were completely unfair and the results will be unrepresentative of the students’ actual ability, irrespective of if they pass or not and are therefore a nullity.

Therefore the results should not stand (save not to prevent call in those who pass) but any grading should be subject to a first re take of the exam for those who want it. The re take should be recorded as a first take. In keeping with other remedies the student should not be penalised with a worse outcome than the original result only a potentially better grade.

2. The first take retakes should be sat on separate weeks not the same week or on consecutive working days as the other litigation examination.

Remedies sought which apply only to Part-time students:

3. Should be permitted to be examined internally for reasons of equity with the full time cohort of 2011 and examined on the syllabus they received instruction on.

These concerns were raised with the BSB earlier in the year by letter and written and verbal assurances were received from Dr Shrimplin that part time student results would be moderated to account for any disparity in the syllabus. However what appears to have happened is the BSB have responded instead by increasing the pressures for all but particularly on part time students ability to meet the demands required to pass these examinations with the time they have available for study.

Conclusion – Many have been left with the rather unpleasant feeling that these examinations have been set and controlled by clever people in specialist positions who are far removed from the lives of those who they seek to assess.

There is a duty of care attached to nearly all positions in education and it is difficult to imagine more trying circumstances that the ones outlined above.

It does not behove the BSB in these circumstances to brush these criticisms aside with retorts that results can be moderated or that the examination structure is ‘bedding in’. Students are not guineas pigs.
The effect of these decisions impacts on all BPTC students’ ability to reasonably meet examination requirements. The combined effect of these changes has had an adverse effect on students so great that no impartial tribunal properly directed could reasonably conclude they were just or reasonable. Nor does their execution appear to conform to the standard of care required by those charged with the duty to assess.
It is undestood Dr Shrimplin left the BSB on 20th June



I sat and passed the BPTC exams last year and was called in the July following results in June. A group of my peers wrote a similar letter directly to our institution, and in fact also described us as Guinea Pigs. We were the first year of the new 60% pass mark, the first year of the written assessment for both ADR and Professional ethics, the first year that the opinion writing(and potentially drafting) had been examined in a 3 hour exam and not in coursework form and the first year that all knowledge exams were closed book. If we didn’t quote the correct part number of the CPR for example we couldn’t get the top marks. Only 25 or so of us of the 90 that started the course passed it without having to re-sit. And that is exactly the aim of the BSB and individual institutions. The numbers taking the BPTC far out-way the number of pupillages available the examinations, therefore exams have to get tougher OR they have to tell the institutions that they are not available to have more than 40 in each cohort. When they charge £11,000 and upwards per person I know which option I would rather take if I were the BSB.
The BPTC was the most difficult and challenging year of my life, but I didn’t expect it to be anything other than that. If students thought it would be easy, perhaps a assessment of career choice may be in order?


Ralph Cairns

I also passed litigation exams with a VC and an outstanding. But it doesn’t make the behaviour and tactics of the bsb are fair especially for part time students


[…] Alex Aldridge in Legal Cheek has flagged up some of the concerns: EXCLUSIVE: BPTC Students Point Finger At Bar Standards Board Following ‘Disastrous’ And ‘Unfai… […]



This is a joke, utter rubbish. I took those exams and like many, failed them due to the unfair marking, the random questions that we were not even advised on and the complete bodge-job of the exams in general. I am a London student and more than half the students in my exam room alone didnt even have the a copy of the Arbitration Act in the ADR exam and the exam started an hour later than it was supposed to.

I paid a lot of money for this course and so expected the best treatment, instead, along with many I am being fobbed off and brushed aside.

I slogged my guts out revising for these exams, there was no realistic way of revising. We had to basically remember the entire White Book because we had no clue as to what the questions would suggest. We might as well have walked into that exam hall blind-folded. The exams did not reflect what we had been taught whatsoever.

What shocks me the most is the level of hatred that the BPTC students have been greeted with, I mean what the hell?! We are entitled to fair treatment and so that includes a fair shot at passing the exams. I have read the comments from those who have passed the BVC as it was and I am embarrassed! You call yourself members of an honourable profession? You are bullish and full of it. How dare you write such comments, How old are you? You should support the BPTC students, or dont you care so long as your job is safe? Can you truly say the BSB is perfect? or are you all back scratching cowards afraid to take a stand … isnt that what barristers are supposed to do? stand against unfairness? Well, this is unfairness on a grand scale …. how can hundreds of students be wrong? …. I hope those BVC passers on here treat their clients with more respect than they have given these concerned students. DISGUSTING



What degree grade did you get? I say this as someone who managed to get a pupillage but didn’t do very well in their degree so I am not trying to be elitist and suggest that one course is harder than another but I am curious how well or badly the people who are saying this year’s BPTC was ‘unfair’ did at undergraduate level.

I found the BPTC an absolute joke compared to undergraduate and got 80s and 90s in virtually everything with barely any effort at all, compared to really struggling at undergrad in subjects where I had done little or no work.


Kt rah rah rah!

Apparently, loads of BPTC students have failed these unfair exams, but what can they do about it?



the best move for the failed BTPC students is to take this as a sign from God and move on to a job that pays and treats them better.


Kt rah rah rah!

The BPTC is a complete joke!

The CEB is free to give any BPTC student any grade that it wants to.

Several BPTC students have had their grades artificially increased by the CEB (probably in an attempt to achieve a certain pass rate at certain providers) and therefore the inflated grades that some students have received, are not really what they have actually achieved in the exams. This process is what the CEB call ‘scaling’ (which apparently can be upwards or downwards).

What a joke!

Just make it up as you go along CEB, no one will notice!



The noble Baroness Deech, praise be to the head of the BSB, has just been on Daily Politics talking about the alleged cock-ups on the GCSE exam marks. She even offered advice, doubtlessly built up from her days as Chair, on how they can improve.

Ahh irony.



It has become the custom of late that there can be no reward for extra-curricular learning. Outrage erupts when a candidate is given the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge outside of a prescribed syllabus in exams up and down the country. The syllabus has become a document that students can hide behind when really it is a prison in which they lock up their mind. Have these candidates so little interest in their future profession that they are only willing to learn what is stated on a centrally imposed list?

It is this same attitude that is presumably causing the legal profession to be oversubscribed. Rather than seeing extremely hard exams as a benefit that divides the weak from the strong, there is a sense of entitlement that all must pass; let the chambers rather than the examiners do the leg work of sorting wheat from chaff.

As an outsider to the bar, a chartered secretary by trade, I was appalled by how cosy an experience these students expected from examinations to enter one of the most sought after professions in the country. Sadly, it is an attitude seen in all manner of professions when a candidate sits a professional, as opposed to an academic, exam. One mark equals one answer is a luxury that should stop at A-Level. That is not a luxury I enjoyed when I completed my ICSA examinations in 2009/10, nor is it the standard for any of the accounting bodies in the UK. As for testing obscure points of law, does this not exist to separate the outstanding from the competent? I certainly could never hope to achieve more than a pass at ICSA without going above and beyond the syllabus, not least demonstrating contemporary knowledge from personal experience. These are professional exams and test more than one gleans from a book.

My advice to these students is to stop complaining. If they want exams as easy as they describe, then they can not only give up on a career at the bar but they should also forget a career as a solicitor, legal executive, accountant, company secretary, tax advisor, financial planner or insurance broker. Their lack of enthusiasm will also close to them careers as writers, artists and chefs.


BPTC Student 2014

It’s 2014 and after studying my tail off, the struggle with BPTC Providers and the BSB remains the same.



T’was ever thus.

I was one of the last cohort on the BVC. Almost two thirds of my year group failed Civil Lit that year. I passed by one mark.

As a barrister involved in the pupillage selection process, I am well aware that the Civil Lit exam (amongst others) is useless as preparation for practice. I do not have the entirety of the White Book stored in my head. Instead, I have the skills to read, interpret and apply the CPR. These are the skills we value.

I have always thought that a better way of testing one’s competence at Civil Lit is simply to have more advocacy-type exams where discrete legal problems are set requiring one to assess a case, locate and apply the relevant law and then present it. If I recall, there is one Civil advocacy exam – there should be more like five or six on a range of topics (summary judgment / strike outs, relief from sanctions, case management conferences, costs applications, adjournment applications, quantum hearings etc). This is what we actually do in practice (and what BPTC students seem to have no real experience of).

Unfortunately, the BSB is quite divorced from actual practice. They do not appear to understand what is required to be a competent and successful practitioner. When you get into practice, this becomes all the more apparent.


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