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Aptitude test pass mark raised to ‘exclude’ weaker wannabe barristers

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Much-maligned BPTC entry exam was put on hold pending BSB-led review last year

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The Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) pass mark will be raised to filter out students who are “not likely to succeed’, the regulator has confirmed.

Put on hold late last year — pending a Bar Standards Board (BSB) review — the controversial exam was introduced back in 2013. Aimed at testing an aspiring barrister’s critical thinking and reasoning, it must be passed in order to gain entry onto the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

The scoring system for the BCAT ranges between 20 and 80 and students, prior to today’s announcement, had to score 37 or higher to pass. Today the BSB has revealed that this pass mark will now be upped to 45 as of 2017, to ensure weaker candidates, who are unlikely to pass the BPTC anyway, don’t start a course that they might well fail.

Since being introduced, the entry-exam has been dogged with controversy.

Costing already cash-strapped students £150 a pop, and with the aim of weeding out pupillage no-hopers, many who have sat the exam have complained it’s almost impossible to fail.

Speaking late last year, one student — who sat the exam — told Legal Cheek:

I passed in under 30 minutes, and I don’t know anyone who ever failed it first time round. I know one of my peers even guessed the entirety of the practice paper and passed. One even claims that after passing a practice paper, he went back and deliberately chose the wrong answers and STILL passed!

As well as upping the pass mark by eight points, students will now be provided with their actual BCAT score, not just a pass or fail indicator. Aspiring barristers will also be told what their score means in terms of likely success on the BPTC.

According to the BSB, the changes (which are subject to Legal Services Board approval) won’t have an “adverse effect” on those students coming from “non-traditional backgrounds”.

BSB director of education and training Dr Simon Thornton-Wood said:

The BCAT is proven to be a very effective test of important critical thinking skills for the BPTC, and will give students a reliable indicator of their likely chances of success before they embark on the BPTC, which can be costly, as we are keenly aware.

The test will be reopened — for 2016 BPTC entry only — on 4 April 2016.