Multiple choice questions to be axed from BPTC ethics exam

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By Thomas Connelly on

But that was how students got their marks?!


The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has confirmed that multiple choice questions (MCQs) on the Bar Professional Training Course’s (BPTC) ethics exams will be scrapped from the new academic year.

Aspiring barristers currently have to complete a two-part ethics assessment. Part one consists of 20 MCQs and part two is made up of three short answer questions (SAQs). In order to obtain a pass, BPTC students must achieve at least 60% on both sections of the exam.

The bar regulator has now opted to get rid of the entire MCQ section, in favour of six SAQs. The pass mark will remain at 60% and students will still have two hours to complete the exam. Those commencing the BPTC in September will be the first cohort to undertake the new format.

Along with criminal and civil litigation, professional ethics is one of only three BPTC modules assessed centrally by the BSB and not the BPTC provider itself.

According to the regulator, today’s announcement is in “recognition of the different intellectual challenge” posed by ethics. In order for students to respond appropriately to an ethical dilemma, they should be given an opportunity to explain their position. A “written” response — as opposed to an MCQ — is deemed to provide this.

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

The first new format Ethics examination will be held in spring 2017. Using a format already familiar to providers, students and the profession alike is beneficial and we will work closely with course providers and students to implement the changes.

The professional ethics exam has been a bone of contention between students, providers and the regulator for a number of years.

A 2014 BSB report indicated that only 65.5% of BPTC students passed the ethics assessment at the first attempt. According to the stats, the SAQs were the problem — with just 65.6% of students passing that section. A much more respectable 81% passed the MCQ element at the first attempt.

Fast forward a year and the ethics exam was still a major stumbling block for many wannabe barristers.

Legal Cheek reported exclusively last year that over half (54%) of BPP Law School’s bar students failed the SAQ section of the ethics paper. With other providers also under performing, many students — and at least one senior academic — at the time criticised the poor wording of the SAQ scenarios, drafted by the BSB. The stats seem to agree, with pass rates apparently rocketing to 77% when the three SAQs were taken out of consideration.

Now the BSB has opted to scrap the area of the exam where students seem to excel, in favour of a format that tends to trip them up. Don’t expect ethics-gate stories to disappear any time soon.