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New pass mark for aspiring barrister’s test is waved through by LSB

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Controversial entry exam onto BPTC should be harder to pass

bcat

The bar regulator’s application to raise the pass mark of the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) from 37 to 45 has been given the go-ahead by the Legal Services Board (LSB).

This follows criticism that the BCAT, introduced in 2013 to assess potential pupils’ critical thinking and reasoning, was almost impossible to fail as reported on Legal Cheek. It is also another cost for students, £150 a pop for those in the United Kingdom.

The proposal to increase the pass mark by a whopping 22% has come about following analysis of early data collected as part of the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) five-year review of the BCAT. The BCAT was actually suspended between November 2015 and March 2016 while the BSB decided what to do next.

In its submissions to the LSB, the BSB stood by the BCAT and stated that the problem was about getting the right pass mark not the test itself:

[E]vidence suggests that the BCAT in its current form is a valid testing instrument. It is a better predictor of performance on the BPTC than other available measures of aptitude for the profession and its preparatory training (e.g. degree classification).

The BSB had even considered raising the pass mark to 46 — but it is amazing how much difference one point can make. The regulator found that 46 might have had “an adverse impact on students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, who performed worse (on average) on the BCAT”, and that it “excluded too high a proportion of students who would have gone on to pass the BPTC (40% of those who would have been excluded at a pass mark of 46 went on to pass the course in 2014).”

46 Comments

Curious George

What’s the maximum amount of points one can score on the BCAT?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

80

(0)(1)

Anonymous

79

(0)(0)

Bumblebee

“The regulator found that 46 might have had ‘an adverse impact on students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, who performed worse (on average) on the BCAT’.”

How nice of the regulator to promote diversity by allowing BAME students onto the course who don’t have the aptitude to pass it. Some nasty LC commentators think that diversity is about rewarding aptitude irrespective of race. I’m glad the BSB has the good sense to see that in fact it is about rewarding race irrespective of aptitude.

(16)(6)

Anonymous

Reserve the BPTC for those with pupillage, a scholarship, or intention to go overseas. It’s bleeding obvious.

(23)(3)

Anonymous

Look at the socio-economic background and ethnic origin of majority of people who get pupillage, and the socio-economic backgrounds of people who qualify and go overseas, and you’ll realise that your idea doesn’t work. That plan of action will send the Bar back 50 years.

(5)(8)

Quo Vadis

Restricting entry to the BPTC to those likely to obtain pupillage won’t affect the composition of the Bar. After all, the same sort of people will make it into practice. If it is true that those failing to secure pupillage are from poorer backgrounds, or more often from ethnic minorities, I hardly think it is fair to have them enrol on the course, then fail it (whether directly or by failing to secure pupillage), and pay tens of thousands of pounds for the privilege. I would remind you that the proportion of ethnic minority students securing pupillage is broadly in line with the proportion of ethnic minority people in the population as a whole – a few years ago, it exceeded it. I certainly agree that BPTC students (and pupils) tend to be from wealthy families, but I doubt there is much direct discrimination going on. Rather, the course is extremely expensive, thus limited to people with considerable private funds, and requires a level of academic achievement which is difficult to obtain in the course of a normal state education.

(13)(2)

Anonymous

I don’t think it’s true at all that only those who can secure pupillage beforehand should be allowed to enrol on the BPTC. You’re discounting people who undergo a great deal of development during the course, and show real potential by its conclusion. Granted they’ll be a very small minority, but they shouldn’t be forgotten.

And surely if people have the ability to complete the course, they should be allowed a shot? Just because someone is a less likely pupillage candidate doesn’t mean they’re doomed.

And back to the BCAT issue, as it currently stands the exam is simply an entrance tax. I struggled to pay it, as did a handful of my friends. We’re all from ethnic minority and low-income backgrounds. And my background strongly influences my opinion that every feature of the qualification process that gives the affluent an edge, within reason, should be removed. But of course, the Bar will always be a bit plutocratic. The BPTC will always be expensive, Oxbridgers and private schoolers will always reign.

(5)(7)

SD O.T.O.

I am not sure that is true.

I am half asian, was state-educated and brought up by a single parent struggling with financial hardship in the middle of a deprived countryside region of the UK. I struggled at school and scraped a B, C, C. I secured a major inns scholarship at Middle , took a GBP25,000 loan out from HSBC and now have a decent common-law pupillage in London. I’m not the only one either…

the bar has never been so accessible to and understanding of those who might not have had it quite so easy in the early years. Make the most of that, work hard when opportunity arises and be thankful so much ground has been made in the last ten years.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I grew up in care and have a Commercial Pupillage. I agree it is much easier now.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I lived in a cardboard box in Zambia, and I am the pupil at brick court

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I literally just arrived from Syria and stepped into pupillage at Matrix. Its all different these days

Not Amused

“Reserve the BPTC for those with pupillage, a scholarship, or intention to go overseas. It’s bleeding obvious”

Quite.

Anyone arguing against this is arguing for the right to pay thousands of pounds to pretend you can be a barrister.

Why is it that accountancy can manage to have a proper meritocratic and open system, yet both branches of law fail?

(4)(4)

Anonymous

It took me 4 years of working within law firms etc to secure pupillage. I didn’t have a pupillage lined up when I enrolled on the BPTC, but I wanted it. So many other gave up applying after a single round of pupillage applications. Those people were lacking real desire in my opinion. Drive and determination should not be underestimated.

(7)(5)

Anonymous

Waived eh?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Waived?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Waived?

(1)(0)

LC Journalist Test Examiner

Eh, waived?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Now its waved!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

* it’s
* waived

(0)(0)

Ethelred

It’s ‘aþýwan’

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Hwaet!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

BCAT scores are on a scale from 20 to 80. I assume that they are normalised in some way and that there is some logic behind why they range from 20-80 rather than 0-100, but I don’t know what that is.

As you can take this test once per month starting in April and you have to pass by August I suspect it would be nearly impossible for someone determined to do the BPTC to fail to pass it sooner or later. Raising the pass mark will cost the weakest students an extra £150 or £300 but unless a single failure on the BCAT dissuades them from trying again it will not prevent them from wasting a further £15000.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

That was a reply to Curious George, sorry.

(1)(3)

Lord of the Dance

Having failed the test myself then got a VC and pupillage I can afford that aptitude tests are a load of bollocks! Since when did a psychometric test prove that you’d be good at convincing a jury of something?

(7)(2)

Quo Vadis

It’s a verbal reasoning test, not a psychometric test, and I would genuinely surprised if what you say is true given that the proportion of people who fail the test is in the (very, very) low single figures.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

You can “afford”?

I understand why you failed…

(8)(0)

Anonymous

I thought that too!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

There is a general correlation between higher marks in the BCAT and higher grades in the BPTC. Your personal experience doesn’t invalidate that. Congratulations on being an outlier.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

A test result doesn’t “prove” anything. It might enable a prediction to be made as to your likelihood of achieving a high grade and, in due course, pupillage.

If you’ve bucked that trend by achieving a low score and then pupillage, then well done. Statistically, you’re an outlier. That doesn’t mean the test is of no use or merit. It does suggest that it shouldn’t be relied upon in isolation (or at least that there should be an option to resit).

(2)(0)

Lord Harley of Counsel

Why waste your money doing it when you can do what I did and just make up qualifications and then apply for waivers ?

(20)(0)

Anonymous

Why not force all the BPTC providers to assess applicants – test their writing skills, advocacy, and reasoning?

(1)(1)

Quo Vadis

The providers have little pedagogical or parochial interest in their students. They are simply after their money. Despite the enormous cost of the course, margins are surprisingly slim and the viability of the course often depends on having as large a cohort of students as possible (c.f. Kaplan). Asking the providers to filter out prospective BPTC students is like inviting a man dying of thirst to a wine-tasting event. He isn’t going to savour and swill your 1893 Chateau Lafite. He will hurl it down his throat as quickly as possible. The BSB and the Inns of Court are the ones who should be filtering out prospective BPTC students, but that would be a difficult and time-consuming job and neither can be bothered to take it on. I do have some sympathy for them – would anyone like the job of explaining to a furious green-ink press why more BME students, say, happened to be rejected that year? Far better to let everyone in, load them up with debt, and let God (or Mammon) sort them out afterwards.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

So in other words, the status quo from quo vadis?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

ULaw does. Not clear it makes a difference, but they say it does lol.

(0)(0)

LC Journalist Test Examiner

Not one mention of the words “top”, “wannabe”, “rookie” or “bagged”, nor reference to how many TCs are available at a random law firm, or their starting NQ salary. Not even a passing reference to Alan Blacker, Charlotte Proudman or Amal Clooney.

E -, must try harder.

(6)(3)

Anonymous

The BCAT is a joke, I spent 7 minutes on it hardly reading questions and still passed with a mark of 55.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

Thank you for that valuable contribution.

(14)(0)

Not Amused

BCAT is only superior to degree classification because they refuse to factor in the university awarding the degree.

This is an example of the most idiotic form of self inflicted idiocy.

Until we implement national standards, every university can award whichever degree classification it wants to whatever standard. I could set up a uni tomorrow, deliberately only select the least academically able and give everyone Firsts. However rather than the BSB noticing that my NA University was in fact, rubbish, they would simply say that “getting a First was no longer a good indicator of future performance because we have hundreds of kids with Firsts from NA University and they all fail”.

When you operate as a nation a system where the academic standards are set by the university, then you simply *have* to both 1) investigate the academic standards of each university and 2) take account of university attended.

Failing to do so is reckless.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

The BPTC is well known to be over-populated with graduates unlikely to ever gain pupillage, as like the LPC, its just a money grabber for ULaw and BPP to make money. Personally I think the academic pre requisites to even apply for the BPTC, plus these new pass marks should be this;

GCSE’s at A*-B, AAB and above at A level, 1st/high 2:1 from an Russell Group uni/Oxbridge.

Excellent extra curriculars to make you more rounded too. Only after all these then would someone on the BPTC be likely to obtain pupillage or even before embarking on the BPTC.

(2)(9)

Anonymous

Quite agree. People will bleat and moan that “oh but X candidate has a really good personality and has done loads of volunteering blah blah ad nauseum”. The truth of the matter is that with any of the entitled “I have a 2:1 from Edge Hill/John Moores, and i’m excellent at mooting, honest” types, is that for each one of those, there will be 5 other applicants with everything and more, Oxbridge, BCL, no matter how sparkling their people skills or personality is.

The Bar doesnt owe people a career. Its an important public function and the public are entitled to excellent Barristers. The Bar does not exist for your edification, or “to give you a shot”. It is that sort of thinking that has led the American legal system into absolute disaray, with courts full of the most inept and incompetent lawyers.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

You both come across as individuals who have attended the institutions and obtained the grades you deem required to undertake the BPTC.

I obtained a couple of Cs during my GCSE’s, and the first time I completed my A Levels, I obtained ABB. I missed out on a second A by one mark. So I took a gap year, worked a crappy job and retook that one exam. And got 100%. But because that particular year saw a jump in entry requirements, I had to set my sights on a plate-glass uni rather than anything Russell. But I worked my arse off and got a 1st. But then I didn’t have any money to undertake a Masters straight away, so I did some crappy work for a year, again. I ended up on an LLM at a Russell group uni and did well, again. An exhibition scholarship got me onto the BPTC where, despite having no mooting experience at all, I was picked to take part in an international moot. And now I’ve been called. No pupillage in sight, but you’ll be damn sure I’ll get one. But under your proposed entry requirements, I would have never set foot in the providers’ door.

You’re both right, the Bar doesn’t owe anyone a career. Barristers are in a position of great responsibility, and only the best will suffice. But what the Bar does owe is looking at candidates in the round. Setting strict requirements as you both propose is idiotic, because it takes a damnsight more than good grades, and pissy work experience at comfy chambers, or travelling abroad digging wells or f**king dolphins, to make it at the Bar. Everyone willing to put in the effort deserves a shot, if they’re willing to make the financial and temporal sacrifice.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Hello,
I’m currently about to embark on what would seem the same career path that you have taken, I have a large amount of confidence in myself and starting this year will be working towards a Law Degree qualifying with a 1st, that’s the first step of my aims . I honestly find what you have put in here about your story and not coming from the most recognised university and having to work crappy jobs for experience and income very similar to my story so far and quite inspirational. It would mean a lot to me if we could talk more, just seeing this has reassured me quite a bit that someone from my blue collar background can climb to the same heights without the privilege, when I read about peoples stories of pupillage I often think that if I just keep my work ethic and exhibit some of the achievements I have obtained outside of my academics, (along with a first) I can do it, and you have shown me we all can, I really appreciate it. This is my email 2889969317@qq.com ( I live and work in china now,hence the odd email address) I would really appreciate hearing more of your story and getting to know you better along with any advice you may have .

(0)(0)

Bumblebee

The reasoning of the BSB is shocking. It is literally irrational. It’s absurd.

Take “40% of those who would have been excluded at a pass mark of 46 went on to pass the course in 2014”. There are two aspects to this statement which are particularly frightening.

The first, and by far and away the most important, concerns the phrase ‘pass the course’. Why is the BSB basing its decisions according to BPTC pass rates? The real problem facing the profession concerns BPTC students’ failure to get pupillage. If a pass mark of 46 excludes a student who would have passed the course but then failed to get pupillage, this should be chalked up as a reason in FAVOUR of that pass mark. Instead of basing its decisions according to how students who took the BCAT fared on the BPTC, the BSB should be basing its decisions according to how those students fared in the hunt for pupillage. So long as the BSB fails to grasp this simple fact, they are condemning themselves to making ignorant and poor decisions in perpetuity.

The second concerns the figure of 40%. Even if one suspends all reasoning, subscribes to the BSB way of thinking and pretends that all that matters is pass rates, it can be seen that the BSB’s position is contrary to its own (warped) standards. If only 40% of those who scored 46 passed the BPTC, that means that 60% must have failed. The BSB therefore has clear evidence that the MAJORITY of students who score 46 are going to fail the course, and yet they let those students onto the course regardless. They somehow think that this is a reason against a pass mark of 46.

There is a serious, serious problem here. The BSB quite clearly isn’t fit to function.

(11)(1)

Anonymous

By all means, introduce stringent entry criteria…

MOST IMPORTANTLY – this needs to go hand in hand with a capping of fees. The best part of 20 grand at the moment – this cannot go on.

Should be no more than 9 thousand (ie approx what current tuition fees are)

Change needs to flow both ways. Student pockets must also be treated reasonably.

(2)(0)

Georgina Lauder

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(1)

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