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Aspiring barrister petitions for ‘draconian’ BPTC exams to be open-book

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Online appeal also argues assessments shouldn’t be so close together

A law student due to begin her Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) exams this week is calling on the regulator to re-think its assessment process.

As things stand, aspiring barristers are unable to bring practitioners’ texts (such as the White Book or Blackstone’s Criminal Practice) into key centralised assessments including civil and criminal litigation. This closed-book format, set by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), means students must memorise large volumes of material to ensure success.

Now, a current BPTC-er says enough is enough.

Branding the current approach “draconian”, the unnamed bar hopeful questions why students can’t take books into exams if practising barristers can regularly “refer to the book[s]” for guidance in court. Her plea to the regulator continues:

“I am aware that this may seem counter-productive, making the exams open-book, claiming that everyone would then be able to pass. However, that is not true; those studying right now will appreciate that even if they were open-book, the exams will continue to be difficult, as not many can guide themselves through the books.”

The anonymous petitioner argues that it’s unfair her aspiring solicitor counterparts studying the Legal Practice Course (LPC) are able to complete similar exams under open-book conditions. On this apparent double-standard she says: “LPC students learn the same law as us… [I]t is unjust to allow one group of lawyers-to-be to have their exams open-book, and not the rest.”

The 2018 BPTC Most List

Textbooks aside, assessment scheduling also appears to be a BPTC bugbear. The wannabe barrister claims the BSB has decided to put the exams close together, and this “in the long run has resulted in some institutions having seven exams in a space of a month”. She describes the exams as “counter-productive”, as “they do not assist students in learning the law, they assist in them memorising it”.

The BSB declined to comment.

According to BSB stats, 1,399 students enrolled on the BPTC in 2015/16. With 777 students successfully completing the vocational course, the pass rate was just over half (56%). Legal Cheek’s BPTC Most List shows students can pay almost £20,000 to secure a place on the course.

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99 Comments

Anonymous

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

Corbyn. Sympathiser

Bugger off fascist.

Anonymous

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

Deranged, senile phd serving footlongs at 3 am in soho

Weaker then Alex the prissy middle aged mumma’s Boi? I think not!

Anonymous

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

Another BPTC Student.

What on earth?

Why would anyone want a barrister who was incapable of memorising the fundamentals of Civil and Criminal procedure? If you fail the exam (without extenuating circumstances) then maybe it’s not the right profession for you.

This person should just chill and get on with revision. There’s still time before Thursday.

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

I bet you’d be the first to scream reform if you end up failing 😒

Another BPTC Student.

Hardly. My pupillage applications have been comically disastrous so far, but I’m not blaming anyone except myself for that.

We all know the course is stressful in combination with everything else going on. But we all signed up to it. The only way out is through – no point petitioning to have a test made even easier when it’s already multiple choice.

Anonymous

How about people who suffer from disabilities and struggle with MCQ’s?

Another BPTC Student.

What sort of disability makes you struggle with MCQs?

Anonymous

Go do some research 😒

Another BPTC Student.

If you can’t select the right approach from four options given a factual matrix, I find it hard to see:

a) What disability could be causing this, and;
b) What reasonable adjustments could be made that would enable you to function as a barrister.

Anonymous

ADD/ADHD.

Anonymous

The idea of you even asking about the kinds of disabilities that can effect your performance is beyond me 😑 dyslexic students for instance would find it very difficult to differentiate between the answers for further information please refer to Mr Google 😒

Anonymous

Lol are you against equality or something? Or are you saying people with disabilities cannot be barristers? Obviously they can refer to their books when they are in practice, so why not let them refer to it for exam?
I FIND YOUR COMMENT TO BE A DIRECT DISCRIMINATION DIRECTED TOWARDS PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES

Anonymous

So what you’re saying is, disabled people should be made subject to involuntary euthanasia?

Very amused

Being thick?

Anonymous

For your information most barristers aren’t fluent with the procedures and with the overgrowing changes in the civil procedure I doubt anyone has memorised the whitebooks.

Anonymous

THANK YOU!!

I know of many practising barristers who refer to the whitebook constantly, as they do not sit there memorising it as they’re out there dealing with cases.

Absolute disgusting behaviour from the BSB.

K&E Rat

And why are the barristers and judges hugging their CP books and Archibolds then? Surely after all these years theys hould have memorised it by heart and only occasionaly update themselves with new developments of law? Think peasant, think.

Nota Benny

There is no I in Archbold. Peasant.

Anonymous

I agree having sat 5 exams in the last month my body is crashing and I am mentally struggling to continue with my revisions. It is truly unfair that they moved the exams closer this year as this has resulted in many students settling for failing. I personally know of a number of students whom have become physically sick as a result of this.

Anonymous

Awwww diddums, 5 exams in one month, do you want to sit in a safe space?

How exactly are you going to cope when you have numerous trials/trial prep on the go?

An Barrister

Exactly.

If you can’t hack it, you’re not cut out for a busy practice.

Anonymous

Did I ask for your opinion?

An Barrister

By posting on a discussion forum? By implication, “yes”.

And who put you in charge, may I ask?

Anonymous

Your mum.

Anonymous

When did you get called to the BAR?

An Barrister

2008

Anonymous

You know it’s “a” barrister not “an” barrister, right? Fool.

Anonymous

Loooool

Anonymous

Nope- wrong again!

It’s “an utter barrister” if you look at the parchment you get on call to the Bar.

Hence the gag.

Only those at the Bar or who did their research would know that.

Back to school- FOOL!

Anonymous

Back then you were not asked to sit the ethics exam and you had more time between exams 👏

Anonymous

Looool 5 exams in a month. It’s quite normal to get 5 in a week.

Anonymous

“I agree having sat 5 exams in the last month my body is crashing and I am mentally struggling to continue with my revisions.” – Then you are ill suited to a career at the Bar, trust me.

Anonymous

The likes of BPP will never allow this because the high failure rate of the BPTC means more £££££££ for them in the form of resit fees

Anonymous

The idea that a multiple choice exam that has no purpose other than testing knowledge should be open book is beyond stupid.

Anonymous

Absolute “stupid” comment from you.

You will have the books on you when you practise, so why not have them in the exam?!

Anonymous

Because you will often have to recall the provisions instantly in practice without recourse to the book.

Anonymous

Hence you always have your resources with you 😒

Anonymous

Yes, but you have to know what the procedure is to spot that what is happening court is wrong. And you aren’t always afforded the opportunity or time.
You speak like you know about it. You don’t sound like you do.

Anonymous

I don’t know what to say to you … I’m too tired from revision and my time is too valuable to be debating about this with you … think what you want do what you want … literally don’t care … You’re probs one of those people who sold his white book at the start of the BPTC and thinks there isn’t need for one … some of us can’t memorise as much as others

An Barrister

And yet here you are…

Anonymous

Also I wasn’t speaking about the procedures I’m speaking about the specific wording of the book which we get tested on

Anonymous

There has been some questionable exam scheduling choices though. Who on earth thought it was a good idea to schedule the opinion writing exam on the same day as the Pupillage Gateway deadline?

An Barrister

It’s all about time management- just like in practice!

Current BPTC Student

I completely agree with this. Though, it is understandable that Barristers should be expected to know the Civil procedure rules/Criminal procedure rules in order to act appropriately under pressure nonetheless, I do not agree with way the BPTC is formated in general. The reoccurrence of such important and content heavy exams can make it impossible to prepare for each exam/assessment to the highest standard possible; hence why there is such a high fail rate. Perhaps, BSB should rethink the formating of the entire course im general.

Anonymous

To all those commenting the idea of open book is stupid, then why is the LPC open book? Do they have a different Civil and Criminal procedure to that of barristers? No they do not.

If you’re going to make one set of lawyer exams closed book, then make them all.

I can see why the barrister profession is so disliked, it is full of bigots like you all.

It is a memory game, and you can all deny it as much as you wish; the reason it is a memory game is that at times the correct answer PRACTICALLY does not apply to the scenario, and you get the wrong answer.

The multiple-choice exams have become a thing of memorising specific answers.

Get over yourselves.

Anonymous

Because on the LPC we aren’t so simple as to need multiple-choice LOLZ

Anonymous

The LPC certainly had lots of multiple choice when I did it.

Anonymous

LPC is only open book at Ulaw… we memorised it all at BPP. Suck it up.

Anonymous

That’s a very good point – afraid many of the assessment centres exist in a vacuum. When i did the BVC, they seemed highly adept at scheduling assessment deadlines to coincide with external deadlines.
But this complaint about books is rubbish. You will need to take procedural points on your feet regularly at the Bar. If you don’t know the fundamentals then you will struggle badly in practice. Much of your future job is a memory test, and far more condensed than 7 exams in one month.

Anonymous

We are continuously told on the course not to bring the profession into disrepute … students having invested money into this course are having mental break downs, or are ending up in hospitals because their bodies are crashing 😑 And after all this the marks are not even set at 46 right answers even though we get told this continuously throughout the course 😑 in other words they could decide that the pass rate for this year is 50 and go with that 😑 how is this fair? How is this just? Does this not bring the BSB into disrepute?

NEWSFLASH!

Whinges and whiners who can’t manage their time properly and don’t work hard enough don’t get pupillage.

You heard it here first!

Anonymous

The “very good point” applied to the timing of assessments, not to those who think that you don’t need to know all this stuff in practice.

Anonymous

£200 per person for Alex’s latest conference. What a bargain!

Anonymous

Given how barristers view the BPTC (just the thing you have to pass) and the fact that (apart from the basics) you will look things up in practice, there is plenty of merit in having Civil and Crim as open book.

However, you can’t memorise what you don’t understand… so given the fact that quite a few people fail the exams each year gives one pause for thought.

Anonymous

I just read the petition. I won’t be signing it – it’s poorly written.

Anonymous

Get over yourself.

I thought it was well written, it was simple and to the point.

‘Draconian’ was used, as it is draconian, at least in my opinion.

Anonymous

Learning procedural rules (or at least the ability to show that you can learn them) is a pretty fundamental requirement for the Bar. These tests are not supposed to be easy and, given the numbers taking them, good performance is one useful benchmark of potential ability.
Of course it’s tough, but so’s the job you’re training for. If you can’t pass the exams then it’s a reasonable indicator that the jobs not for you.

Anonymous

What a load of rubbish – the ability to pass an exam on procedure doesn’t have anything to do with good advocacy or client care skills. It’s just a test to see if you can pass an exam.

Anonymous

Advocacy and client care skills aren’t all that matter. It may be news to you, but you do often have to be solid on procedure, and/or be able to win on tricky procedural points.

The vast majority of civil trials I appear in have this sort of aspect to them.

Anonymous

Given that most people’s memory doesn’t last that long, and so they need a refresh before pupillage starts AND the fact that there’s usually a gap between completing the BPTC and pupillage…. tell me again why passing the exam *itself* is a marker of whether or not one will be a good barrister?

Admittedly, we’re not talking about those students who would have failed anyway.
I think you missed the subtle point I was making 😉

Anonymous

The regulator discharges it’s responsibility of ensuring those that are called to the bar (at least at the point of their call date) have rudimentary knowledge of procedure.

Without knowledge of procedure you may as well get a layperson with the gift of the gab to represent you, as opposed to a qualified barrister.

Anonymous

Just to point out that “it’s” was an iPhone autocorrect that I didn’t notice, rather than not knowing the different between its and it’s. 🙂

A Barista

It’s a good reason why you should proofread before pressing send!

Another lesson for the Bar and all its aspirees!

Anonymous

As a practising barrister, you need to have basic knowledge of the contents of the white book. You’d look like an idiot if you had to constantly refer to it in order to work out basic procedural points.

Having said that, I’m more interested in the substantive law and look down on those barristers who see great virtue in knowing the bloody white book cover to cover – there are some.

So really my main point is, I don’t see the issue in making these exams closed book. It ensures you are learning the material. It ensures you leave with rudimentary knowledge of procedure. And the content is so piss easy there would literally be no point in holding an open book exam which everyone would pass with ease.

I imagine it is the same for criminal practitioners and their procedure rules.

Now what I resented was having to study and learn in depth criminal procedure when I only ever wanted to do civil (and a relatively narrow civil area at that). I’m sure criminal people feel the same at being forced to learn civil which they will never use in practice.

Just Anonymous

Well said, I agree completely.

Reinforcing the first paragraph, I had a trial the other week where, to my complete surprise, my solicitors had not filed a rather important document.

So I have to make an impromptu application for relief from sanctions.

The judge knew the test. My opponent knew the test. Imagine how clueless by contrast I would have looked if I’d requested a short break so I could read CPR 3.9 and Denton!

A balance should always be struck. Students should not be required to learn overly technical provisions (CPR 45 fixed costs rules for example!) However, from my own personal knowledge, what students are required to know is reasonable.

Whether the actual exam fairly assesses that knowledge with reasonable questions is debatable, but that is another issue entirely!

Anonymous

So you were the cannon fodder?

Good on you for firefighting, though…

Hope the sols appreciated it.

Anonymous

I agree that the exams should be open book. I can’t see the need for memorisation of the CPR – certainly in practice you don’t have to know the rules off by heart. However, this student should really try to tighten up her written communication if she is planning a career in law. ‘Draconian’ refers to stringent punishments in particular, not just to anything that is arduous, and the letter to the regulators is riddled with grammatical errors.

K&E Rat

Even SC judges use ‘draconian’ when explaining certain provisions of legislation or ancient judgments. It’s normal. Now when it comes to grammar… Don’t get me started. I receive so many letters from various city firms and they can’t spell, nor write in general. I’m not sure if they’ve cut their secretarial/paralegal staff who would have otherwise proofread the letters prio to sending or what. God knows.

Anonymous

Draconian works for a piece of legislation or judgment because it is an adjective to describe a very harsh law. It is not an adjective to describe a very hard exam (which civ lit is not imho).

K&E Rat

The way Law degrees are taught in general is comical. You sit there for hours and hours remembering various statute provisions, cases, names of judges etc. just to pass the exam. After few months, you will hardly remember anything you’ve learnt. I’d like to test those who are not practicing in property law for example on their knowledge of Freehold Covenants or Easements.

Both bachelor and postgrad teaching needs to be more practical. It is a complete and utter joke.

Anonymous

Ah yes, a petition.

Something created by those who have no entitlement to change based on rules, procedures and law.

Reliance on emotion and unfairness is something that only works when Sandy Cohen delivered his passionate speeches in the OC. Real life doesn’t work like that.

Anonymous

Showing your age.

Anonymous

No barrister cares about the BPTC. It is regarded as a joke. Half of it is criminal and if you’re doing civil, half of it is a real waste of time.

The LPC serves some purpose as most trainees have to do real estate, litigation and corporate seats. All of the modules actually cover albeit badly what a trainee and an associate will do.

The complaint isn’t after a full open book exam, just the statute and CPR etc. Thing is with lit is that 99% of it is in the statute so that’s probably why it is not open book. Means they’d have to ask harder questions rather than giving a rote memory test.

Anonymous

Yeah, it is a bit weird how such a sizeable chunk of the bptc is crim. Knowledge of civil procedure very useful for anyone working on crime (who will potentially also practise in some areas of civil) but not vice versa.

Anonymous

I’m not going to compare BPTC against LPC as they are in many ways totally different! But having just completed the core LPC exams, most of which were open book – I can say for myself & many friends that we hardly opened any of our books. I think I opened my CPR book once or twice during civil lit purely to double check correct provisions for my own sake but there simply wasn’t enough time to be flicking through endless statute materials, and those who did unfortunately didn’t really succeed :/
Since beginning my law degree (id even probably go as far back as GCSE’s) I’ve always felt like the whole thing has just been a memory test and those who do well simply have good memory recall 🙁 it’s not great – but it would be genuinely interesting to see if open book made a difference to the BPTC results or not!

Anonymous

I received 80s and 90s in all my modules on the BPP fast track LPC. The fast track typically gets better results than the slow track as almost everyone has TCs at US firms. It was a small cohort of around 75. We all tabbed up our statute books and referred to them religiously throughout the exams. Corporate finance for example – or debt or equity – is entirely about following the statute. Litigation is quite similar.

Best of luck with your exams but I suggest your approach of rote memorising is a bit subpar. Yes, memorize the solutions but only to the extent where it is not in the statute book.

I rather suspect that you are a slow track LPC student who doesn’t know how to tab correctly. That is, with a colour coded system by topic. Flicking through mine took seconds.

Anonymous

Well you sound like a bundle of fun. Your arrogance smells like a Jones Day future joiner – perfect fit!

Anonymous

Not JD, although their intake were actually pleasant.

I’m afraid it is a fact that most of the LPC is statute based and referring to the statute with a tabbing system is necessary. Very true of the optional modules and litigation in particular.

On the fast track, you just don’t have time to memorize everything. People rote memorize and tab up. These people get the best results. They publish the fast and slow track LPC results on BPP’s VLE. The difference is dramatic. The quality of students is similar gulf. Most on the slow track don’t even have TCs. To do expensive course like this without one….you have to be mentally challenged.

BPTC student

I am ashamed to be a member of my generation. What a bunch of entitled, weepy, lazy softies we are.

If your health “suffers from revising”, go see a doctor: either you have an underlying health condition which needs treating, or you did not plan your work well enough.

If you have a “disability which prevents you learning civil procedure”, then sadly you may have a disability which prevents you working as a barrister. It is tough, but not all jobs are for everyone. Short people can’t become basketball players. It’s not their fault that they are short; they were born that way. Nevertheless, that’s what the job requires. People who can’t sing won’t be hired by a choir, and won’t get “reasonable adjustments” by way of being allowed to lip sync.

Unfortunately, some disabilities prevent people working in some jobs. Physical disabilities may prevent one from working in certain physical jobs. For instance, tetraplegia prevents you from working as a builder. Being blind prevents you becoming a bus driver.

Similarly, some mental disabilities may prevent you from becoming a barrister, if they prevent you from doing what the job requires (such as understanding written material, memorising, speaking in public, discerning factual patterns, hypothesising about situations, abstract thinking, logical reasoning, making predictions based on imperfect information, advising on best course of action, etc).

I can understand that being disabled sucks. It would be nice if we could cure tetraplegia, blindness, and ADHD. But we can’t. Until we can, tetraplegics sadly will not be able to become builders, and people who can’t apply themselves to memorise memorise — let’s be honest — a not-too-great amount of material over the course of six months, will not be able to become barristers.

I’m starting to suspect that our grandparents’ and parents’ generations voted Leave not because they thought it the better option, but because they wanted to screw over our useless, hopeless generation so that we stop whining and get to work.

Disabled Person

Why can’t a tetraplegic become a builder?

Disabled people are disabled by society and its hierarchical, racist, sexist, homo/transphobic and disablist attitudes.

It’s for a building firm to justify why they cannot make reasonable adjustments to enable a tetraplegic to work with them, not the other way round!

Anonymous

‘Why cant a tetraplegic become a builder’.

Does this really require a response?

Anonymous

“It’s for a building firm to justify why they cannot make reasonable adjustments to enable a tetraplegic to work with them”

Do you think it would take them very long to “justify” this? Most able-bodied people wouldn’t be able to carry a hod of bricks and the dexterity required to lay bricks should not be underestimated.

The main thing overlooked, however, is that barrister (which is what we’re talking about) are self-employed; they have to get work and justify repeat work by being good. Clients vote with their feet (and chequebooks). Some barristers are good and some are not good. How do you get round this? (Real not rhetorical question.)

Anonymous

Legislation to force the builder to take on the tetraplegic, duh!

Tony Nicklinson's Tennis Coach

“Short people can’t become basketball players.”

Newcastle Eagles’ #1 is a short black guy and he wears #1 for a reason. He’s a fucking terrier.
Otherwise accurate.

Anonymous

Wowwwwwwww it must suck being you with so much hate and negativity trapped inside you 😑

Anonymous

1) a barrister has to learn their brief before trial, back to front.

2) a good barrister generally only has the bundle in front of them in order to refer the judge to the relevant pages and know what the other side are referring to, rather than to refresh their own memory.

Can someone therefore please explain why closed book exams are a bad idea for barristers? Particularly when they are being assessed on basic procedural rules that they should know anyway?

Anonymous

FFS that is obvious bollocks. Bundles can comprise tens of lever arch files in commercial trials, you don’t have to memorise them.

Gus the Snedger

A good Barrister must also not
put his briefs on back to front.

It can cause scrotal discomfort…

Anonymous

If you just sit down and learn this stuff, throughout the year, you will pass easily.

Trust me. I hated the bptc and sitting and reading the white book was beyond awful. I left with a basic knowledge of it and didn’t start pupillage until two years later so had forgotten most of it.

However, I was at a disadvantage during pupillage not having taken it seriously on the bptc. I was constantly behind and had to waste many hours catching up on procedure that I should have known about.

Trust me, after 5 years as a barrister you will have memorised most of the bits of the white book that matter and come up every week.

But please, make life easier for yourself now and just bloody learn it. It isn’t difficult. It will make your life a whole lot easier in the long run. Stop moaning that it should be open book.

There is a reason why they make you learn these things. I appreciate there is much wrong with the bptc but making you learn relevant procedure is not one of those things.

An Barrister

Hear hear!

Anonymous

Don’t study at BPP Holbourn

They literally have no consistency in teaching, there exams arnt marked consistently and they literally don’t even try and help you if you have any issues

Anonymous

1. Holborn
2. Aren’t
3. Their
4. You appear to be unaware of the definition of ‘literally’ or its proper use
5. ‘Oh it’s just an Internet forum not a piece of drafting’. Sure, but the errors are so fundamental that I don’t believe you can do one but not the other
6. ‘Issues’ – most of my fellow students mistook their ‘issues’ with a fundamental lack of ability. That people have a 2:1 from a University but are incoherent in person or on paper as big a scandal as the cost of the BPTC

Criminal Hack

Having sat my bar exams 4 years ago, I have considerable sympathy with the post. Learning the CPR and bits of Archbold by rote is stressful. I remember feeling ohysically sick as the exams approached. I re,beer struggling to sleep. I remember feeling the urge to run away from doing them, I didn’t. I took them. It was fine. I got pupillage. Feeling afraid is nothing new. It happens to every cohort of students. Every year some people fail and some people pass, if you do fail an exam, it’s not the end of the world. If you fail more than one exam, it’s still not the end of the world – I know of several people from my cohort who did just that and some of them made it to the Bar

Do I know Archbold off by heart? No, but having a good basic grasp of most aspects of criminal procedure has been invaluable. Raging against the system will do no one any good st this point,

Anonymous

Yes, I hated it too. I found the CPR incredibly dry, and our lecturer was one of the most boring people on the planet. Didn’t enjoy the revision (much of it felt like I was learning it for the first time, as I really hadn’t listened well enough) at all and it was a bit stressful. Students undertaking this revision have my every sympathy.

But, having practised in Criminal, Family and Civil, I can assure BPTC students it is necessary to know your procedure very well. You can’t just ask for a pause in court while you have a bit of a read unless you want to put yourself under extraordinary stress. Your clients will lose confidence in you, the judge will lose patience with you, and you will give your opponent more confidence than you want them to have.

Anonymous

I have just read the petition. I am afraid the petitioner is illiterate. No wonder no one is signing. Forget the numerous spelling/typos. It could have been written in clear english in a fraction of the words. Ask any successful lawyer.

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