Super-exam: ‘The SRA is replacing one gamble with a worse one’

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Multiple-choice exams aren’t the most effective way of judging ability, argues Durham Law School dean

Thom Brooks

The dean of Durham Law School, Thom Brooks, has called on law firms to publicly challenge the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) over its plans to introduce a centralised solicitor super-exam, “before it is too late”.

Writing in the The Times (£) today, Brooks claims that despite meeting with law firms of various sizes regularly, he is yet to find a partner who is in favour of the regulator’s new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), otherwise known as the super-exam.

The SQE will replace traditional routes to qualification (Legal Practice Course and Graduate Diploma in Law) and is set to come into force in September 2021.

Taking aim at the assessment’s proposed multiple-choice format, Brooks writes:

“Multiple-choice exams are easier and less costly to assess for large groups, but not the most effective way of discerning ability. Potential is better captured through a diversity of assessments. Putting all eggs in a single basket gives an advantage to the students who need it least.”

As a result of these changes, Brooks argues that, going forward, law schools will be judged on whether its “factory-produced” wannabe lawyers can pass a standardised assessment, “rather than on how innovative the education they provide is.” This, according to Brooks, could see some law schools ditch their LLB offerings in a bid to cut costs, before adding: “Therefore, while it is designed to increase access, the SQE will close doors.”

The 2019 LPC Most List

Elsewhere, Durham’s Law School dean, writing in a personal capacity, cites the regulator’s claim that the fresh approach will help tackle the so-called ‘LPC gamble’. This is where aspiring solicitors are forced to pay large, up-front costs — as much as £16,230 for students starting the LPC this year — with no guarantee of a training contract. On this, Brooks says:

“Yet the SQE will cost up to £4,500 to sit, not including of any supportive tutoring that will surely become the norm. The SRA is replacing one gamble with a worse one.”

Brooks’ criticism comes just weeks after the SRA published a breakdown of the provisional fee range for both parts of the SQE. SQE1, which focuses on black letter law and will take the form of a computer-based, multiple-choice assessment, is likely to cost anywhere between £1,100 and £1,650. Meanwhile, SQE2, which tests practical legal skills such as advocacy, is likely to cost between £1,900 and £2,850.

The regulator stressed the costs are “indicative” as it continues to work with Kaplan (the education giant which won the contract to run the SQE earlier this year) to develop and test the assessment.

Purchase tickets for next year’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference 2019, taking place on 22 May at Kings Place London



This Dean doesnt know how to shut up and express himself properly. His views are too political especially on linkedin



Imagine him in Attack on Titan. Total nightmare!



He’s not wrong







What’s the problem with SQE if you want to study for the SQE then just call GDL and LPC different name, e.g. SQE preparation course and prepare students almost the same way and charge these ridiculously expensive fees. But the exam will be taken by Kaplan and not by BPP and UoL and other course providers.

The law firms can train young lawyers who passed the SQE the same way during two years or shorter/longer as they wish.

The SQE is a great reform.



I’m in favour of MCQ’s Harvard does it.

Also people slog so hard doing coursework based on 1 topic with half the marks that when it comes to exam time where the other half are, a bad coursework grade can affect final marks.

And I firm cares about assessment methods anyone come across one that has a list of all assessment methods?



I can’t believe the man. I disagree with Brook’s criticism of gamble.

It’s less of a gamble if it costs less and plenty of YouTubers featured by legal cheek will do free online prep courses for ad revenue.

LPC itself is labour intensive the SQE isn’t


LPC Student

MCQ’s will not churn out competent solicitors. The SQE is not costing less at all, those fees are just based on the actual exams… not teaching or institution fees.

How is this an improvement on the current system ? The only benefit is no requirement for the training contract, yes that’s a benefit… but the quality of solicitors will fall short.

It’s a shambles. I agree with the Dean.



“he is yet to find a partner who is in favour of the regulator’s new …(SQE)”. Did he ask any students, juniors or NQs?


Alpha papa

Alright folks to settle the argument against the Dean in this article has he bothered looking at the centralised ACCA and CFA?

This is where inspiration comes from for the lower priced SQE. The dean is not even a lawyer, surely understanding the concepts and applying it in practice is favourable.

The CFA passrate is 30-40 percent I expect the SQE to do this, and let’s not forget the cheap cheap QLTS



Have you bothered to read the article? SQE is claimed to improve standards, increase access and reduce costs. The Dean – who is head of a major law school – says the SQE will not deliver on any of these three. Nothing wrong with applying concepts. Everything wrong with saying this is about improving standards, etc. when it clearly is not.



Did the 9 month GDL crash course improve standards? Young people spend three years doing a law degree and this GDL takes it away from them!

SQE = More transparency



A significant amount of professionals are assessed using MCQs. Thom Brooks also misunderstands what the SQE 1 is testing – it’s knowledge, not ability. MCQs are a perfectly good way to test knowledge.



Think you’re missing point of article. Issue is students from more privileged backgrounds tend to do better on MCQs. Reason? Access to more prep.

Problem is if SQE needed to improve access, using MCQ for first hurdle is counterproductive for SQE’s aim.



Absolutely no evidence for that. ‘Rich people do better at MCQs’. Utter rubbish.



Students from fee-paying schools do better not because naturally more gifted, but because schools better resourced to teach to the test. Plenty of evidence.

So point is if you want to improve access diversifying backgrounds, a means of testing that does not do that is a poor first hurdle.



Prediction – BPP to be bought by ULaw’s owners (Global University Systems) as a way to monopolise the market and charge staggering fees for SQE prep.



I was intrigued enough about MCQs administered in my own LLB assessment to log question types in real time during an EU Law exam. Aside from a sprinkling of trick questions designed for the self-gratification of the examiner, I logged nearly 25% of questions as focusing solely on a memorised name related to case law or statute, requiring no contextual understanding of law whatever.

All MCQs are not equal.



Well, first of all, this guy has his opinion and must be respected. However, I completely disagree regarding MCQs are easier… most countries to qualify as a solicitor, you must pass MCQs and practical exam, which will be stage 2. Nowadays, to qualify as a solicitor is a nightmare… 10K graduates and 5K TC. What is the point? Pointless! Basically you start at Uni, without assurance that you may become solicitor. They may give the TC to someone with a first degree, and the 2.2 will never have a chance. However, some people with 2.2 can become a better professional then someone with first. We never know. Now, the route to qualify will be fair, and the work experience that is going to count will be much more flexible. The only concern on my view is the price. Too expensive for those that probably will need a course(non-law graduates). However, in my opinion, many people are scared, because will be more solicitors in the streets, and more competition in the industry. Therefore, I feel sorry for the people against it 😂😂


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