Comment

I was among the first to sit the SQE pilot — here’s what I thought

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‘The MCQ format was very patronising and far too easy. It was like a dummies guide to the law!’

SQE super exam students solicitors

I was one of a number of people who sat the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) stage one pilot last month. The candidates ranged from LLB graduates to Legal Practice Course (LPC) graduates but most of the candidates were working in practice. My background is not ‘conventional’ and I took the pilot because I was interested in knowing whether the SQE would cater for people like me. I do not have any GCSEs or A-levels because I left school at the age of 14 to care for my ill mother. I studied for my LLB over six years and then completed a combined LLM-LPC over two years.

The SQE1 pilot was a three-day assessment consisting of 360 multiple-choice questions on the foundations of legal knowledge, namely business law; property law; wills and trusts; criminal law; EU law; public and constitutional law; tort law; contract law; and professional conduct. There were also two research questions and four writing questions. No materials were provided, and the exams were closed-book. Prior to the exam I emailed the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for revision guidance and was referred to the pilot specification which told me that anything within the above topics would be examined.

Day one

The exam started with three rounds of 60 questions with 110 minutes for each on a mixture of the topics outlined above. The questions were scenario-based (one scenario per question) with five possible answers. Most of the questions were simple but after speaking with some recent LLB graduates it became clear that they did not know many of the answers — especially to the questions on the topics that are exclusively covered on the LPC.

The questions often dropped big hints towards the answers which could be guessed by the facts of the scenario. I gave answers which were my best guesses based on both the questions and also the five answer options. Some I could have argued more than one answer was correct. There was no mention of any specific law, the SRA Code of Conduct, the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) or the Criminal Procedure Rules (CPR) in any of the questions.

I found the MCQ format very patronising and far too easy — it was like a dummies guide to the law! The questions did not test my legal knowledge to the standard that my law degree did. The time allocated for each question was far too long, and because the exam was closed-book and conducted in front of a computer, there was nothing I could do if I did not know the answer. I finished each round with around 40-50 minutes to spare. The whole day was timed so I was unable to leave until the clock ran down.

Day two

Day two consisted of two rounds of one research question and two writing questions. I was given an email from a partner of a firm telling me he was advising a client on their obligations to file accounts; he told me he was working on the technical areas of the advice and asked if I could research the simpler part of whether a small to medium enterprise (SME) had to file accounts. I was given eight pieces of material and had to sift through these to find the correct answer. I did not feel as if this was ‘legal research’ and I was not required to carry out any research myself using legal databases. I liken it to being passed a pile of car magazines and asked to find a red car in them. I was then required to type a memo to the partner.

The next section was writing. I was given another email from a partner telling me he had to advise a client and was handling the technical part, while I was required to write a paragraph to insert into the letter explaining section 36 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The final writing section consisted of a memo to a partner explaining Part 24 of the CPR. Both of these sources were provided. The next round was the same as above.

This section of the assessment did not test my research or writing ability at all because I could cut and paste (and did) several parts from the material provided. The spell-check facility was disabled so at least that was something. The main issue I found was the noise: 15 people typing at the same time was deafening (even with ear plugs!) I was not required to apply the law or to advise but just explain the area of law in “everyday English”.

Day three

The final day followed the structure of the first day: three rounds of 60 multiple-choice questions which focused on the areas of law outlined above. When speaking with some of the other candidates post-exam it was obvious they had the same set of questions I had on day one and vice versa. The questions were, again, simple but this time they were poorly written and I had to take extra time today (than I did previously) due to the poor grammar and punctuation.

Final thoughts

I do not believe the MCQ format enables candidates to demonstrate knowledge of the law; it is all a matter of common sense. There was no application of the law nor was I given the chance to demonstrate wider knowledge or make an argument one way or the other. I do not feel the questions allowed any of the skills required in future practice to be demonstrated such as problem-solving or the ability to be analytical. What these questions allow for is someone to study the exam but not the law or the skills required to be a lawyer. Overall, I felt the questions were condescending and pandering in their nature. It remains to be seen what SQE2, which will be piloted later this year, holds.

Richard Robinson (pseudonym) is a paralegal.

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61 Comments

Tommy

I am now in fear of what standard of lawyers shall be unleashed on the public

I am currently on the LPC and there are some students who really do not have a clue about the law, or the practice areas we study. The LPC filters many of these students out.

The SQE appears to have dropped the standards considerably … and now the hopeless students will be released on the public

Good Lord

(52)(5)

G

Agree to an extent, but those individuals still won’t get a TC even with the new SQE and therefore won’t be ‘unleashed’ on the public.

(6)(2)

anon

well under the SQE as long as you cam demonstrate you have done the satisfied period of qualified training (with 4 organisations max totalling 2 years) then you don’t need a training contract either

(31)(2)

G

Oh.. well that’s ridiculous.

(6)(0)

Anonymous

If they’re on the LPC then they already got a TC innit

(0)(30)

Anonymous

Not necessarily…I (and I’m sure others have) self-funded the LPC before securing my TC.

(0)(0)

Mmu

They will be unleashed in other forms though

(0)(0)

Scep Tick

40% pass mark on the LPC. An exam where you literally have the answers with you.

Law is too easy as it is. Up the pass mark to 60% and keep it a profession.

(21)(21)

Trainee Legal Executive

From the other side of the fence, the pass mark for CILEx exams (final year degree level) is 50%. Interesting to see that the pass mark needed for the LPC is lower than the final CILEx exams…

(3)(34)

Anonymous

But CILEX is easier so it doesn’t compare. Also, even when you pass you aren’t a real lawyer.

(52)(14)

Anonymous

The pass mark for the LPC is 50%.

(2)(0)

Bob

My pass mark is 50% on the LPC actually

(55)(1)

Anonymous

The pass mark Is 50 not 40

(4)(1)

Anonymous

The pass mark is 50% at BPP…

(1)(0)

Fast track LPC grad.

Pass mark is actually 50% on the LPC …

(0)(0)

Anonymous

What was your result?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

You’re supposed to tweet the email from the partner and condemn them for their sexist tone. Fail.

(26)(3)

Anonymous

Don’t forget the #

(2)(1)

Norton Rose 2PQ

You are either a moron or a troll (moronic also). “ThE LpC fIlTerS mAny ouT” – not really true.

Still, it’s nice of someone who hasn’t practised a day in their life to have concern for the standard of the profession. Lets hope the LPC doesn’t filter you out.

(23)(49)

Tommy

Unfortunately I am neither a moron or a troll… I’m on the LPC and there really are some completely clueless students. As the article highlights ( yes it’s only one opinion, but still…) the SQE standard is shoddy. The LPC does filter out the completely inept, I’m on the course and I’ve seen first hand.

I also work in a firm part time.

Regrettably I have not yet been filtered as yet… but I’ve seen students give up, leave, retake until they give up… the SQE this article suggests are exams for dummies.. so yes I do fear the incompetent shall be unleashed on the unaware client’s.

(35)(12)

Trevor

Well, I’m in the profession and there really are some completely clueless lawyers. There are clueless people everywhere in life who should not have the qualifications they somehow earned. That’s just life.

Passing an exam doesn’t make you a professional. Acting like a professional does. There’s no test for that except put someone in the situation for real and see how they behave. Sorry.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Currently the LPC barely equips future solicitors for a career practicing law, so there’s very little change. Firms will still have to invest vast amounts of time, energy and money into training new recruits to furnish them with all the skills which they should have picked up in the LPC year, in addition to the practical experience they should be garnering as part of their TC.

(9)(2)

Herbie: fully loaded

This lad is in for a huge shock when he starts. Three weeks in you’ll realise that partners don’t really want to speak to you and you’ll be crying out for a piece of research as complex as finding out what accounts must be filed.

(42)(1)

Anonymous

You trained at a really shit firm then.

(3)(4)

Anonymous

Nope, just reality mate.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Haha, whatever mate, enjoy your high street TC.

(2)(9)

Anonymint

Actually, the more “elite” a law firm is, the greater the chances of doing menial tasks as a trainee. This is because commercial law firms which handle high profile deals have very structured teams and transactions so as a trainee you’ll be at the very bottom end handling the “junior work” – trust me, not always to intellectually stimulating.

Anyone who has trained at a any decent City commercial law firm will be able to confirm this.

Greenberg Glusker Trainee

Pah! As if this is anything to be concerned about. I recently scored 132.7%.

(10)(7)

Anonymous

Yawn.

(6)(6)

anon

he says he found it easy. i’m sure anyone can click on a few options. how about they post their results then we can really see if his experience matches his results.

also i’m pretty sure SEQ1 is just to test your general knowledge of various areas of law. i don’t know why he is complaining 95% throughout the article about how it is not practical when he has not even sat the SEQ2 test which supposedly focused on the practical element

(25)(0)

ANONYMOUS

Ha! Good comment, I am not sure how someone can judge another person’s mental capacity when they haven’t even practiced law.

Note to the Author: carrying files and accomplishing basic administrative duties for a senior lawyer is not practicing (side note). Don’t diminish others to sound enlightened.

P.S law in theory is quite different to law in practice.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I look forward to making serious money from bringing claims against these SQE types in the future.

#profneg

(22)(1)

Anonymous

This sounds to me like they’ve tried to copy the format of the US bar exams and really cocked it up.

(18)(0)

I sat SQE too

I am LLB, PGCert and LLM graduate with no LPC but have been working as paralegal for more than 2 years now (in-house). I can tell that SQE day 1 and 3 was based on a combination of LLB and LPC (where I struggled most) materials whereas day 2 (writing assignments) was very much about your ability to deal with requests coming from partners and clients in a timely manner using ‘plain’ English. I had spoken with other candidates and those who had no or lacked actual work experience struggled most with written assignments.

I was clear to me if I was to go through SQE route I would definitely need to complete a prep course before sitting SQE stage 1.

If you have LLB, LPC and some experience you should be able to pass SQE stage 1.

P.S. results for SQE are coming out in July/August so no one knows how they did yet.

(14)(0)

Anonymous

So if you have done the LPC, you should be able to pass the exam that is replacing the LPC…?

(24)(0)

I sat SQE too

Yep. So if you passed LLB, LPC and have experience but struggled to get a TC then SQE is a good option. Though this is already possible via ‘equivalent means’ route (as described on SRA website)….

For those who don’t have LPC and/or not planning on taking it, an LPC replacement aka new prep course would be required because there’s is a lot of meterial on SQE from LPC. Like in my case (as described above)

In the future, it will be for universities to update their LLB syllabus to have LPC materials covered and prepare grads for taking SQE stage 1 at the end of their studies.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

How does it test if you can do it in a timely manner?

(0)(0)

I sat SQE too

Three written assignments are timed and you have number of relevant and irrelevant meterials to go through beforr writing up your answers.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

They pay you a fix fee for participating and a top up for doing well. In any event if you get paid regardless then I doubt there is any real significance of looking at the results.

(1)(0)

I sat SQE too

It would show me if I can pass SQE without having to complete LPC or a ‘new cheaper prep course’. As mentioned, SQE is based on both LLB and LPC material

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Essentially you’re so intellectually fourth-rate, that you are not certain you’ll pass the LPC?

(2)(3)

Anonymous

Eeerm, no I’m just poor. I don’t have spare £16K to enrol onto LPC. I was thinking of taking up a prep course and sit SQE instead

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Not all LPC courses are 16k; just don’t go to London. Taking a prep course? How much do you expect that to cost?

Presumably, the SQE “cheaper” fees are going straight to the SRA, not the education providers. Since you have homed in on London, you’ll bet your mother’s wedding ring that the business rates and rents are extortionate and BPP and ULaw will still get a dildo and stick it right up your arse in fees to keep the roof over their heads.

anon

Not everyone is privileged as you are to move to a different part of the UK to do the LPC. some have families, children etc to support and take care of. really distasteful comment

Anonymous

What part of that comment is “privileged”? Moving away from London (which costs a lot of money to live in) to somewhere cheaper and with less fees doesn’t really stick in the mind as privileged.

For those who have family etc to think about, that should have been something to think about when planning one’s career before doing the course. Quite frankly, if its what you want to do and the only viable option is elsewhere, then you need to assess whether its worth it you moving to achieve your goal.

If you’re driven enough to achieve something you will. I think the only thing that truly stinks of privilege is your comment. The world needs to come to you for anything to happen; the very idea of having to act in some way to mould your future to your desire is probably a bizarre concept for you, I am sure.

Perhaps you found the latter part of the statement distasteful. The imagery may be a tad graphic, but otherwise hits the mark on London cost (for both the provider and student).

Perhaps this statement will be construed as an unfair comment on you without taking into account any of the realities of your situation – Well, takes one to know one.

Bemused

Why is this type of comment necessary? ‘I sat SQE too’ is just trying to engage, and seems to have first hand experience. Why try to shoot them down with half baked insults?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Legal cheek commenters like this either

1) have top city training contracts but haven’t started them yet, and feel that lambasting people who smell anything like average is a kind of early work experience; or

2) didn’t get top city contracts, and feel that making comments like these somehow turns their spot at Irwin Mitchell into a more significant accomplishment.

AA

I also sat the SQE and can agree with the above.
I am however concerned as the level of detail in the article breaches the NDA we all had to agree to each morning.

(12)(0)

Ironic

An NDA to conceal the shitness of an exam – when we are debating the ethics of NDAs to conceal shitness

(26)(0)

Anonymous

Brothers! Sisters!

Climate chaos is capitalism’s legacy to our children!

We need to tax city greed to pay for legal aid and a non-carbon future!

Like SATs, we need to abolish all examinations! Everyone can go to Oxford or Cambridge!

80% income tax NOW!

FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW!!!!!!!

CORBYN

(5)(8)

Anonymous

Let’s stop pretending that academic success has any significant correlation to professional success.

(9)(5)

Anonymous

Did you not read the non-disclosure agreement at the start of each day…

(5)(0)

Anonymous

, said an SRA spokesman.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Adhering to the rules makes me a SRA spokesman? Okay then.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Any one who has done some form of work experience in a law firm will know that the lpc has a lot of kinks and is not really preping you for the work you would be doing in a firm and from what has been written it looks like the sqe maybe worse

(0)(1)

Anonymulti

I’m not too sure about this.

As someone who has been mostly dealing with corporate law during his training, I found the corporate/private equity LPC modules to be very well done (and provided me with some crucial knowledge).

I don’t know about people not doing corporate/finance law.

(5)(0)

Gertrude

It’s a pilot right? It’s not the final product. I’m pretty sure ironing out problems is part of this process…

(2)(4)

Anonymous

Yes, they need to give you crayons to colour in the pictures.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

STOP THE SQE

(1)(1)

Anonymous

With A levels, degrees and professional qualifications all being so diluted nowadays, it is all the more reason to stick to the better schools and elite universities for hiring, as it is impossible to see non standard candidates coming through.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Why fix it if it aint broke ?

Now that he’s said all that – the powers that be – will up the ante ! making it that much harder – just because…..

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.

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