Super-exam pilot results: make SQE1 the theory test and leave practical skills for SQE2

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By Thomas Connelly on

Testing skills during SQE1 doesn’t really work, says examiner

Aspiring lawyers looking to sit the upcoming Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) should have their legal knowledge and practical skills assessed separately, the results of a pilot have suggested.

Kaplan, the legal education giant tasked with delivering the new super-exam, has recommended that the skills element of SQE1, under its current format, be ditched.

The pilot, run by Kaplan, saw over 300 candidates from across the UK, Singapore and France, sit a preliminary version of SQE1 earlier this year. The assessment itself was split into two sub-sections: three multiple-choice papers of 120 questions each covering black letter law, followed by a practical skills test consisting of one legal research and two legal writing exercises.

Responding to Kaplan’s feedback, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said it had decided to take some time to discuss the findings with stakeholders and to explore whether there are any other suitable ways to assess skills in SQE1. Marks for each of the three pilot skills assessments ranged from 8% to 100%.

The regulator accepted the results of the pilot raised questions about the “validity” of the skills assessment, pointing to the low number of practical exercises (three in total) as the reason for this part of the exam not reaching the “high standard of accuracy required”. It added:

“The results also suggested that the skills part of the SQE1 may set an unnecessary barrier to qualification which disadvantages BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) candidates, which would be unacceptable.”

As a result of this, the SRA confirmed it will not go ahead with the proposed approach to assessing students’ skills in SQE1.

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While it remains to be seen whether the practical element will be removed from part one altogether, the SRA did stress that lawyer-hopefuls will still be tested extensively on these as part of SQE2. Under the current proposals, part two will cover a range of practical skills including client interviewing, advocacy and legal drafting.

Elsewhere in today’s announcement, the SRA said it had accepted Kaplan’s recommendation to “further enhance the effectiveness” of SQE1 by amending the design to two 180 MCQ assessments rather than three 120 MCQ ones. This, according to the regulator, “will improve the reliability and accuracy of the exam, helping to ensure that those who pass deserve to pass and those who fail, deserve to fail”. Marks on the pilot MCQ tests ranged from 17% to 85%, with an average mark of 50%.

Commenting on the update, Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said:

“The pilot was also about understanding what does not work, and there is clearly more to do to establish whether an early stage skills assessment can be sufficiently robust. We will continue to work closely with stakeholders to explore the best options for assessing legal skills through the SQE.”

The SQE, due to come into force in September 2021, will replace both the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). A pilot on SQE2 is due to run in December.

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