COVID-19: Bar exams to go online

By on

But not before August

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) today confirmed that centralised assessments on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) will be moved online in response to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The centralised exams — civil litigation, criminal litigation and professional ethics — will be delivered using Pearson VUE’s “online proctoring solution”, which the BSB says will enable bar hopefuls to sit the exams from the comfort of their own homes. The Bar Transfer Test (BTT) will also run online.

The exams were scheduled to take place in April but were postponed by the regulator in light of the pandemic. It has now confirmed professional ethics will take place on 13 and 14 August, civil litigation on 17 and 18 August, and criminal litigation on 20 and 21 August. Students will receive their results in November, with resits scheduled for December.

The BSB also revealed students completing the BPTC this summer and who are due to start pupillage in September, will be permitted to commence their training before they have received their results. This is provided that chambers are happy for them to do so.

The BSB previously came under fire from students over its apparent reluctance to find a suitable alternative that would allow students to sit exams remotely. In petition to the regulator, hundreds of bar students warned of the “significant knock-on consequences” of delaying the exams.

The 2019 Legal Cheek BPTC Most List

On today’s update, BSB director-general, Mark Neale, said:

“Since the current health emergency began, we have been very conscious at the BSB of the need to support the career prospects of this year’s cohort of bar students and prospective pupils, while maintaining high standards. Students and transferring qualified lawyers have had to face considerable uncertainty, which we very much regret, and I am delighted that we can now deliver centralised assessments remotely in August with Pearson VUE’s state-of-the-art online proctoring system.”

He continued: “Allowing students and transferring qualified lawyers to start the non-practising period of their pupillages in the autumn will also enable them to progress while maintaining the robustness of the assessment process. The BPTC and the BTT are gateways to a very respected profession, where high standards of competence are rightly expected, so it is right that standards of entry are maintained even in these most challenging circumstances.”

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub


Disgruntled Junior Barrister

Sitting ‘closed book’ exams whilst sitting at home. How are they going to police that and stop cheating, by having an invigilator in every house?

If people are now being told to go to work and sit in offices then there’s no reason in principle why people can’t sit in a hall and take an exam. Place the exam desks 10 metres apart if necessary

So total lack of thought given to this, but then again it’s the BSB so no surprises there



I don’t think you know what online proctoring is.


Disgruntled Junior Barrister

I know what it is and I know it doesn’t stop cheating, hence why it’s a ridiculous idea. But thanks for that really helpful insight.


Not disgruntled at all

Really, you know?

From Pearson VUE’s website:

“We’ve got the enhanced security features you need: face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown, recordings, and more”

“Live monitoring is standard to our online proctoring offering. Candidates are monitored by a VUE-certified proctor via webcam and microphone during the exam. Exams are terminated immediately if prohibited behavior is detected.”

And from their terms and conditions:
“If any third party is 1) detected as being present in your physical location, whether visible or not: or 2) overheard in any manner, whether physically detected through movement or making of noise or through sounds irrespective of whether they are in your current location or not during your testing session, the test will be terminated and you will not receive any score or in the event you’ve completed the test and received a score, your score may be invalidated or revoked”

Notwithstanding their absurd claim of waiving any person’s right to privacy if they choose to take the exams “you understand, acknowledge and agree that you have no right to privacy at your current location during the testing session and you explicitly waive any and all claims asserting a right to individual privacy or other similar claims”.

Just admit you’re jealous.


Different anon

Sorry, but you clearly don’t know what online proctoring is. In most cases you have to leave your webcam and microphone on. How do you think people are going to cheat? Cover the wall right behind their laptops with giant print outs of notes?



To be fair covering a wall in notes would work pretty well


The BSB have not given a jot of thought to these plans and how they will work in practice, let alone how to accommodate those in shared living spaces, with children, with disabilities etc etc etc. How will students whose microphone picks up someone shouting outside, and whose test is terminated (presumably with a mark of zero), be dealt with? What if their pupillage starting this year falls through because they failed as a result?

There are plenty of empty spaces that could be hired and staffed with invigilators where exams could be sat with social distancing. I expect the providers don’t want to fork out the £££ though (but are happy to take the profit when it comes), and the BSB is too weak to stand up to them. Shameful.



Get over it snowflake, you are looking for excuses already. These exams are a cakewalk.



I’d like a good online proctoring, but my wife would be upset if she found out.


Vac scheme offer holder

No one gives a crap! What about SPB?!?!



It is not as if these are hard exams. They are about as challenging as colouring by numbers.



The whole course is a waste of a year. You could learn the procedure course in the undergrad stages like they do in the States, and the rest of the course is a waste of time and could be done in evenings during pupillage.


Julio Geordio

Oh good. Another LC article with comments from those who are outraged and spout off without actually knowing what they are banging on about.

The remote proctor is a human assisted by basic computer flagging. If the machine detects noise, the human contacts you. The exam provider (here the BSB) decides what level of tolerance they will condone. The software doesn’t shut you down by itself. Sure, if the BSB decide that noise external to your house is sufficient to end your test, that’s ridiculous but they won’t so let’s not eh. Similarly, kids. If they walk in the BSB should be clear that won’t by itself end your exam unless of course they are reading the White Book to you.

Try reading the whole announcement. The BSB are letting people start their pupillage this year without passing the course as a one off. They’ll have to take their exam at the next sit.

Unhappy with the arrangements? Well, the alternatives are no exams or open book. “Why not open book I hear you cry?” Well, the questions are all based on closed book. To have any sort of parity with previous exams you’d have to raise the pass mark to ridiculously high levels. “Oh but just write more questions!” Sure, they can just be magically produced. Give me 20 minutes. (Open book questions are by an order of magnitude harder to write because you can’t rely on just getting someone to recite a fact).

The providers. Ah yes. It’s all the fault of the providers who simultaneously have this massive hold over the BSB and yet are regulated by them to run a course as the BSB sees fit. The same stranglehold that has seen new regulations that mean the cost has fallen dramatically from September. “Yeah, but the Inns course has done that”. No, the Inns course is possible because the regulations change in September. That’s why it hasn’t happened before. Schrodinger’s providers, clearly.

Anyway, please could someone tell the providers the names of all of these massive venues that are open where the exams could be held. Where students arrive and depart 2m spaced apart. And also the ones where they can arrive by jetpack.

As usual I’m amazed by the comments on here. Why is everyone desperately trying to get pupillage? The ability to solve any problem on here at the age of 22 means you really ought to get a proper job and earn proper money.



This is unfortunately a case of “citation needed”. Pearson Vue’s T&C’s (as have been sourced by those opposing this in other forums) make pretty clear that (i) the decision is by algorithm, and (ii) cessation of the assessment is similarly summary. In the circumstances, there is every reason to be concerned.


Gemima Puddleduck

No proctoring service terminates exams by algorithm. There isn’t an algorithm sophisticated enough to discern between you banging your fist against your table (deliberate or not) and the sound of someone telling you the answers.

The algorithm tells the human proctor if it detects noise. The human proctor decides whether to terminate your exam. The T&Cs on other forums are Pearson’s are their standard proctoring terms. I agree that terminating a test because a child walks in would be ridiculous. One only hope that the BSB chose not to do that. If they apply them strictly they are bound to have lots of failures.

But let’s get back to the main point. Nobody has to take these exams at home. The BSB are offering the opportunity to sit them at a Pearson test centre. Or the decision not to take them at this sitting at all with it having no effect on those who have pupillage.



The decision not to take the exams in August (or the inability to take one/all of the exams due to illness, caring duties, any other reason) *will* have an effect on a student who is scheduled to start pupillage in Autumn 2020.

Those who take the exams in August 2020 will not receive the results before November 2020 (as confirmed by the BSB).

If you are due to start pupillage in Autumn 2020, then you should be ready to obtain your provisional practising certificate in Spring 2021. That means that you have to be called to the Bar by Spring 2021. Call can only be attended by those who have passed the BPTC; Inns have organised additional Call days in November and December 2020.

The BSB has provided a fairly detailed set of FAQs for Chambers and pupils with regard to pupillages commenced before receipt of full BPTC results. The BSB accepts that Chambers and pupils alike have to consider the risks of commencing pupillage before the full set of results are known. Anyone who fails the August exams or who does not take them in August will not have another chance to sit them before December 2020 (with the results presumably arriving by March 2021 at the earliest). This will have a knock-on effect with regard to the pupillage timetable. It will probably not be possible to be called – and to receive a provisional practising certificate – in time if all exams are not passed in August 2020. This could have financial consequences for the pupil – and for the Chambers.

Of course, an obvious solution to this is that the BSB should agree to fast-track all exam results for those who take the exams in August 2020 and December 2020. This should be fairly easy to do, given that two out of the three exams are multiple choice (Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation), and they are to be taken on a computerised system (although things may be back to normal by December).

Perhaps the BSB will make an announcement to this effect later down the line?



Algorithms make better decisions than people.



I am taking these exams in August. I live overseas with the British military and my nearest PV center is in Tel Aviv or Beirut (I took my BCAT in Tel Aviv). I have a 5 year old child at home and my partner is deploying soon, so I’ll be on my own at home.
I am very torn between deferring the exam or just saying fuck it and do it anyway. My house is about half a mile from a very busy airfield with jets taking off throughout the day and night. Will my exam terminate because a typhoon takes off and creates its usual cacophony? If my exam is in the evening, what do I do if my daughter wakes up?
But what if none of that happens but our circumstances change (as they have a habit of doing) and I can’t take the exam at the next sitting?


Comments are closed.

Related Stories