Bar exams: BSB plans to offer ‘pen and paper’ resits as soon as possible

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Regulator will launch ‘lessons learned review’ of testing issues

The Bar Standards Boards (BSB) plans to give students who encountered technical difficulties during their online exams the opportunity to resit “as soon as possible”.

Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) students have taken to social media over the past week to report issues with the online exams, including being locked out of the proctoring system and resorting to urinating in bottles and buckets over fears their assessments would be terminated if they went to the toilet.

In a statement yesterday evening, the BSB’s director general Mark Neale said:

“We intend to offer everyone who took a computer-based exam and experienced a technical failure that prevented them from accessing or completing their exam the chance to sit their exam again as a pen and paper exercise in a secure venue and as soon as possible.”

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Neale continued: “We are working hard with the aim of offering that opportunity in September subject to the BPTC providers being able to arrange venues either on their campuses, if open, or at alternative locations. We are also encouraging pupillage providers to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage this autumn. More information about this is available on our website.”

The director general also confirmed it will commission a “lessons learned review” of the exam issues. “This review will report to BSB’s governance, risk and audit Committee, which is composed of independent non-executive directors, and will be undertaken independently of the BSB,” he added.

Responding to the statement, Students Against The BSB Exam Regulations, a Twitter account set up to voice the concerns of bar students, called for the exams to be waived entirely. A petition has also been set up.

Last week the BSB issued a statement apologising for the difficulties encountered by students, and that the test provider’s stats showed that 89% of exams had been delivered without any reported incident and 97% had been successfully completed.

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Waive the BSB Centralised Assessment Exams 2020!

SABER is calling for the BSB to waive the requirement for completion of the centralised BSB exams for civil litigation, criminal litigation and ethics (‘the exams’), in light of the systemic failings in delivering the exams via Pearson Vue.

A blanket waiver is required as it is the only means to account for the various difficulties faced by students sitting the exams. Consequently, it is the only means of achieving fairness and encouraging diversity at the bar.




How about we waive your… face?



Or you could do the exam, snowflake.


A Nony Mouse

Low effort trolling m8. Read the articles.. whole point is they’ve been trying to sit the exams and Pearson/BSB have screwed up so most of the candidates either haven’t been able to sit them at all or have only been able to sit them with hours of delays and disruptive technical faults. Now they are saying maybe September, maybe December, nothing about what to do if you have a job lined up and can’t afford to take time off to revise *again*.



I read them. They can take the exams. Things go wrong at the moment, the moaners need to get over it. And these exams are so easy no-one should be worried about having to re-learn that which they should already know. Shirker, moaning, snowflakes need to grow up.



Right so what do you suggest my friend who has pupillage and spent three hours trying to get into his exam, only to be told it was successfully completed even though they never say the paper do?

You don’t get it do you dumb dumb, they aren’t ‘shirking’, they are READY for the exam, and the provider is messing up. And unless you’ve taken them, maybe don’t go on about how easy they are? They’re certainly not the hardest exams I did, but they’re not exactly a walk in the park either.


They can sit the exam in person and if they are doing pupillage they will get all the time off they want. And yes I did the exam, it was a “walk in the park”.

Darren Ward

Ethics was 2h45 minutes closed book, no toilet, sweltering heat and constant overview of the third eye in your face. Not the best conditions. Walk in the park? I’d wait until you get your results before being so confident. Ethics has high failure rate.


Darren, maybe you could talk about it on Tik Tok. You could do a little dance routine too.

Shut Up

You’re not getting out of the hardest exams on the course. What a ridiculous ‘demand.’



Only the most entitled of Karens would argue that exams should be waived in the name of diversity.


Karren with two Rs and you'd better pronounce them both

A true Karen would be complaining that that had worked for the exam and scheduled it, and having to do more work at a later time was to inconvenient for them. Reading the comments, that seems to be gist of a lot of the complaining going on here. What happens to other people does not interest Karens.


Further Anon

Does SABER have a list of members? It will make our pupillage application sifts a lot quicker.



Oh shut up



While I’m broadly sympathetic to your cause (although not the way you’ve gone about it kicking, screaming like toddlers, making a lair of ‘demands’) there is little to no support from practitioners for your exams to be waived I’m afraid. I suggest your time might be better spent continuing to revise so that when a pen and paper sit is available ASAP you actually pass it.



Speaking personally, I think that probably provides an indication of how much the profession cares about the BPTC in general. My chambers never even bothered asking me what I actually got, and I think that was probably quite a reasonable summary of its use in practice. Anyway, at least we know that the next generation of barristers will have the bottle-using skills that will ensure total public confidence in the profession!


Joris Bohnson

I once had to urinate in a bottle whilst performing on stage. Do I win £5?



How overseas students can come to UK in September for in person exam, in such a short notice they have to arrange visa and also have to act upon UK Quarantine policy?



Over 1,500 signatures already and growing.

How very embarrassing for the BSB.

In this age of social media, hypocrisy, callousness and even fox-bashing animal cruelty will always be caught.


Piteq Wryi

More embarrassing for each of the 1500.



Well it’s not just the Bar exams that Pearson have messed up and it’s apparently been going on for some time and potentially not just in UK. This was foreseeable and avoidable. Disgraceful



My natural instinct was against waiving these exams for various reasons – they’re the hardest of the set, comprise the vast majority of the knowledge requirements of the course, and there’s always a degree of self-interest at play.

However, the more I’ve thought about it the more I can’t see there to be another (broad) course of action that preserves the aim of the assessment process.

Starting from the position that this aim is to get a reliable indication of candidates’ abilities, the online / test centre exams in their present format aren’t going to cut it for all the reasons that have become patently obvious.

However, pen-and-paper resits at an unspecified point in September have their own, different, issues, the most obvious being that it requires students to factor in another revision period (say 3-4 weeks) equivalent to a full-time job.* The course has already been extended by the best part of three months (Inn Scholarships were premised on 11), there is little hardship support available, and students have to pay their way to live somehow. The upshot seems to be that the assessments will become, at least in part, a test of how much time can be devoted to revision at short notice.

“Waiving” the exams doesn’t simply mean ignoring them. There are a myriad of other ways that it can be confirmed that students have met the baseline abilities required, for example teacher assessment, or performance in online exams (or parts thereof) that have been “successfully” (heavy use of inverted commas) sat. Once that threshold has been met, the already-completed assessments can be used to work out a grade.

It can’t be right to let everyone through – there has to be something to point to as evidence that the baseline ability has been met – but given the circumstances I think it’s time to be a little creative about what that evidence might be. As someone said above, students have already had to put things on hold to be ready to sit this month, and given that none of this is remotely of their own making I think it’s time the BSB started thinking of different ways of solving this problem.

* pre-empting those who will say it is “easy”, “could do it with my eyes closed” etc, I presume you’ve all done mocks / past papers and are scoring 90% in 45 minutes? The brightest students, who will become the next generation of top lawyers, work very hard and find these papers difficult. It’s patronising to suggest that they’re “just complaining”.



Also, pupillage is the real filter. Let’s say we relax the requirements this year anda few truly hopeless people pass – So what? They won’t get pupillage anyway and it’s not as if the BPTC could be used for anything else.



Ah yes anonymous cowards calling for lists of names. Very grown up. Lol you’re not doing a sift get back to your second year exams big man.



Also, pupillage is the real filter. Let’s say we relax the requirements this year anda few truly hopeless people pass – So what? They won’t get pupillage anyway and it’s not as if the BPTC could be used for anything else.


Cameron Haden

It seems there is no fair result in this situation. To let the centralised exams stand would be an injustice – some of the conditions complained of are unfortunate in what people have endured, others unprofessional and gross violations of fairness.

I have been informed people have used buckets, bottles and adult dippers to relieve themselves as they cannot leave the room in the exam, a humiliating experience.

(The dipper does set an interesting precedent though, could use it in a paper exam setting to save toilet trip time.)

Another issue has been that those with special needs had their aids such as extra time removed. Naturally there are technical difficulties we have heard of such as: forced log outs, issues connecting, question invilator experiences, late starts, so on, thus the exams were inherently flawed.

As to some of the complaints raised, to be devil’s advocate:

1) The temperature was harsh, however a diligent student could have purchased AC or an air filter to mitigate this situation. The bigger concern was those on Ramadan in the exam unable to eat or drink in punishing conditions.

2) As for the third eye observer, in theory in the exam you could be under constant surveillance. The issues I have heard are our third eye observers criticising students for opening their mouth to yawn or doing rather unortgodox objections, this would be disruptive in another setting so seems unfair.

3) Naturally waiving the exam creates issue of fairness for past years. I dare say my grade on the bptc I took last year would be one boundary higher had the centralised exams been skipped or pushed back and I’m not alone in that assessment. Former years would face stiffer competition and so would the current cohort unless pupillage assessors decided to ‘unofficially’ mark down BPTC results for 2020 which is what my learned friend the barrister implies.

4) As for what is used as a basis, they could rely on formative exam results but that would disadvantage those who failed formative and scored low.

5) By resitting later in the year, it does disadvantage those who have work lined up as they now have competing interests. Yet, equally they could do better, with more time to revise current notes can be streamlined into a more usable form.

Possible solution:

The best choice might be to give students the choice to sit the exam, do it online/in person or accept a formative result (if it was tested in exam conditions).

As odds are those who did well in formative would do well on exam day, so it might be better to let them accept the formative result.

For those who prefer to sit the exam, they can and given individuals are spied on it could be possible to do smaller cohorts over the summer for the centralised exams online. This time, the guidance could be expanded for those working from home to use water, food, so on.

The exams could also be shortened in length from 75 questions to 50 so as to reduce exam length and thus continence burdens.

I will state being someone seeking pupillage I am bias in wanting this last generation of the BPTC to sit the centralised exams as it was tough enough for my cohort to sit all three in 3 days of each other, 2 between crim and civ. We would have jumped at the chance of later resits (well most of us).

Still I will stand by this last cohort and welcome a fair decision if it is decided. It is not an easy one to find compromise.

Cameron Haden



Hahah the STATE of turning up to an exam wearing a diaper to wizz in to save time – absolutely tragic.




At my BPTC provider more than 80% of the students were foreigners who just select to do BPTC for exposure, if the exams are waived it truly wouldn’t matter much since they never really intend to get a pupillage and for them this is a mere diploma which holds no value in foreign countries especially Pakistan.


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