Petition calling for botched bar exams to be scrapped attracts over 1,200 signatures

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Just grade us on the rest of the BPTC, students urge

Law students are calling for the bar exams to be scrapped after candidates faced problems sitting the tests online.

A petition argues that the Bar Standards Board (BSB) should waive the requirement for barrister hopefuls to pass the exams altogether and just dole out grades based on the assessments already completed.

The plea comes after days of complaints about software crashes and other issues with the three centralised exams that make up 25% of the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

A group of cheesed-off students calling themselves Students Against the BSB Exam Regulations (SABER) have put the petition together, claiming that a “blanket waiver” is the only solution.

They argue that the BSB should “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 PearsonVUE”.

Their pitch lists the problems with the exams since they were rescheduled from April to this month. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has apologised for problems getting students needing reasonable adjustments booked into physical test centres and for technical problems that saw some locked out of their online version.

The regulator’s solution is to offer those unable to sit the test remotely, or who didn’t get their reasonable adjustments, a pen and paper resit next month.

The petition reckons this isn’t enough. Resits would be offered to only “a limited number of students… when in fact almost all students have struggled with these exams in some form”.

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These three exams on civil, criminal and ethics are worth 25% of the BPTC overall. The petition says that students should be given their final grades based on the 75% of the course they’ve already been assessed on.

Those signing it say that “a waiver is crucial as it is the only fair way to account for the variety of issues faced by students sitting in such adverse conditions”. The petition seems to have been started on Tuesday and had 1,250 signatures at time of writing.

Not everyone agrees. In a guest article on the Secret Barrister blog, an anonymous lawyer says that civil, crime and ethics are the hardest part of the BPTC. “To waive them”, they argue, “would be to waive the actual bit of the course that is difficult to pass”.

Last year, 75% of candidates passed ethics, 63% passed civil and 61% passed crime.

A BSB spokesperson told Legal Cheek: “The BPTC examinations in professional ethics and criminal and civil litigation are vital for assessing whether students are competent to practise at the bar and to serve the public and we do not believe that it would be appropriate to waive them. But we deeply regret that many students have not been able to complete their computer based exams satisfactorily.”

They continued:

“As our director general has made clear, we are therefore urgently seeking to offer a further opportunity subject to discussions with BPTC providers to sit these exams as pen and paper exercises in September both to UK students and to international students in their home countries. This September sitting would be in addition to the opportunity that students would have to [sit or] resit their exams in December.”



**repeated from the earlier article**

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”.


The Speaker

Fully agree with you there. There is simply no way that the centralised exams can be carried out in its current form while being an accurate indicator of performance. The fact that the BSB still think so really does show how detached they are from the actual reality that students have to face. So far, the BSB have been making decisions from their ivory tower while students suffer the consequences of their blatant incompetence.

I’m sure many of the students are anxious to get this over with and I know many have been stretched to their very thinnest. I’ve read some accounts of those who had to fight for their RAs and it sounds horrible, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that majority of the students calling for the waiver would also have preferred not to do this, but they have been left no other choice. Many have studied hard and likely would have passed the exam, and this had robbed them of the feeling of achievement one gets when doing so. Yet, given the circumstances, the fact that they rather forgo the opportunity to get their grades for the sake of being able to ‘move on’ is testament to how desperate they have become..


Cavid Dummings

It’s not at all about how ‘desperate’ they are. More that they’ve gotten a sniff of the possibility of not having to sit exams and they’re clinging onto it with all they’ve got. Lazy, whiny snowflakes #makethemsit



I really can’t stand barristers who sit there and say ‘but these papers are easy, everyone’s just whining, precious snowflakes should go lie down in their safe space and do a TikTok dance about it’ as is the favourite phrase of one baby boomer commenter on here. The exams are difficult. They’ve constantly changed format in the last few years and these are not the exams you sat when you did the course. The exams online this year were also very different from other years with very strange questions, answers that didn’t even fit the questions being asked due to some sort of errors, spelling mistakes and gobbledegook that made it hard to answer questions. No one sat the same paper, all the questions were pulled out of a pool which meant some people had repeated questions, some exams were harder than others and some students were tested on a breadth of knowledge whereas others weren’t. Rescheduled exams were timetabled for 1 or 2 AM. How on earth is that creating a level playing field for students? Complacent barristers who like to patronise others instead of show solidarity to the next generation need to take a good, hard look at themselves.



You should go lie down in you safe space and do a TikTok dance about it.

PS Not a baby boomer.


Life Has Its Ups And Downs

Triggered? Poor you.



Yeah right, let’s just skip the exams we’re most likely to fail and give us our marks based on the easier exams. Why don’t we just give everyone a pupillage while we’re at it…

We can all see the above post is written by a current BPTC student.


The Speaker

I don’t think anyone is asking for free a pupillage. If a waiver is given, those without pupillage would probably have to even work harder to get one. The students are aware of the negative perception from the profession, but the fact that they are still asking for a waiver really demonstrates that they are at their wits end. I would try a little more empathy next time.



Hi BPTC student!



Tbh I don’t even see how there would be a negative perception from the profession. Who cares about the BPTC?



Or you could do the exams in autumn.



If that was a reference to me, I can assure you I’m not.



Cancel the damn exams already



“Personally victimised”? These snowflakes are getting worse and worse.


Incoming BPC Student

If the exams are waived nobody should be allowed an Outstanding overall. It’s not fair on incoming bar students that next year we will be applying for pupillage against people who didn’t have to sit these exams. Not that this cohort care about anything other than themselves, clearly.



Don;’t worry, no-one, absolutely no-one in the profession cares what you get in these exams.


Incoming BPC Student

Sure, but if my cohort sits these exams we deserve a grade that reflects our performance. If this current cohort don’t, nobody should be getting an Outstanding or maybe even a VC. Everyone knows these are the hardest ones, I’m sure many of these students have done just fine in the other exams but many won’t have passed these ones in normal circs let alone now. Something like 61% of people pass civil – we’re talking about waving through almost half the cohort with no assessment, this is ludicrous. There are already way too many Bar students than there are pupillages. The BSB should not allow hundreds of students to pass with a top mark when they haven’t been properly assessed, how is parity going to be ensured with future cohorts? I’m glad to see the BSB putting their foot down.



This is an utterly arrogant and ill informed view. The exams next year are not the same as the current ones so the assessment will be different anyway. Further, being good enough for pupillage is not contingent on BPTC grades it about being a good candidate for the profession. Your view shows a clear lack of research and would be evident enough in interview to demonstrate you are not a good candidate. Maybe you should study and take these exams before you make sweeping comments like this?


Incoming BPC Student

Actually, what’s arrogant is the current students thinking they can have no exams and it won’t have a knock on effect for future cohorts. Plus the students keep claiming next year’s exams are open book when they are not – but what does a lie matter when it supports your demands, right? Anyone demanding they shouldn’t take an exam is a poor candidate and I’m sure pupillage committees will see that. I’m very happy to be studying to take these exams as a fully funded Inns scholar so I’d worry about your own suitability if I were you! The behaviour of the current students is an embarrassment to the profession.

Shut Up

Anon, maybe YOU should take the exams before you start telling future students to sit them! Honestly the audacity, it’s unreal.


Trust me. The detriment the current cohort has experienced (whether waivers are granted or not) is far more than you know. We are merely pushing for our interests because the BSB (who is supposed to be doing this) has not. I understand that from the outside it sounds like we are just ‘snowflakes’, but I need to move on with my life. I’m not earning and have people relying on me. Initially I was looking forward to these papers as a way to push my grade up. I’ve reached a point where I don’t care. I would gladly lower my average if that means I can move on, go back to my home country and start working to support my family. I cannot afford to wait to December or even Sept





Like A Broken Record

The majority of you are never going to make it to the Bar anyway. Them’s the numbers.


Pupillage Committee Head

Exams for everyone! More exams!




Well folks, the above is an excellent example of woke culture. If something is difficult, just cancel everything and award top marks.

Of course that’s particularly unfair to every other cohort but hey ho it’s woke.



I didn’t realise snowflakes could also be salty.



Seems like the reasoning being given from the above bunch is that the students are lazy and looking for a way out. Quite curious to hear from all those here who DO NOT think that these exams should be waived.. Do you really think that all/majority of these students are asking for a waiver for this reason, and that there are no legitimate reasons to waiver at all, especially having read some of the horror stories so far.. These students will be future members of the profession. Should we not support them? Yes, only about 60% pass the exam at the first time, but it seems like even those who have no qualms about passing are pushing for the waiver as well.

Not only that, there are hardly any criticisms of the BSB at all. What do the people above think about how the BSB have handled these exams? It seems like a lot of the blame has been passed on to the students and no accountability demanded from the BSB? Is this really a problem with the students, or is it an amalgamation of mistakes from our dear BSB?


A Non

It has been clear to me from the start that this particular cohort of students wanted this all along. How anyone can think its a total coincidence that these hardest exams are the ones that want waiving is, frankly, beyond me. How can you not see this for what it is?They’ve sat the easier ones, probably all got VS or OS, who in their right mind would want to run the risk of sitting the tough exams that many fail unless they have to? And calling for an average of the easy ones means they are all going to get high grades, of course. It’s not drafting or REDOC or advocacy that people fail year upon year. Someone in a previous comment pointed out that those who are highly intelligent and hard working often fail these exams – there is no student who can confidently have ‘no qualms’ about passing these so I’m afraid this point is nonsensical.

Further, many of the demands the students make are unreasonable and therefore hardens people to their cause. You cannot demand someone resigns and then expect the BSB to speak with you in good faith. There is also nothing to preclude all students from sitting in the next week or fortnight. Yes, the BSB have handled things abysmally. I don’t think anyone can deny that. The pandemic, however, is not their fault. The answer is not to give everyone a blanket pass however especially when the stats on failure are so high. A pen and paper exam as a ‘first sit’ should be organised immediately with options for students abroad to do so in their home country, where everyone has the same paper, at a time that is during the normal working day for that country, with RAs set up. This is not only about these students as much as they appear to be unable to see beyond the end of their own noses. Fairness for future cohorts as well as the current students must be considered. There is no way to allow waivers for this cohort and be fair to future students.



I can only from my point of view, but to me it does not seem like a total coincidence. When the pandemic hit, most the other subjects had been completed already. It was only these 3 papers that were left. I recall the students making noise about the toilet and water issues back in April/May, but I only noticed the outcry for a waiver after the students began sitting for the online papers and the numerous technical failures from Pearson. Assuming the issues with Pearson never happened, I would agree with your comment and admit that the students pushing for a waiver would be self-serving and for their own ease. However, I can sympathise & see the reason why they are asking for a waiver now.

On the point of having ‘no qualms’ about passing, I cannot answer for all, but I recall when I prepared well for an exam, I certainly never worried about failing a paper and true enough. Whether I reach the top band of marks is a different issue, for even when I worked hard, there were times I did achieve as well as I thought I would, but again, never did I worry about failing/passing the exam. But then to each his own, so yes I could somewhat agree that even the brightest could fail these papers. The reason I made that point was because I’ve seen others commenting on how easy these papers are and that they are walk in the park.

Regarding their demands – I think they are merely asking for accountability and an action plan for what can be done to remedy the situation. The BSB has not done either of this, so I do not blame the students for coming up with their own list. Yes, their message does at times seem diluted but we must manage expectations. It is refreshing to see someone here share my sentiments about how the BSB has managed this. The pandemic was NOT the BSB’s fault, but are we not only judged by how we respond in a crisis? Other groups, like the SRA & RCGP have handled things much better. The BSB should have just done a pen & paper exam from the beginning. Now the damage is done. Again, the BSB has been incredulously inefficient, and this could have been mitigated if they came up with a satisfactory action plan from the minute they were made aware of the failures of Pearson. The longer the BSB stall, the more I have to agree with some sort of waiver. I do agree that we cannot just give a blanket pass – that would not be fair at all. I’ve seen the option of letting tutors assess their individual students floating around. I would like to know what you think of this?

Your solution of a pen & paper exam in the next week or fortnight would be a decent compromise. However, what do we do about those who sat for the exams already? Do they take it as well? Also, this is assuming the BSB has the capacity to do this on such short notice. Based on their track record, I am sceptical as to they capability in carrying out an efficient, proper & fair seating of this exams.

I am quite curious to see how this all turns out. When it is all done and dusted, it will definitely be a great case study for any company/organisation/company in public relations, crisis management & how to handle complaints from their clients/customers.

In the end, so many questions left unanswered.. How long will this go on? What is a reasonable time span for students to wait before it is too long? How will a waiver be carried out if it were to be done? How do we cater to international students, many of whom come to us at a great cost? What happens to pupillage if this goes on? What drink shall I have next to drown my sorrows? Only time will tell.. 



A Non

I must say I don’t think tutors assessing the standard is particularly fair. To my knowledge there are not proper mocks for these particular exams and as the previous statistics show you, it simply does not follow that someone who achieves high grades in the previous modules will necessarily do so in these exams. Many very bright students have to resit at least one of ethics, civil or criminal lit. The problem with tutor assessment is there may be quiet students who would have done well but are overlooked by tutors perhaps as coming across less engaged, and equally it may be those students who have already achieved highly in the practical skills who fall down in these difficult exams. The fairest way to allow all a good opportunity to obtain a grade that reflects their work, whether that’s a high or low mark, is to have an exam. If the BSB got it’s act together a pen and paper sit could happen fairly rapidly and I have seen various practitioners offer to help with invigilating this etc. The problem now is the demands have turned to a waiver and my impression is these students will accept nothing less. They no longer want a fair exam, nor even a pass, but an average of the previous exams which is patently unfair and not reflective of how the grading on the course works anyway. They have gone too far with this.



Exams good be virtually graded by an algorithm based on the candidate’s university’s prior average performance in these exams?


Still a BPTC student, please let it end

I am part of the current BPTC cohort; I’m not here to talk about the arguments for and against a waiver. Rather, I’d like to reiterate something which I sense is getting lost amidst the (justified) outrage about the conditions in which many of us have had to sit these exams (not to mention the fight disabled students had on their hands even to be able to sit them).

These exams have lacked integrity because the BSB got itself into a situation where moderating the grades will be a fraught task.

Take Professional Ethics, which was set over four different days. We now know that nobody sat the same paper; people had papers in which the two separate parts of a question added up to more than the maximum 10 marks which should be available; some had questions which were identical or had very similar fact patterns; some had a paper that examined a very limited chunk of the syllabus (me) whilst others had a broad amount of material and guidance documents to cover.

Therefore, my question is: how on earth Ethics is to be moderated? How will examiners know the difference between: a half-completed paper because the student hadn’t revised; a half-completed paper because the student was locked out of their exam by Pearson Vue; or a half-completed paper where Pearson Vue has lost some answers? How can they moderate when some students arguably have a greater chance of scoring marks because they answered questions which added up to more than the total 60 marks available for the paper, or because they could copy and paste an identical answer when they had a repeated question?

Meanwhile, it sounds like Civil Lit and Criminal Lit were riddled with typos.

People in these comments have been expressing concern that students will get a “free pass” if there is a waiver. They may not appreciate that the BSB is going to have to moderate more aggressively than in any other year because of its own failure to set exams which are carefully set and flaw-free. Please also remember that the Ethics paper is defunct from September 2020, and Civil Lit is no longer to be examined 100% by multiple choice questions (it took them long enough to realise this was necessary!).

To people worried about being up against this year’s BPTC students in future pupillage rounds: the BPTC grades will not matter, and if you haven’t even completed the BPTC exams before applying for pupillage then it’s an odd concern to have. If anything, people taking the BPTC this year (even if they DO get a waiver, which I consider unlikely) will be at a greater disadvantage than future cohorts when it comes to competition for pupillage.

Furthermore, the hurdle to obtaining pupillage is higher than ever, and BPTC grades are really not a factor. You aren’t going to miss out on an offer because you got a VC and the other final candidate got an Outstanding.

And one final point, which is a bit of a non sequitur. It seems strange to me that people are content for young people to be waved into Oxbridge and top RG this year on the basis of grades they didn’t earn, when the university you go to really does set the course of your life in many ways. But the idea of a waiver on this year’s Bar course, where people have not been set fair exams and the qualification itself has next to no bearing on pupillage chances, is met with outrage.


Incoming BPC Student

If your grade has no bearing on anything why are the current students asking for a grade average of the 9 much easier modules rather than say, a pass overall? Clearly people want a grade they feel they deserve, and therein lies the problem. If you only complete 9/12 of the course and you get better grades in what are known to be the easier modules, you don’t deserve an Outstanding. Why not call for a pass if that’s the case? It’s extremely transparent.

I actually very much agree with you re the university thing and I’m not happy at all that people are being waved into Oxbridge. Not sure what that’s got to do with this though. Two wrongs don’t make a right.


Still a BPTC student, please let it end

I don’t agree with those who think a waiver should mean that students who accept it get a grade overall. I think waiving the CEBs, if the BSB ever contemplates it, should at most mean that the diploma is awarded without a grade. If students were desperate for a grade, they could choose not to accept any waiver.

Your concern about your chances of securing pupillage when up against this year’s BPTC candidates is misplaced, in my view. And I do hope that there isn’t another intense lockdown between now and next year, as I wouldn’t want any future Bar students to cope with the chaos that we have.

I’m drawing the comparison with Oxbridge and A-Levels because people in this thread say that a BPTC CEB exam waiver would be unfair to previous and future cohorts. The A-Level situation is therefore analogous, but hasn’t sparked anything like the indignation that the suggestion of a Bar course waiver has.


Incoming BPC Student

As I said I don’t agree with A level students being waved into Oxbridge – similar to the many BPTC students who fail the central exams, there are many Oxbridge holders who do not meet their offers every year. This is also unfair. However, I’m not clear on your actual point here – are we meant to avoid commenting on the Bar exam situation just because of what has happened with A levels? This situation is still ongoing and while it is, everyone affected – and by that I mean not just your cohort, as some of you seem to think – have a right to voice their opinion.

If there is a waiver of any kind even if the grade is a pass, this still works against future cohorts because it opens the pool of potential pupils even further. As I’m sure you know the odds are already stacked way against us in terms of the stats, even when so many already fail these exams. So, yes it does work against future students by allowing so many to ‘pass’ when many of these students would have failed. And perhaps next year I will be one of them, who knows. The point remains that it does impact further students when usually many will fail these exams which limits the already high numbers a bit, you’re talking about letting several hundred students who would typically fail this course be allowed through and you think that doesn’t affect those of us seeking pupillage next year? And that we also have to pass those very exams that you’re happy to let several hundred ‘would be failed so through regardless?

I disagree that the grade is irrelevant because many students will be studying for the attached LLM especially if they didn’t have Inns funding and needed the student loan so what happens to ensure parity for those students this year and next? Clearly if you have a pupillage to go to I can see why you feel the grade doesn’t matter, because for you it doesn’t. But say an average is obtained this year from the 9 modules, meaning many students get a VC or OS overall when perhaps these exams would’ve brought them down significantly. Next year, similar students who perform well on the easier 9 but might end up lowered to a Competent through the harder exams will think it very unfair that your cohort didn’t have their grades lowered in this way. I know you say you don’t support this but unfortunately this is what your peers and ‘SABER’ are calling for.


Still a BPTC student, please let it end

As you yourself understand, applying for pupillage is not conditional on having the BPTC. Your argument that any sort of “waiver” would further widen the pool of potential pupils is nonsense: absolutely anyone can apply for pupillage as long as they have a law degree or GDL; obtaining the BPTC and being called is necessary to start the second six.

Your attention seems very much fixed on your own prospects of passing exams which will differ from those that were taken this summer. You have completely ignored the main points in my original post about the chaotic organisation of the exams and disparate exam content that will make moderating them fairly a real challenge. I don’t think there will be blanket waivers, but I also don’t think, for example, that the BSB will want the fall-out from yet another chaotic Ethics sitting – especially when the paper is abolished from September. On that, you are strangely silent.


“If you haven’t even completed the BPTC exams before applying for pupillage then it’s an odd concern to have”

No it isn’t. Plenty of applicants obtain pupillage before the BPTC.


Still a BPTC student, please let it end

Yes, I know. I’m one of them.

I’m simply flummoxed by people thinking that their chances of securing pupillage next year might be jeopardised by a waiver for this year’s Bar students who have been forced to take certain exams in chaotic and poorly planned circumstances. The two are entirely unrelated.

(And I don’t support a blanket waiver, by the way.)



I’m afraid your view as to whether the grades matter or not is influenced by you having pupillage pre BPTC. You have the security that so long as you pass, you start as a pupil. Let’s not pretend that someone who obtains only a Competent next year that had to sit thewe harder exams would ever be viewed as favourably as someone with a VC or OS. More people this year will obtain a VC or OS if SABER get their way simply because their average is obtained only from the easier grades. This is quite obviously unfair.



So you’re of the view that those who faced discrimination in attempting to take the August exams should be forced to continue studying, or put other jobs on hold, or be forced to delay applying for legal positions in home jurisdictions? That’s a genuine question, because it seems to me that future Bar students reading about this chaos think that students have had technical issues and that they’re calling for a waiver for this reason alone. That is absolutely not what has happened.



To Student 8:46pm – your comment presupposes that pupillage committees will look at future candidates’ BPTC grades for the 2019/2020 year and completely disregard the effect of a global pandemic. That is probably not going to happen.

Future Bar course students should be grateful they aren’t the guinea pigs this year. Covid is still going to be around when it’s their turn to take the CEB exams.



It it possible for BSB to do the following;

1. Reduce the cut of mark to 40%
2.Those people who failed should be allowed to retake the exams because of the COVID
3. Or give everyone 30% extra mark to each student on what was scored originaly


Current BPTC student

These are all options, of course. But it does nothing to remedy the discrimination that disabled students have faced. And it also fails to ensure that the same mistakes will not be repeated; there is absolutely no guarantee of us being safe from a second wave this Winter.

The BSB doesn’t seem to have a Plan B when it comes to second or third waves of the virus. And that could eventually impact not just this year’s cohort, but also next year’s.


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