Bar exams: BSB stats reveal widely differing pass rates among providers

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By Aishah Hussain on

New figures — focusing on centralised assessments only — show average pass rates ranging between 92% and 18%

New statistics published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) reveal widely differing pass rates for the bar training exams.

The BSB chair’s report into the spring 2021 sit of the centralised exams — criminal litigation and civil litigation — shows the performance of 18 bar education and training centres across the UK.

The report focuses on exams for the new bar courses which replaced the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in September 2020. They do not represent overall bar pass rates. Professional ethics, previously a centralised assessment, is now provided as part of a bar training provider’s course and is assessed locally.

The relatively new Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) had the highest performing cohort with an average pass rate across both litigation assessments of 92.1%. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), meanwhile, scored the lowest average pass rate across the two subjects of just 18.3%, according to the BSB data.

Table via BSB

The majority of students took the centralised assessments online. In total, 1,104 students sat criminal litigation and 989 took civil litigation in April 2021. The average pass rates were 46.2% and 55.5% respectively.

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Overall, ten bar training providers failed to achieve an average pass rate of 40% taking both litigation assessments together. These figures are “post-intervention”, meaning after any clerical checks have been performed and if necessary, marks scaled to account for any issues affecting candidates.

Whilst it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about why there is such a broad range in pass rates, it’s worth noting that these can be influenced by differences in cohort size, student ability, teaching quality, or the entry requirements of different providers. MMU, for example, requires a minimum 2.2 for entry to its bar course, whilst others require a 2.1.

The report further reveals disparities in the two exams taken at the same training provider. For example, the pass rate for criminal litigation at ULaw Leeds was 44.7% compared with 86.4% for civil litigation. At BPP Manchester, the pass rate for criminal litigation was just below 30% and 50% for civil litigation.

When grouping the results by training providers across all centres, the ICCA achieved an average pass rate of 92.1%, ULaw (six centres) recorded a success rate of 62.4%, and BPP (five centres) one of 40.5%. The six other university providers recorded a grouped average of 35.6%.

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