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Just over half of students pass first ever SQE

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Regulator identifies ‘attainment gap’ among ethnic groups

The results for the first ever Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) are in, with just over half of candidates (53%) passing the first stage of the assessment (SQE1).

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) today announced the pass rate after yesterday’s results day was marred by technical issues and delays, resulting in some students finding out their scores late into the night and some claiming to have received other candidates’ scores.

Some 1,090 students, including 27 solicitor apprentices, took the exam in November 2021 across more than 100 test centres in 26 countries.

SQE1 involves two Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) exams: FLK1 and FLK2. In total, 53% of candidates passed both assessments, with 67% passing FLK1 and 54% passing FLK2.

Commenting on the results, Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA Board, said: “The introduction of the SQE should give everyone confidence that those entering the profession have all met the same high standard. So we are pleased that the first assessment has gone well with results that suggest it was a robust, fair and reliable exam.”

“It will of course take time for the full benefits of the SQE to be realised, but this is a good start,” she said.

Geoff Coombe, the independent reviewer of the SQE, concluded: “I must emphasise that overall, the way in which the individual questions and overall tests performed was very good from a technical assessment perspective and lessons learned from the SQE pilot have been applied very well.”

The 2022 Legal Cheek SQE Provider List

The SRA found there to be no difference between the results of men and women. However, there was a large discrepancy between white candidates, 65% of whom passed, and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, where the pass rate was only 44%. The regulator last month drafted in Exeter University to examine the “attainment gap” between different ethnic groups.

Bradley said: “We anticipated that we would again see the troubling difference in performance for candidates from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups that has been a longstanding and widespread feature in examinations in the legal and other sectors. We know the reasons will be complex and, as well as ongoing review and analysis, we have appointed Exeter University to carry out in-depth research to better understand the factors driving the attainment gap for these groups in professional assessments, so that we can do everything we can to address the issues.”

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said in a statement: “We welcome the news the SRA has commissioned in-depth research so it can better understand the causes of differential attainment in legal qualifications.”

“The regulator needs to monitor closely whether the situation is worsening or improving with the move to SQE and if so why,” Boyce added.

The SRA further found there to be no significant difference in results based on socio-economic background. For example, there was no significant difference between the performance of candidates who declared they went to non-selective state schools (57%) and those who went to a private school without a bursary (54%). And between those who were from a working class background (54%) compared to those with a parent or guardian from a professional background (56%).

Factors such as achieving a top grade at university or prior work experience were indicators of a greater likelihood to pass.

Pass rates on the SQE’s predecessor, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), varied significantly between training providers. For the academic year to August 2020 the LPC pass rate ranged from 31% to 100%. The SRA said it is committed to publishing the breakdown of SQE performance by provider from late 2023 to benefit future candidates and help providers evaluate the effectiveness of their training.

The SQE officially went live on 1 September 2021, setting in motion the gradual phase out of the GDL and LPC. The first SQE2 sit will take place from 11 April, with bookings due to open on 31 January 2022. The next SQE1 exams take place in July 2022.

Planning to sit the SQE but unsure what your funding options are? Legal Cheek is partnering with BPP University Law School for a virtual student event on Thursday 27 January exploring the different funding options on offer. Secure your place.

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66 Comments

J

So you’re telling me that the SQE providers turned out to be just as incompetent as the GDL and LPC ones?? WhAt a SuRprIsE

(79)(3)

K

Only 44% of BAME candidates ended up passing the SQE exam.

It’s ironic that the very reason they scrapped the LPC and introduced the SQE is still a big problem, even bigger than it was before…

Perhaps the problem is the actual law school system? The inadequate teaching, lack of support, the rubbish exam timetables, the poor management from the providers, the sponsored firms demanding too much from future trainees and putting unnecessary pressure on getting certain grades?

(87)(7)

Anon

You’re misinformed. The SRA has never said that the SQE was designed to fix the attainment gap. It has said that it wants to fix inconsistent standards in the LPC system with a centralised assessment, and that it will look into attainment (which is a complicated issue that runs through pretty much all professional assessments and levels of education) as a connected but separate piece of work…

(3)(3)

L

Only 53% of test takers passed – I heard it was a difficult exam. Many people who failed include those who studied law and went to Russell Group universities – so a bit surprising! Two paralegals in my team failed and the Partner is not happy as we funded their prep and exam fees!

(55)(2)

RiRi

I wonder what will happen to those future trainees who took the exam with terms in their contracts that they had to pass each SQE exam the first time and get a certain grade…

Those clauses in the TC need to be scrapped imo. They cause more harm than good and I’m convinced students will perform better without the added pressure from firms demanding perfect performance

(55)(4)

You are too soft

Nope, you absolutely deserve to be canned if you fail your exams as a future trainee.

Or why do tests at all? I am sure trainees will perform better without the added pressure.

(23)(72)

You are a C***

I don’t believe in people having to struggle for absolutely no reason.

I’m not of the mentality that “I struggled so you should struggle too”.

I got a distinction in my LPC and was sponsored by my firm but I can still agree that the TC terms for the LPC were depression and anxiety inducing and very unnecessary.

Not everything has to be black and white.

(65)(13)

Time's are changing

That doesn’t take into account that lawyers are also humans and sometimes things happen to us that affect our ability to perform. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be a good lawyer, no one is consistently outstanding, all of the time. Your views are outdated. I sat SQE1 and passed and they were extremely challenging, by far more challenging than any other exam I’ve ever taken. I have sat exams after bereavement, with technical difficulties and whilst ill and have passed them all, but would I want to be berated by my seniors if I failed? No and I wouldn’t want to work in that environment either. Students already feel bad enough without the added pressure, it’s toxic.

(40)(7)

Anon

I’ve have a law degree at a Russell Group university and a distinction from the BCL.

I found the accelerated LPC a tough slog. The sheer volume, with relentless shitty skills exams in between, was something I underestimated.

Sure the exams are easier – both in content and open-book, but not the breeze people make it out to be. With 20+ exams over six months, most people I have spoke to have the fear of an innocuous fuck-up.

Anonymous

Mate, you’ve lost it. You do realise having a job dangled over your head like a carrot, only to be whipped away if you fail an exam is not something that is conducive to a positive learning environment, right? Yes, you’ll be pressured in practice, but, having a job you’ve literally worked 3 years towards being whisked away over 1 exam is fairly harsh.

(78)(4)

AW1983

Maybe not but it’s worked for the Big 4 accounting firms for decades. They tend to bend the rules for people who are amazing at the day job though.

I think a limited number of takes is fair. Law is a competitive field and I think a another dose of meritocracy will do some good.

The truth

I think you asked the right question……why test at all….the system should require a longer training period with dedicated L&D sessions to supplement on the job learning. Exams are a thing of the past and mean many great future lawyers who struggle under exam conditions never achieve their potential

(6)(1)

IB Big Hat

Under a standard TC contract, if students fail and leave the sponsoring law firm, are they required to repay the tuition/training costs incurred? I’m a banker, not a lawyer, but curious about this one….

(3)(1)

Anonymous

I took the exam and passed both parts. They were not easy exams but neither do I think they should be. I have a degree but not in law. I studied through Babri’s prep course and had to work really hard to learn all of the content but I was pleased with my results.

I think the fact that only 53% of the cohort passed is a good reflection that the process was rigorous. I must say though I am really suprised on teh forums by how many people are looking for shortcuts. i have had students asking to buy my note cards and revision notes – completely missing the point that the value is in making the notes yourself.

(14)(26)

The truth

In my eyes and exam is a short cut – increase the training period and supplement with L&D sessions.

(0)(0)

Tam

What was the pass rate in the end? I assume it’s based on percentage i.e 55-60%
thanks!

(0)(0)

Me

FLK1 pass mark was 57% and the FLK2 pass mark was 56%

(0)(0)

AW1983

I’m not surprised at all. The ‘Russell Group’ is grossly overrated and the way to get into one of these institutions is to take easy A-Levels and a less popular degree subject. The SQE was probably the first genuinely hard exam these little darlings ever sat.

(4)(9)

Do Better SRA!!!

This is terrible…

Completely unacceptable from the regulators and institutions and providers.

(15)(7)

NY qualified lawyer

NY Bar has a similar pass rate

(14)(8)

K

And many equally complain about the Bar…

It seems there are flaws in many law school jurisdictions

(15)(3)

Neville

The Chair of the SRA Board – Anna Bradley:

“ we are pleased that the first assessment has gone well with results that suggest it was a robust, fair and reliable exam “

ARE THEY BEING DELIBERATELY OBTUSE OR ARE THEY JUST DELUDED???

Are we seeing the same stats?

(53)(3)

SH

They see it as a good thing because they want to gatekeep the profession…

It was never about trying to help the BAME candidates.

They have made it even harder to pass imo

(51)(1)

Anon

Why do you think they should have made it easier to pass and are you suggesting that the solution to the attainment gap is to dumb down assessments rather than work to understand and address the wider societal issues that create the problem throughout our entire education system, particularly professional assessments? If you are, that’s offensive to the people who are disadvantaged by the gap as it implies that the problem lies with their capability…

(4)(1)

William G

The fact that many of those who failed were Russell group and first class grads and those with TCs at top firms is very telling…

People used to dismiss the inadequacies of the law school system by saying it’s the non Russell group poly-tech students who simply weren’t smart enough, but now it is coming to light that it isn’t the students that are the problem!

(54)(4)

Harry

THIS!!!

(8)(2)

Aaron

Also the fact that many who failed were sponsored students who did the prep course….

Hmmm very interesting and telling

(19)(2)

SQE trainee

I am a trainee who took up SQE1 (partially due to some personal circumstance) and passed with very good marks.

The general exam results do not surprise me – there were quite a lot of people taking SQE who either did not take any prep course, or were foreign qualified lawyers not even practicing in England thinking they could just pass the SQE and come here to work (a large number of them being Indian graduates/lawyers), or those who work admin jobs at law firms.

No to sound elitist, but on the study groups I was at, I met only perhaps a few people like me who had a full support and funding from our law firms/companies and who are working as paralegals with substantial experience or as trainees. We all took prep courses, had some additional training and we all passed with a large margin.

The exam itself was harder than sample questions on SRA pages and at nearly 5 hours long with a short break, it was also quite taxing. That being said, and I may be talking from my high horse here, but with proper preparation, resources and practical knowledge this exam was passable.

Overall, I think this exam does the job – at 53% pass rate, it keeps those who lack knowledge out of the profession, at least until they are ready to improve their score.

Next step for me and others who have passed – SQE2! Now that one will be fun.

(44)(66)

@ humblebrag loser

No one is reading all this you pompous sloth

(77)(21)

Why so bitter?

I did and he is right.

The purpose of SQEs is not to give anyone and everyone access to the profession. If you failed the exam, you are simply not ready and need to study more instead of reading the Graudian.

(43)(29)

The jig is up!!!

Oh look here is the same person pretending to be someone else to try and make their comment look more credible.

(32)(16)

Anonymous

It’s deffo the same person looool

Why so bitter?

That’s all you could come up with?

There are so many law students in this comment section who clearly think that they are entitled to become qualified simply because they studied law / paid the tuition and exam fees. 53% sounds good for the 1st ever SQE round.

No one likes a show off brag

At my firm the paralegals who were supported and funded by the firm – all 3 of them failed???

You are generalising from your own experience and missing the big picture.

Let’s be honest, you only came to toot your own horn!

(42)(6)

Gregg

There is a similar comment further up from someone at a US firm who said 2 of the paralegals the firm funded and paid for the prep courses failed the exam

It seems like this happened to a lot of people

(17)(1)

Realist

I tend to agree and I do not understand why you are being downvoted (or rather I do understand but I find it funny nonetheless as you hit the nail on the head).

Lower pass rate is better for the profession and for ensuring the standards, this is what many of us SQE skeptics have been repeating for months. I would only argue that the cost of exam itself should be way lower.

(24)(9)

Calm down molly mae

Next you’re gonna tell us that we all have the same 24 hours

(72)(7)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Well you certainly write like one.

(2)(2)

Bored of 'diversity' whinges

Good comment SQE trainee – and congratulations on passing (even if you did find it easy!).

(2)(1)

The truth

This comment scares me. To be honest anyone who starts a sentence with the phrase “not to sound elitist” scares me! You passed an exam….congratulations. Now please spare a thought for those who would make superior lawyers to you or I who didn’t pass an exam but who would excel given a longer training period and no exam

(2)(5)

Passed the SQE on first attempt

Wow wow wow, you really are so proud to start with.

SMH!!!

Please if you are reading this and you happen to have failed the SQE1 , dont feel less of yourself, you are better off than those grades given to you.

Go back to the map, restrategize and start again, you will surely get there.

And to everyone like me who had passed the SQE 1, i guess the little we can do is show support, share notes with everyone and advice as well. I studied at University of Law and i would have loved to share my notes with everyone here but this is a public space so i cant share information.

I wish everyone all the best.

(9)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

An overall pass rate of circa 50% in a professional exam for a highly competitive profession which grants substantial fiduciary duties to its practitioners is appropriate. We do not want a low difficulty level which invariably translates into incompetent solicitors.

(36)(2)

Last of the dying LPC student breed

Given that the LPC can be passed with your eyes closed, I’m glad I never chose this option.

Firms (stupidly) relied on the fact that if there was a prep course, then it was passable and it seems that these courses were a massive cash grab and woefully inadequate.

And those gloating are the exact kind of academic dork heads that lack the key people skills to be a solicitor. They brag now, but everyone in their firm will soon realise they’re an arse.

(11)(17)

Rrff

I think it’s a misconception that the lpc is easy. It’s not the content that’s hard but the actual volume and actually staying in interested that makes it hard. Like if you don’t put the work in or relax too much, you can easily fail.

On a side note,do you think SQE will be better than lpc?

(37)(1)

Anon

I suspect that we will only see real change if the firms that fund the ecosystem push back. How thrilled are the partners going to be when they find out they have spent 10k on their future trainee, only to see that they have failed. It is going to cause issues with filling spaces for sure.

Is the exam too difficult? Are the prep courses inadequate? This remains to be seen.

There needs to be some form of barrier to entry for the profession. Not everyone can be a doctor, this is because we put significant trust and faith in their hands. The same can be said about the legal profession (albeit not so much life/death). Whether the SQE is the right tool for that we shall see. Ultimately, the only thing that will change if the SQE is widely adopted is that we will have a swathe of people who have SQE1 and have passed their SQE2 requirements, but, still lack employment. It merely is shoving the problem further down the line.

(17)(0)

Olive

I am from a civil jurisdiction in mainland Europe where the pass rates for the qualifying legal exams are usually oscillating around 50% pass rate, so the SQE results are not that shocking to me at all. If anything, when I took a final exam in my jurisdiction, only about 30% of my cohort had passed it. Bear in mind, this is after 5 years of studying and some addition 2/3 years of training that comes with its own heavy expenses.
It is actually not unusual here to re-take the exam a few times.

I am by no means advocating for this system as I think too often candidates are at the mercy of people marking the exam papers, however I think this process is rigorous enough that you need to have a proper level of knowledge and experience. It was astonishing to me when I transferred to London and found out about the whole GDL-LPC route and listening to the trainees in my law firm, I was actually pretty shocked that essentially all of them passed it without any problems whatsoever.

I am considering taking SQE myself to bump up my qualifications and to be honest this seems to me a more rigorous set of exams rather than the previous system. With that being said, I am basing my opinion on what I observed in civil jurisdictions and I accept the fact that I have very little experience with the qualification system over here.

(22)(1)

X

I passed both FLK 1 and 2, I studied full time around 12 hours a day for a month without paying any courses but using LPC and OUP books, I do have a Scots law LLB degree from a Russell Group university, I am from the minority group, I find the exam very difficult and I couldn’t even finish all the questions for all four parts. I felt I definitely failed it but surprisingly I passed. My friend who is also a minority and has to work full time, she had to even start with learning English first, she passed both too. I honestly think that this exam is about devoting a lot of time and effort in studying and take the exams really serious, spoken to some people after the exams, they seem to care less because their firms are funding everything, I care more because I paid everything with my own money.

(28)(0)

Giles Proctor, CEO College of Legal Practice

I am so pleased for our founding SQE1 students that passed the assessment and many of them are joining us for SQE2 preparation for April. The students worked incredibly hard and trusted us at the College to teach them in our very first course for this brand new examination. Over the last year, we have learnt so much about the SQE and we are looking forward to the next challenge of SQE2 and improving outcomes for all students as our courses develop further. Food for thought though in the SRA’s report on outcomes for BAME students, particularly as we have a diverse cohort.

(3)(21)

Archibald Pomp O'City

“I am so pleased for our founding SQE1 students that passed the assessment”

WHO passed the assessment.

FTFY.

(5)(0)

Realist

Thank you for your comment, Giles.

(2)(0)

JohnDoe

I’m torn. I recently completed the LLB and have been deliberating over whether I should do the LPC (without a TC) or do the SQE (which is much cheaper). Seeing these results has probably pushed me towards doing the LPC at ULaw/BPP which has pass rates of 90+% pass rates. Fortunately, I can afford to put some of my own money down on top of postgraduate funding. Though, I am aware not everybody is in this boat. For the record, at this point, I’m not too concerned about MoneyLaw but simply want to qualify as a lawyer.

Amongst other things, one of the reasons the SQE was introduced was to act as quality control as previously, LPC providers varied drastically in their pass rates (ULaw + BPP leading the way with 90+%) and the lowest providers being around 50%. The inconsistency was significant. I was thinking to do the LPC at somewhere other than ULaw or BPP as their fees were just so high, but opted against this as, why would I go to a place with such questionably low pass rates. Since the breakdowns into BAME (which would apply to myself) were even worse than 50%, I opted against this.

How do we measure the effectiveness of a new system? By the number of people who pass? The number who failed? The quality of pass/fails? It’s complicated and I cannot see any straightforward answers to this. In many respects, I support the introduction of the SQE simply because it allows more people to qualify (as the Qualifying Work Experience ‘QWE’ can be much broader than the conventional TC). How much potential legal talent would have been lost through that barrier? Only God knows. Also, fees (admittedly differed quite widely between LPC providers). Though, with 53% passing, is the SQE really making law more accessible? There is wisdom here as the SQE was introduced to serve a variety of purposes (fees, allowance of wider legal experience, quality control).

That being said, seeing these pass results of 53%, I feel much more inclined to go and do the LPC at ULaw or BPP (since they have not yet been phased out) which have pass rates of 90+% (as mentioned previously I know) despite the extra money involved. One could do the LPC and then do SQE 2 (which I think is my plan xD)

Question: Could the SRA really have intended such thinking where someone feels more inclined to now go and do the LPC because the pass rates of the SQE are so low? Or is this simply an impact of transition? Really, we will not be able to gauge the full impact of the SQE until long into the future, quite like Brexit xD.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts!

(9)(1)

Alibis

You should think carefully about the route you decide to take. The LPC + SQE 2 route is only available to those who had already got a n LPC by the cut off date of 1 September 2021. All new entrants to the LPC will need to find e training contract

(2)(1)

JohnDoe

Thank you! There are so many fine details swirling around, it can be hard to keep track of it all!

(0)(0)

K.

Got first at LLB (corona style exams really helped) but as someone currently struggling on the LPC course even I personally don’t see a problem with the pass rates basically being the same as the LPC. I can’t relate at all to the “LPC is a breeze” gits in the comments section at all but I also don’t think the SQE should become a way to admit more into the profession by lowering the bar. They have to set a standard and keep to it, even if those on the edge like me end up missing the mark

Letting it open the gates a bit through flexibility? Sure! Good for those in legal work already, and makes it feel less like the only route to qualification is some university-focused pipeline. But I don’t think it should go beyond that.

Regardless, good luck on SQE2 to all that passed.

(1)(4)

SQE Student

I am shocked to see the comment of the chair of the SRA Board Anna Bradley that “The introduction of the SQE should give everyone confidence that those entering the profession have all met the same high standard. So we are pleased that the first assessment has gone well with results that suggest it was a robust, fair and reliable exam.” She seemed to have missed everything that happened yesterday. Or maybe she finds it more advantageous to pretend that nothing bad happened because at the end of the day someone should take responsibility. The release of the results was wrong on so many levels that I do not know where to begin with. I could see my results late in the evening. While the outcome of my exam ended up being positive, thanks to the technical issues on the SRA website, I entered the accounts of five other SQE students being able to see their personal data, by doing nothing more than trying to log in to my account. There has obviously been personal data weak and the ICO should act on that. But the most concerning part is – are the results that the test takers received really their assessment results? Considering the absurd situation many have been put in (and this against paying an unbearable amount of money just to be able to sit for this exam) Kaplan and the SRA owe many answers to all who are negatively affected.

(29)(0)

Archibald Pomp O'City

I don’t know what you think you’re doing accessing other people’s exam results data, but it is wrong on several levels. In fact, you should be reported to the SRA.

(1)(23)

Rupert

Maybe the aim was to weed out the weak who like the idea of being a lawyer but sadly don’t have the skills?

The era of prizes for all is clearly over.

(12)(3)

Bully Boy

POOPERT!!!

(0)(2)

R

How did they know the ethnicities of the exam-takers?
Were the exams marked anonymously? Double-blind marked?
Did they get everyone to do a monitoring questionnaire post-results day? Did everyone complete the questionnaire?
Fishy…

(6)(2)

D

You had to complete the diversity survey prior to booking an exam.

(3)(0)

MH

SQE1 was very difficult. I don’t think it’s good solution to have such a difficult exam to enter the profession. They should lower the standard to allow more people to qualify. They’re missing lot of competent lawyers in the profession. Also what’s the point of having more than 14 subjects in the SQE if after qualification each lawyer will specialize in a different field of law.

(4)(14)

Archibald Pomp O'City

They’ll be missing even more competent lawyers if they lower the standards, you daft sod. Perhaps you were trying satire, badly. What do you think a qualifiying examination is for?

(6)(3)

AW1983

Does this pass rate mean that law firms will stop demanding that future trainees have the GDL and instead just ask them to do SQE 1 before their period of work experience starts?

I’m quite keen to avoid forking out £8-10k for a GDL if I can just study similar content from SQE 1 with Barbri for about £2.5k. Unfortunately law firms seem awfully keen to carry on spending thousands on GDLs which raises question marks over their own commercial acumen.

(3)(1)

Y

I thought the whole point of SQE was to make things more “diverse” and “inclusive” and yet we see a disparity between white and black pass rates…very weird.

(2)(0)

B

Must be racism.

No debate.

(0)(0)

Anon

It would be interesting to see a more in depth breakdown of the “attainment gap” between different ethnic groups, rather than just white candidates and BAME candidates.

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.

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