Advice

How I passed the first SQE

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Aspiring solicitor Geoffrey Janes scored top marks for SQE1 and shares six practical tips to help you do the same

Having completed a law conversion course in 2018, I made the conscious decision to wait for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) to launch to continue my training. As a British expat working in the Middle East, the lack of distance Legal Practice Course (LPC) programmes made it very difficult to continue my training without a major upheaval to my and my wife’s career.

I decided upon a well-known SQE provider for my training and began full-time in August for the November 2021 sitting. Here is how I passed in the top quintile.

If you study, you’ll pass

This may seem very obvious to some, but the SQE really does require a daily commitment to studying. Some may think that a multiple-choice assessment means that the SQE is more forgiving than the LPC, but the opposite is true. If you do not have a grip of both black letter law and the practice-oriented SQE material, you’ll be on the path to failure. You cannot answer a question on the procedure to execute a codicil if you don’t have knowledge of the black letter law that governs a will. Daily practice is incredibly important, and I found that utilising tools such as Practical Law was advantageous in preparing for the exam.

It isn’t a multiple-choice exam

The SQE is examined on a single best answer question (SBAQ) basis. It may be tempting to think that this is simply a dressing up of ‘multiple-choice’ to make it sound fancy enough to be an acceptable way of testing future solicitors, but in the examination, you will be confronted with questions with multiple correct answers, with one of them being more correct than the others. This adds a level of complexity in the context of two 180 question exams as the further you go into the exam, the more susceptible to errors you become.

You need to be an independent learner to succeed

Unlike courses which are fully administered by your training provider, in which they have the freedom to help you narrow down your revision to likely topics that may come up in an exam, the SQE is run by Kaplan on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). My distance learning course was light on contact time with tutors, and the contact time we did have was mainly via email. My analysis of other training providers showed that this approach was a trend among them.

The 2022 Legal Cheek SQE Provider List

Due to this, you will need to adapt your learning style from a ‘taking notes during lectures’ approach to ‘I need to proactively find the answers to my questions’. The benefit of this approach is that you open your mind to critical analysis that will come in handy for the exam. The more resources you use, the better chance you’ll have at guessing the answer to a question you may not know the answer to.

Have a strategy for the exam

One of the benefits of the SBAQ format is that you can skip questions and come back to them later. Every student will have areas in which they are weaker and given that you have roughly a minute to answer each question, it’s worth putting a strategy together for the exam. Mine was simply to skip any questions that required a calculation — thankfully there weren’t many. This wasn’t because I didn’t know the law around how tax works, but simply because I knew it would take me longer to figure out these types of questions, and I would rather spend time gaining marks I was more certain to get and switch on my maths brain for ten minutes towards the end of the exam.

Have a support system in place

There will be bad days. You may do a practice exam and fail, or you may feel like you really haven’t grasped a particular topic. The SQE is a dense course, and the pressure of a few bad days can easily get to you!

As an experienced professional in the middle of a career change, I can tell you that you will have bad days when you head to the workplace. They are a part of life. Figuring out how to cope with them during the SQE will put you in good stead in the future.

You can do this

If having read this you are thinking that the SQE is not for you, I want to assure you that passing the SQE1 exam is very much achievable. It is true that only roughly 50% of candidates passed the first ever exam, but from the conversations I have had with colleagues of mine who didn’t pass, the most frequent theme was that they couldn’t give the course the time that it deserved.

Before you study for SQE1, it is worth remembering that 50% of the exam is on black letter law. Make sure you have a very solid foundation to build on before you start studying for the exam. Once you have that, work hard, practise frequently and believe in yourself and you’ll get there!

Geoffrey Janes is an aspiring commercial lawyer with an interest in dispute resolution and litigation. Prior to undertaking a career change, he worked as a technologist in a large financial services organisation in the Middle East.

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16 Comments

Will

It’s interesting how many students who passed the SQE exam didn’t think it was a good enough replacement of the LPC and were quite critical about it.

Perhaps because simply passing it isn’t the be all end all, as it is a rubbish alternative and down the line it will probably be replaced again as it’s faults will start to show.

(28)(5)

Bosh

My friends sat the SQE exam and passed it but they agree with what you’ve just said.

People think those complaining about the SQE are the ones who failed it but that’s not true.

They simply didn’t think it was good enough to be a law school exam.

(21)(3)

Jay

The cracks are already starting to show…

(14)(1)

Jax

How can they say the SQE was not a good enough replacement for the LPC when they have not even done the LPC?

Surely they wouldn’t do the SQE 1 if they had already done the LPC to exempt themselves from SQE 1.

(10)(16)

Truthy

What a stupid comment.

You don’t have to do something to know how it is?

I don’t have to stab myself to know it’s going to hurt and bleed.

The LPC has been about for years and there is a lot of info online about it for people to know about it.

The comments above aren’t saying the LPC is great (because it really isn’t lol and has a lot of flaws for both the GDL and LPC and it’s providers) but the SQE, besides from the lower fees and standardised exam, is worse tbh.

(20)(7)

JAX

No one said it was great only you are.
The original comment mentioned that the SQE was not ‘good enough’

People failed it and people passed it so that would show you a sense of how rigorous it can be.

People were putting a lot of money into LPC working as paralegals over 4 years to qualify to the roll when they couldn’t get the 2 year training contract. Surely this is better.

The only info out there about the LPC is the price. Unless you can direct me to a website that breaks down what you will actually earn on it in granular detail.

I can’t believe you’d recommend googling things. Using your own ‘tbh’ opinions isn’t very rational

(8)(11)

@ JAX

Except that most top firms won’t take the SQE seriously.

They will want future trainees to do the SQE their way with a 2 year TC style period of work, which is essentially what many have now implemented and it’s not much different to their current recruitment style besides from the SQE assessments.

You really think top firms are going to accept a candidate with a few months paralegaling here and a bit of legal work there and it adds up to 2 years??

Also, perhaps your research skills are lacking but there is ALOT of info out there online about the content and style of assessment of the LPCs. In fact you can even see the workshop guides and reading if you wanted to. There is so much revision material out there as well.

Whereas for the SQE there is the BARBRI prep course and that’s about it.

The only commendable thing about the SQE is reduced fees and standardised exams, but they didn’t need to scrap the LPC to do that.

The LPC is just textbooks and pre recorded online workshops that students teach themselves from, so it should’ve been queried whether up to 20k for self teaching course is worth it? Where was the money going into exactly as the law schools were using regurgitated materials with changed dates year in year out?

What they could’ve done is adjust the LPC to make it more standardised and reduce the fees and improve the quality of the course and teaching and support. They could also have changed the assessment styles to introduce more coursework or even MCQ into the LPC, if they wished to do so.

There were many options available that were not even considered for some reason.

That is the question

The only people the SQE is helping is those at high street firms and small firms who have been dabbling in legal work for ages but haven’t qualified.

What that means is we will have a lot more qualified lawyers, but will mid-large law firms take their route seriously enough to hire them?

H

The complete and utter propaganda of the SQE is being forced down our throats.

Call a spade a spade, the SQE is a load of crap.

(28)(3)

Jax

I remember the story and mass hysteria when a 15 year old did some of the SQE questions and got over 50 percent of the questions correct.

No one ever chose to ask whether the child did 360 questions or not. People in the comments section were so quick to say the SQE was bad and too easy or something

(13)(14)

Lol

”Some may think that a multiple-choice assessment means that the SQE is more forgiving than the LPC, but the opposite is true.”

Give me a break.

(15)(3)

Andrew

The problem is they’re judging exams based on how hard they are, rather than how comprehensive it is and what practical skills and knowledge an individual can gain from it.

The LPC was difficult in another way as it had inadequate teaching, lack of support, the rubbish exam timetables, the poor management from the providers, the heavy volume of content with little time to cover it properly, etc.

Whereas the SQE is just crap full stop. A closed book MCQ is just a memory test and how much time can you dedicate to memorising the content (which is difficult for those who work part-time or full-time even).

It is a different beast, but the beast is a measly squirrel running around in no proper direction.

(22)(2)

Lol

Fuck me why is the process to a law career so annoying

(41)(0)

Joe

Which sqe provided did you study under Geoffrey?

(1)(3)

Gregg

Ironically, there were many sponsored students who failed…

(5)(0)

Jane

This is a slightly confusing article. No one has taken the whole SQE1 and 2 yet – only SQE1. SQE1 is not the LPC equivalent. It is in a sense the law conversion /LLB stage. Comparisons with the LPC perhaps should be with SQE2 which no one has taken yet.

Now it has been found that despite the multiple choice brought in because on preliminary tests those with poor English and particularly BAME people did badly where written English was required of answers, those people still have done much worse than others, we should revert to proper legal questions (and no multiple choice) for the next set of SQE1 exams even if it means Kaplan have a lot more work in doing proper marking of papers.

(1)(0)

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