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.
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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