Regulator says entry exam no longer an effective filter of wannabe barristers who will likely fail the course
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) is to scrap the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) after a report found that fewer than 1% of wannabe barristers fail to pass it.
Confirming the decision at a board meeting yesterday, the regulator said the entry exam was no longer “acting as filter for aptitude” and that the evolution of the admission process, namely the widespread use of interviews and practical exercises at the point of selection, were far more effective in doing this.
The exam came into existence in 2013 with the aim of weeding out weaker students who were unlikely to succeed on the bar course. The 55-minute assessment is designed to test critical thinking and reasoning, and must be passed in order to gain entry onto the vocational course. It costs £150 a go.
But a report published last year found that just 89 out of the 12,663 candidates who attempted the exam between 2013 and 2019 had failed to make the grade — or 0.7%. With retakes excluded, the fail rate sits at roughly 3%.
The decision to ditch the exam comes despite the Bar Council and the Inns of Court arguing that it was premature, given the reforms to bar training are relatively new. They also cited recent student performance on the centralised assessments as evidence that too many students are enrolling on bar training courses without the requisite aptitude.
But Professor Mike Molan, the chair of the centralised examination board, and Dr John Foulkes, the BSB’s independent psychometrician, stressed the exam is just one measure of performance.
“These results must be seen as only one reference point in the context of a student’s performance or a particular cohort’s overall performance on the course,” a paper before the BSB board said. “In line with the BSB’s principles for bar training, success is not measured by ability to pass the centralised assessment the first time.”
The exam has come in for criticism during its nine-year existence. In 2015, Legal Cheek reported that the exam had been temporarily suspended amid claims it was “nearly impossible to fail”. The BSB eventually took action, upping the pass mark from 37 to 45 (on a scale which ranges from 20 to 80).
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