‘Very hard, but doable’: Legal Cheek readers have their say on the SQE

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Aspiring lawyers share first-hand experiences of new centralised assessment amid concerns over difficulty and pass rates

There has been a great deal of debate around the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), the new two-part assessment to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, not least because of its perceived level of difficulty.

There have so far been five assessments and statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Fifty-one percent of candidates passed SQE1 in the latest round, raising questions on how challenging the exam is and leading the City of London Law Society to urge law firms not to abandon future trainees who fail to pass the “new, little-known assessment regime”.

SQE candidates have come forward to share their experiences of completing the assessments in the comments of our recent Career Conundrum. Most test-takers were of the view that “it’s very hard, but doable if you put the time in”, particularly for part one of the assessment. This seems to be the case no matter their background, and views were shared anonymously by solicitor apprentices through to future trainees.

“I feel the key take away is, the SQE is objectively difficult. However, if you are prepared to work hard, you stand a good chance,” said a Legal Cheek reader who recently passed SQE1 with a City Consortium firm. “From who I’ve spoken to, I don’t think I know anyone who found it ‘easy’. Even though most of us did well in the SQE, we could still appreciate that was pretty damn difficult!”

A solicitor apprentice, meanwhile, who has been in practice for over six years and completed their qualifying law degree with a first, said: “SQE1 was the hardest exam I have faced.”

Continuing, the apprentice said they passed the exam and will be continuing on to SQE2, but “headline is it’s very hard, but doable if you put the time in and luck is on your side on the day”.

SQE1 examines legal knowledge through a series of multiple-choice questions; candidates must pass this exam to proceed to SQE2 which focuses on legal skills. One commenter with two degrees who took to SQE1 “still found it a different kind of beast — the time dedication, the extent of memorisation and really specific exam technique practice required is unlike any degree you will have done,” they shared.

“I don’t think your chances of passing the exam without a prep course are significant,” they added — a view shared by others in the thread.

“The main point I’d say about the SQE is, if you take it, 100% do a prep course,” another commenter said. “I know the SRA markets it as an exam where you don’t have to take a course, making it less expensive — in my opinion it’s just not possible. The courses don’t just teach you the content, they drill you on exam technique and how to pass.”

The 2023 Legal Cheek SQE Providers List

Since the SQE’s inception in September 2021 it is no longer a requirement for aspiring solicitors to have a law degree. One successful candidate shared how they passed SQE1 at their first attempt, without formal tuition or a law degree. They did, however, spend 18 months (six months part-time and 12 months full-time) preparing for the exam. “I was actually over-prepared and passed comfortably,” they said. “As long as you devote enough time to studying and do enough mock exam practice tests (I did ten) you should pass.”

Adding to the mix of perspectives shared were those who studied for the SQE alongside working full-time jobs. These candidates appeared to find the demands of the exams particularly challenging, with one describing it as “taxing” and another saying “it was an absolute chore and very draining”.

One senior paralegal came below the bottom line to share their experience of failing. “Unlike many on here, I fell in the 49% of people that did not pass the SQE1 sitting in January,” they said. “I absolutely worked my ass off and it was the most exhausting experience in my life.” They said they’ll attempt to re-take the exam (the SRA allows three attempts) but they’ll struggle to know where they went wrong as the “SRA do not release past papers and refuse to actually show your own exam to you … all I can really do is fill in the gaps that I think I had because there is zero feedback”.

Yet, one commenter who graduated in law over a decade ago and works a “demanding” full-time job told readers how they passed SQE1 and 2 “first time with over 70% in all elements”.

“It was hard and the exams are not to be under-estimated,” they said. “As well as the sheer amount of law to memorise, the exams themselves feel more like a hazing ritual than anything else. That being said, they are 100% manageable if you are willing to put in the work. You don’t need to know everything (it’s impossible) — just enough to pass. Remember they are testing your competency as a ‘day one solicitor’ only.”

Even so, this standard is greater than it was under the SQE’s predecessor, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), in which candidates are expected to be at the level of a ‘day one trainee’. One SQE candidate who had undertaken part of the LPC prior to dropping out due to personal reasons said they “found it infinitely easier than the SQE” because there are plenty more practice papers that mirror the exams. The SRA provides 90 practice questions but these were found by some candidates in our comments section not to be reflective of the real thing. One Legal Cheek commenter said the SQE is “objectively harder than the LPC in many ways”: they’re “closed book” so legal resources cannot be relied upon “which is completely unrealistic to everyday life in law” and they require “mental resilience” due to the length of the exams. SQE1 is made up of two five-hour papers taken across two days whilst SQE2 involves 14 hours of skills tasks undertaken over five half days.

Another candidate shared with detail how they successfully passed the SQE. “I studied for 20 weeks for SQE1 (roughly 350 hours study time put in around full-time working) and for SQE2, 20 weeks (more than 350 hours because you have to keep your law revision from SQE1 going, as well as the skills practice for SQE2),” they said. “Yes my days were long, and yes I was shattered at the end, but it was worth it — doing the SQE has made me better at law and I’ve learned a lot.”

All in all, it seems nailing the exam technique, which our commenters say is best done through a provider, resolve and resilience will set you in good stead for the rigorous assessments.

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“Difficult but doable” is a good thing. This exam should be hard to pass. This is primarily in the interests of the legal system and its users. But it’s also in the interests of people who might be able to pass an easy exam, but would have no chance of succeeding in practice.

The lack of feedback for people who fail isn’t good, however. Imagine if you totally bombed one module but did well on all the others. Knowing that could be the difference between choosing a potentially expensive course and taking a while to retrain, or doing a small amount of self study on the module you bombed and taking the next available exam. Not knowing it could also impact confidence and performance in resits (people might assume they did poorly at everything).

The apparent lack of practice questions / questions that accurately reflect the ones asked in the exams is also worrying. As a minimum, I’d expect full practice tests.



I agree that the exam should be difficult, but I think the underlying issue that is sometimes mentioned, though not often, is that from the sounds of things it’s not difficult in the right way. Sounds like a lot of rote learning that is not reflective of the skills one needs a lawyer, and is closed book which real life law is not.


Senior Paralegal and SQE Student

In my first hand experience that isn’t an accurate description. Very little learning from rote and a significant requirement to understand the underlying principles and apply them in order to be able to pass.



Bloody crazy..what is this?



I mean, is it really that ‘hard’? I’ve done the SQE but also did the CIOT CTA exams and the latter felt a multitude more challenging. Both relatively entry professional exams, so not sure why the argument focuses on ‘difficulty’.

It should instead focus on how badly the SRA have introduced the SQE, particularly the support and guidance available.



The SRA will regret this. I read somewhere that some partners are not happy with this LPC to SQE change.


functional brajn

Ring up enough firms and you’ll find a partner unhappy about anything.


Forever Associate

I love how one of the key takeaways is the recommendation to do a prep course, which has been mirrored by a few people I know doing the SQE. I can already hear the prep course providers grinning whilst raising the prices…

The SRA have effectively created a new name for the same bottleneck to qualification. As with the LPC, the profession will be limited to those candidates with the desire and aptitude to secure spots at the big commercial firms that pay for the exams and prep courses, and candidates that come from affluent enough backgrounds to self-fund.

Also, has anyone realised that the SRA has used the SQE as an excuse to no longer monitor and regulate the content of university LLB programmes? I wonder if this is going to cause recruitment bias based on university to increase.



Generation DryNites won’t be happy…


Jan SQE1

Put in the time and effort and you’ll most likely pass. I am glad that the exam was challenging. It weeds out most candidates that don’t put in the time and effort required.



This isn’t exactly fair. Working in a law firm for 2 years I can confirm that being good at an exam – a FIVE hour exam with no water in fact, and being a good solicitor aren’t the same. If someone chokes under the exam pressure it doesn’t mean they won’t be a good lawyer. This is an ignorant comment by a typical arrogant law student



Imagine the uproar if this new exam turned out to be very easy. That would have debased this country’s legal education to concerning levels. Therefore, ‘Very hard, but doable’ sounds about right to me and apt.


Anon CertEd (FE) BSc (Hons) LLB (Hons) MSc MSc LPC

I did the LPC which had long written answer questions, allowing for deeper analysis of a problem. Multiple choice questions do not allow that. I have read about the length of time for the exam too which is the longest I have seen for any exam and just seems unreasonable. As someone who has come into law from many years working in education, I would urge the SRA to go back to the LPC. Failure to give feedback speaking as a former lecturer is unforgivable.



The SQE also has an LPC-like element: SQE 2. This part is not multiple choice and allows for ‘deeper analysis of a problem’ via written and oral assessments while under ridiculous time pressure. However SQE 2 is objectively harder than the LPC, as the author notes (day-one solicitor vs trainee).



Non law grad career changer here. Started studying two days a week Nov to July using QLTS materials. No prior legal experience academic or otherwise. Revised every day in July. Got two firsts in SQE1 (scraped). That was with a bereavement in December which threw everything off. It can be done



But why no feedback if you don’t pass? How is that fair or legitimate?


Archibald O'Pomposity

It should be difficult. Many solicitors are utter numpties. This exam is the last line of defence to avoid the worst and laziest of the mediocracy from continuing to filter into law.



Lack of feedback and inability to consult your own work is terrible. That needs changing asap – if anything to hold the SRA to account.


Someone from the hill

SQE is the hardest thing I have EVER done and I never failed a single exam in my life. I failed this one (marginally). Trying again in jan. Good luck!


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