How can the SQE be improved?

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By Legal Cheek on


Legal Cheek readers call for cheaper fees, better exam rooms, past papers and more

Since Legal Cheek exclusively revealed last week that law firms were rescinding training contract offers from students who failed the SQE on their first attempt, social media has been flooded with criticism of the solicitors’ assessment.

With this in mind, Legal Cheek took to its busy socials to ask its law student and lawyer followers: how do you think the SQE can be improved?

It’s evident from the responses we received that the cost of the exams is a source of annoyance. One lecturer and solicitor took to LinkedIn to write: “… the costs of the examinations bear no relation to reasonable expense and are clearly out of step with agendas of widening participation, diversity and open access.”

Another unhappy follower also called for a reduction in exam fees and suggested students with a law degree be exempt from SQE1. The “whole system needs revising!” they wrote. “Nothing accessible about it unfortunately.”

Currently, exam fees for SQE1 amount to £1,798, and for SQE2, £2,766. However, self-funded students must additionally bear the expenses of a preparation course, which can vary from a couple of thousand pounds to well over £10,000. Students are also required to pay the full exam fees again for resits.

“The exams, introduced to improve accessibility indisputably make the profession less accessible,” another follower wrote on Instagram. “Candidates are fumbling in the dark without clear direction, have to take annual leave to study for the exams, and I met a few candidates who had to take a bank loan to fund the endeavour. As well as this, City law firms are still internally peddling the view that TC’s are the superior method to qualification whilst SQE + QWE is spoken about as being inferior.”

Making changes to the exam venues, the IT and the practicalities of sitting the SQE also seem high on the agenda when talking improvements.

“[The] centres are categorically not the right venue for these exams,” claimed one SQE student. “I personally experienced a protracted distraction during one of the written exams… while other candidates I know experienced outages, frozen screens and delays.”

Another commenter went as far as to suggest that the SRA “needs to sack” SQE assessment provider Kaplan. “The SQE has been plagued with issues since its launch in 2021,” they said. “Considering the cost of the exams, the IT platforms simply aren’t fit for use.”

The SQE Hub: Your ultimate resource for all things SQE

Another reader suggested the “locations and [exam] rooms should be appropriate,” before claimng that their oral exams were conducted in a “re-arranged hotel bedroom”. Continuing, they said “given you’re in a closed room with only one examiner this can be uncomfortable for some people. A meeting room or classroom is more appropriate”.

Along with adding more (appropriate) exam locations, they go on to say that “exam day rules should be reasonable to reduce on-the-day stress” and “it’s not necessary to ban water during the exams”.

Other readers also raised concerns with the pass rate. “Right now it is clear that the numbers of those successfully completing the SQE exams is far too low,” one concerned follower wrote. “When students with extensive and high-level experience from within legal practice are unsuccessful then it is clear that there is a worrying disconnect between training provider outcomes and the final examination requirements.”

They continued: “A first step would be ensure that a more open dialogue exists between the SRA, Kaplan and training providers to ensure that the high expense of taking on formal training is directed towards best preparation.”

“The use of an MCQ/best answer format is clearly at odds with the actual requirements of the job role in practice,” they continued. “We are looking for analytical and creative minds who can provide the best service to clients — we do not need people with eidetic memory — although I did quite enjoy watching Mike Ross in Suits.”

Improving the study materials was also a suggestion that featured heavily across Legal Cheek’s socials. This comment on Insta summed up the mood:

“A more specific specification or a textbook [should be] provided by Kaplan so that different providers can standardise the information required to be taught. Split the exams to smaller chunks by subjects. Provide a few past papers (the sample questions on the website are not an accurate representation of the level of difficulty).”

Many commenters went as far as calling for the SQE to be scrapped and replaced with its predecessor the Legal Practice Course.

How do you think the SQE can be improved? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.👇


Honest trainee

I don’t think the SQE should be scrapped because despite the difficulty over 50% of candidates are passing the exams. The current format is fine as is.




Yes 50% of people pass however I’ve never sat an exam where only 50% of the cohort pass consecutively. It never even changes to at least 60% or even drops below 50%? It has always been 50% since it was introduced. There’s something wrong in my opinion


It works similarly to the CFA. And most other professional exams state side.


Qualifying exams should have nothing to do with increasing accessibility to the legal profession and everything to do with identifying those most capable. They are not meant to be easy, they are meant to be hard. It would appear that the forerunner of the SQE has been far too easy.

That is not to say that accessibility is not important. Clearly it is. No able applicant should be denied the opportunity to qualify and practise as a lawyer on the grounds of background, race or means.

SQE2 Student

Having just completed and passed SQE1 here are my thoughts:

– The exams are unnecessarily expensive and in total, cost more than the LPC as the exam fees themselves are not covered by student loans. Increasing accessibility? I think not.
– You cannot pass this without a prep course and if you do, you are in the minority. I know several people who worked so hard with a prep course who failed.
– Firms are treating these like the LPC, with some cancelling TC’s. These are completely different and according to all of our tutors, ridiculously hard and more difficult than the LPC. You finish at the standard of a Day 1 NQ, not a trainee, like in the LPC. How are firms still not understanding this?
– Not providing past papers or a detailed spec serves no one but Kaplan, this makes them more money on people having to resit and is a process that was never the case with the LPC.
– Don’t get me started on the rules within the test centres depriving people of access to water for 5hours at a time.

It is quite frankly a sham. It’s ridiculously expensive, harder than the previous course with no concessions to make up for that and is having a severe mental toll on those people who are studying for it. This is ruining people’s perspectives on a legal career and is a course supported by absolutely no one except those who made it and will never sit it.

Not to mention the SQE2 0% mark scandal!

It needs to be fixed.

Trainee, passed SQE1 second time

The SQE1 needs a complete rethinking. Firms should not be scrapping TCs as this course is not fully thought out and there is an inconsistency with prep providers and exam venues. The few past questions the SRA provides don’t even amount to as many questions as the exam and they do not reflect the difficulty. There should be a standardised textbook as different providers give weight to different topics. Law graduates should be exempt from half of the SQE1, otherwise there’s no point in having a UK law degree. My first test centre experience was awful, so many computer issues, people starting 20 minutes before or after you because of how long it takes to long on the hundreds of people, loads of noise and distractions. This is not a suitable exam experience for such a difficult and long exam. To pass, I had to use resources from a mix of providers as just relying on one wasn’t enough the first time round. Some providers examples questions don’t mirror the exam. Single best answer questions are a terrible way of assessing a day 1 NQ. It’s too easy to fail this exam even with a lot of prep towards it, the exam technique seems more important than understanding the theory.

Archibald O'Pomposity

“Single best answer questions are a terrible way of assessing a day 1 NQ.”

What the hell do you think working in the law is like?


It could be improved by banning the whinging by lacklustre students who failed it.


Alan… By just your name, I can tell you have not sat the SQE. Please don’t comment on something you do not know about.


What a very unhelpful narrow minded immature comment.


Well said…

Bee PeePee

At minimum Kaplan needs to provide training providers with past papers or sample questions- completely ridiculous that BPP still doesn’t know the format of style of questions for the exam they’re selling preparation courses for.


What is even more ridiculous is that so many firms granted BPP and Ulaw exclusivity to train their delegates but failed to specify the course requirements. This is why so many sponsored delegates (like me) are now desperately seeking SQE mock exams with other training providers. And nobody cares that we need to pay ourselves for extra resources.

Not a tryhard

Hmmm I used BPP. I found their questions to be similar to the actual exam in terms of format. Content-wise there were some discrepancies, albeit so minor that it’s impossible for them to impact your score. My BPP tutors were great. Some friends complained about theirs. I have nothing but props for BPP’s prep.


I’ve sat and passed SQE 1 and awaiting results for SQE2.
As a voice in the wild I disagree on the suitability of the SQE to test functioning legal knowledge and ability.

The SQE1 exam is not an MCQ as suggested in your article it is SBAQ which tests application of and the ability of the candidate to differentiate between the subtleties of applying basic legal principles to a specified fact pattern.
The subject matter is broad and clearly aimed at those not already employed in a specific legal regime.
The questions were fair and frankly those complaining seem to me simply to be lazy about learning to apply the broad range of basic legal concepts that a client on first contact would quite properly expect the solicitor to know without looking through a legal database.

The test centres are basic and the security rules whilst very thorough give one the confidence that nobody would get the chance to cheat.
The exams could be broken up to more but shorter periods but frankly if you can’t concentrate for 90 mins what are you doing joining the profession.

The SQE2 are a real challenge and a very significant test of ability to interact professionally with your client.

The marking is independent so unlike the LPC the students tutors cannot sway the outcome because of any reason outside of the assessment. This should be another comfort to us all.

The venue in my case was a hotel where an entire floor was taken over. The rooms being converted to a small conference room. These are the same arrangements Kaplan use for mass recruitment activities.

The rooms were furnished with two chairs and a conference table between the assessor and candidate, with the candidate being seated nearest to the door.
Nothing oppressive about this and perhaps those who feel that way are pursuing the wrong profession.

Pull your finger out

The exam papers are 2 hours 33mins not 90mins.

Archibald O'Pomposity

The point stands, dimwit.

Risky futures

1. Test centres – Kaplan needs to have on site reps (like TUI holidays) at each site and in sufficient number to sort out exam issues. The tech water and other problems must be sorted out.

2. SQE – past papers or else sample materials – many more – and indicative of level of difficulty, format and typical content for each subject should be provided – so students and law schools know what students are to expect.

3. SQE1 content – do we really need to re assess contract law and other academic knowledge for those with law degrees or equivalent? There ought to be an exemption – maybe an SQE1 short form for those who have LLB equivalent.

4. Pricing. Why does an arbitrary (seemingly) fee rise with cost of living? How is it proportionate to services provided? Is it just about the margin? How does that sit with the aim of improving access?

5. Timings and resits
Don’t align with TC start dates. Please fix this.

lets be honest

I know people who went to universities that assessed their LLB students by a single essay a year and a couple of “take-home” papers that they had 24 hours to complete. The reason I know this is that they spent the 24 hours getting help from anyone (inc paying people online) that would.

Do you really think these guys should be exempt? If so, you must have a very dim view of lawyers.

Risky futures

I am sorry that your experience of university was one that lacked rigorous standards – I’m sure there are probably some that are like that somewhere… but you’re now using that one exception to judge everyone else’s LLBs which are typically achieved by obtaining 360 credits across 3 gruelling years across a range of subjects involving orals research dissertations written exams and coursework. It’s rigorous. Your knowledge is tested. You only pass if you meet the high standards set.

If you decide to use someone else’s work as your own, it’s called dishonesty and plagiarism. Either and both will mean you don’t pass character and fitness assessments even if you don’t get kicked off your course. Again, sorry to hear the lack of standards in your example but most universities don’t stand for that kind of thing.

So anyone with an LLB or equivalent should be exempt – despite your arguments.

Incoming, future, up and coming, SQE2 candidate

I totally get the rationale behind the introduction of the SQE:
– the LPC was far too easy
– the industry is crying out for a standardised and comparable entry exam (something like the bar exam)
– there are a lot of genuinely substandard solicitors and trainees who were not weeded out by the previous regime (maybe not in city firms, but has anyone here tried to buy a house?!?)

In truth, I do not think that the SQE is too hard. Granted, it does require at least 6/7 weeks of concentrated effort (including a painful amount of rote learning) but I can’t help but feel that those practicing the law should be comfortable with this. In my experience (from a TC cohort of 30 @ a silver circle firm) those who were reasonably intelligent, worked hard and avoided a mental breakdown in the exam were overwhelmingly likely to pass.

The issues that I have had as someone who sat the Jan 24′ exam were primarily centred on the incompetence of the SRA. Booking an exam slot is ridiculously difficult and the SRA/Kaplan are massively out of its depth in handling the logistics of the exam. The lack of a representative past paper is shocking though. We were told by the SRA that this was due to resource constraints – which is laughable.

I remember reading all of these horror stories online and I know my experience isn’t universal, but I’m yet to meet someone who worked hard, having gone to a decent uni, who went on to fail SQE1.

Maybe it isn’t?

Maybe the problem is that MC and SC all recruit a certain type which means the cohort isn’t really representative of everyone who wants to practise law and so shouldn’t be used as the yardstick for the ability of your average student?

Might be that the way the SQE is set up still favours MC and SC trainees… I suspect many will still find it a hard exam despite putting the time and hours in.


I passed the SQE without any academic education in law. It’s just not that difficult. I’ve sat much harder exams than this.

However, I do foresee a problem. The old system didn’t do a very good job at filtering out the best trainees to work in fields like intellectual property, corporate or tax. However, it was probably hard enough for the average aspirant in conveyancing or family law. The reality is that a lot of people just aren’t that interested in spending years studying the law to earn £30k doing local searches and if this is where their legal career is headed, they will do something else entirely. Filtering out the conveyancer aspirants is more likely to cause a labour shortage than a glut of would be corporate lawyers completing house sales.


Kaplan has failed to provide reasonable adjustments to candidates (including myself) during the SQE exams and have refused to take any accountability for it. I cannot fathom how the SRA has not stepped in and sorted this out. Disabled candidates are being disadvantaged through no fault of their own. I did so much preparation and worked so hard, only to arrive at the test centre and not be provided with the adjustments that I should have had.

Reality cheque

What adjustments? And did you pass the exams?


The same thing happened to me with my adjustments as well- I also can’t understand how there hasn’t been some reform for the SQE.

Passed first ever sitting of SQE1 and 2

Kaplan at least need to allow water bottles into the assessment. Being denied water in a stressful, tiny, stuffy room and having to leave to get water from your locker during a tightly timed MCQ assessment is, frankly, unacceptable!
They also need to find more suitable centres, I couldn’t hear myself think for driving theory test candidates and regulators talking/walking in and out of the room and that was with earplugs and ear defenders on (I was the only one there sitting SQE1)!

Archibald O'Pomposity

That does sound pretty awful tbf.

South African lawyer who passed both assessments (QLTS MCQ and SQE2).

We just happy to be able to afford to sit and be privileged enough to have the opportunity.

Incredible how our experiences can inform our “gripes”. My MCQ was in the excel with 2000 people in the days where you could only do MCQ in London. It was a 9 hour day.

Hard to take some of these complaints seriously (also knowing that the system, along with UK immigration system, has an element of pricing people out baked in, so its never going to change).

Having said that, LET PEOPLE BRING WATER!!! 🙂


As an Indian lawyer, I thought SQE1 was challenging but quite achievable. Many of my colleagues from English-speaking jurisdictions managed to pass with minimal preparation. There is no doubt room for minor improvement however, the exam as a whole is a fair assessment.

If you’ve failed the exams after studying for more than a month, you should reconsider your career choice. The legal market is fiercely competitive and therefore ensuring the quality of our lawyers is of utmost importance.


Kaplan computer freeze – loss of (sometimes significant) exam time – having to apply for mitigation just in case failed and would have to resit the whole test rather than the test with the technical interruption


yup, experienced computer freezing and 5 minutes taken off writing. mitigating circumstances was rejected which is pretty shocking! even if assessment went well i was still deprived of 5 minutes. this was raised collectively as a group that sitting by Pearson Venue tol…

Archibald O'Pomposity

Can you rewrite this in English please?


I don’t think the pass rate is too low at all. The new system is doing what it was designed to do and making prospective solicitors compete on a level playing field.

As someone without an LLB or PGDL who passed SQE1 using a cheap prep course, I can honestly say the exams really aren’t hard enough and I certainly wouldn’t want to hire a solicitor who couldn’t pass on the first attempt, especially if they held an academic law qualification already.

Archibald O'Pomposity

This. The clamour of the mediocrity does not represent a fair assessment of a qualifying exam designed specifically to weed them out.


I will get downvoted, but whatever… Yes, there are many valid critical points made about the SQE, in particular those relating to the lack of transparency on SQE providers’ results and the overall cost of the exam.


I cannot get behind the “too many people are failing SQE” argument. Go to any jurisdiction in the EU and you will find out about absolutely brutal set of exams that sometimes see 80% of the cohort fail. And yes, people get angry, but ultimately it is understood that such exams should be bloody hard. I passed SQE and compared to my friends from European jurisdictions, I feel like I cheated the system. It is so much easier to the nightmares that folks from Germany, Poland, France or the Netherlands described to me. We have it so easy in England it is almost laughable.
In my opinion, it should go like this:
– A candidate for a solicitor should have a qualifying law degree from England & Wales. Foreign law degrees should not be accepted without a “top up” in the form of GDL or something similar.
– SQE1 should be dropped in favour of more robust version of SQE2.
– SRA should be more transparent on exam requirements and should more carefully vet approved SQE prep providers.
– Exam cost should be halved.
– Kaplan should not be involved at all, they are a joke, a most of issues stemming from SQE are admin errors on their part. Get rid of them now.
– You’d need to get 60-65% at the very least in order to pass.

The above will be unpopular but at least I got it off my chest. Once again, if you fail SQE once, twice or god forbid, thrice then instead of moaning better get to work. I worked full time crazy hours whilst studying for SQE and passed both exams at first attempt. And no, it is not a survivorship bias or megalomania for me to say the above, it is just that I know how other jurisdictions handle legal exams and WE HAVE IT EASY IN COMPARISON.

There, I’m done.


Scrap it and reinstate the LPC. There is too much content, tested in too short a time. It is a test of memory.

SQE2 survivor

Personally I think they’re rushed the introduction of the SQE with the amount of teething issues to date, especially IT. During the pandemic, many training contracts and vacation schemes were cancelled. SQE being introduced shortly after the pandemic caused firms to move towards SQE and scrap the LPC route (despite the route still existing). This has left out a lot of students with no option, but to sit the SQE2 as the chances of securing a TC is getting slim. Sure you’re exempt but you still have to pay for SQE2. It had to be introduced eventually but it was tone death with cost of living and pandemic. Nonetheless, that’s purely criticism on the time scope that cannot be changed. feel free to disagree.

As for the exams itself, they aren’t bad if you’re prepared or have experience under your belt. But even then i’ve seen posts about how people without work experience are passing more than those who have which is concerning. Also, what’s with the secrecy about the ordering of the exams? does it matter if i know if i’m doing drafting or writing first? the method of booking the exam is, having to fight out which assessment centre is archaic. The sample answers on SRA website felt misleading. some of it was totally weird i’ll be honest.

Feeling the SQEeze

Passed SQE1 first time in Jan 24 (highest quintile in both parts) while working full time as a paralegal.

The exam is hard, there’s no getting round it. I have a high 2:1 (BA) from Durham and an LLM; SQE was slightly easier than the LLM for reference. The preparation was a nightmare and the SRA are in my view to blame for that. This seems a relatively simple fix: just release the past questions. Providers can see what’s coming up and provide materials that cover the appropriate material in the requisite depth and candidates know what they’re up against.

The thing that bothers me most is firms’ approaches to this. From rescinding TCs to simply failing to fund an SQE pathway (as in my firm’s case). I work at a top 25 UK and international firm and have had zero support either financially or otherwise to help with this. I had to take annual leave to take the exams and had to work preparation around a demanding 1600 chargeable hour per annum role just to afford it. There is a total lack of understanding of the process and its utility – it’s baffling.

The SQE doesn’t strike me as a bad process – though black students seem to be struggling disproportionately, which is worrying – but the way it is being run and adopted in practice is really letting everyone down. A lot of people failing and complaining about it is not reason enough to can it for me, but the SRA does need to have a good look at what those that are failing are and how firm’s are responding. The mark breakdown is a good start, so there’s hope yet that there’ll be further improvements

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