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How to make the SQE work for you

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By Sophie Dillon on

Legal Cheek talks solicitor assessments with Caroline Rayson, BPP’s SQE1 Award Leader

“The reason I went into law isn’t particularly glamorous”, Caroline Rayson, SQE 1 Award Leader at BPP University Law School tells Legal Cheek Careers. “Even though I didn’t come from a legal background, a seed was planted by my family when I was quite young that I might make a good solicitor,” she recalls. A self-fulfilling prophecy, Caroline qualified into the Corporate team at City firm Ashurst, before moving over to Osborne Clarke’s London office. She eventually made the switch to legal education, joining BPP in 2012.

Curious as to why Caroline was drawn to legal education, I went on to ask her about her career path. “I was at a level of qualification where I faced a fork in the road,” she reveals. “Did I push for partner, or did I want to explore other avenues?” Ultimately, she tells me, having actively investigated other options, she was set on education. “When I was at law school, I had one particular tutor whose knowledge and professionalism inspired me; without realising it, this was a career path that was always in the back of my mind.”


In more recent years, Caroline’s days have seen her spearheading BPP’s preparation courses for the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). “I liaise very closely with colleagues who lead on the other parts of the SQE training programmes,” she explains, when asked about her day-to-day. “I also get involved in a lot of outreach work, such as undertaking virtual open evenings and events.”

It’s easy to forget with the enormity of the SQE’s introduction just how fresh this exam regime actually is, having only come into play in 2021. The new route, which is seen as a more accessible alternative to qualification, inevitably comes with its own unique challenges on the operational side. “Even though it’s been running for just over two years now, there’s still a lot of uncertainty with the SQE from all directions,” Caroline says. “It’s only really since this academic year that these courses have become ‘big’ so, there’s a lot of making sure everything runs smoothly so that we can ensure the best possible student experience.”

In embracing the transition from the Legal Practice Course (LPC) to the SQE, Caroline divulges that the biggest challenge has been educating stakeholders in what the SQE is all about and how it really works. She chuckles, saying, “when I first came into post for SQE1, the first thing I had to do when I spoke to anyone about the SQE was to give them a teach-in because almost nobody understood the new system.”

Find out more about studying for the SQE at BPP University Law School

Given the influx of students now sitting the SQE, I ask Caroline what she sees as the biggest benefits of the new system. “In my opinion, it’s the flexibility with Qualifying Work Experience,” she tells me. In simple terms; in order to qualify under the SQE system, solicitor-hopefuls will need a total of two years’ QWE which can be undertaken at up to four different organisations in paid or voluntary work. This offers greater flexibility, particularly to those students who have been unable to secure a training contract.

“It’s a really good way to widen access to the profession because you don’t have to get yourself that potentially unattainable goal of a training contract; you’re able to amalgamate other legal experiences and build your QWE up over time,” she says. “This is a game-changer for a lot of candidates.”

“Of course, it’s important that students think about what their QWE looks like on their CV,” she continues. “Just picking up any work from anywhere is not going to make your CV sing.”

On the flipside, what are the biggest challenges of the SQE? When it comes to the difficulty of the SQE1, Caroline tells us: “It’s no secret that the SQE is in some ways more challenging than the LPC regime. Having to have the underlying legal knowledge up-to-speed to be able to answer questions on it possibly five or more years after you’ve sat a law degree or a conversion course is a significant challenge.”

With SQE1 composed entirely of multiple-choice questions, this raises a unique challenge in comparison to the LPC. “It is clear that some types of learners find multiple choice questions very challenging,” Caroline explains.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at BPP University Law School

She thinks that there will be an evolution in the market’s approach to the SQE, as more people sit the SQE centralised assessments. “I think the market is realising how difficult these assessments are and that candidates need to be well prepared to be able to succeed in this regime,” she says. She also thinks that the subject coverage of law degrees will evolve to be more SQE-focused which will help candidates to be ready for the assessments.

BPP’s answer to helping students to navigate these challenges is to provide as much support as possible. “We give revision sessions in each subject area, and students have access to monthly workshops on each of the key subjects which are recorded,” Caroline details. “The underlying law subjects which students on the SQE are expected to know before beginning the course can be a tricky mountain to climb for those who are a few years past graduation” she says. “So, on these subject areas, students at BPP also have access to forums where they can seek answers from subject specialists”. Provided with a ready-made revision structure from BPP, student will also have access to personal tutors to give support with study techniques if they need it, we’re told.

Approaching the end of our conversation, Caroline offers her top three tips for students. “Give yourself the best chance of passing first time by preparing yourself as thoroughly as possible for the SQE1 assessments,” she says.

“Secondly, recognise that there is a substantial amount of material to learn for SQE1 – all candidates find the assessments tricky”. And, to that end, she offers her final tip: “Be kind to yourself: find a way of studying which is sustainable for you.”

Caroline Rayson will be speaking at ‘SQE myths and half-truths – with BPP University Law School’, a virtual student event taking place THIS AFTERNOON (Tuesday 13 February). Apply for one of the final few places.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at BPP University Law School

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