Ahead of LegalEdCon 2021 next week, The College of Legal Practice’s head of curriculum, Jane Waddell, explains why the new route to solicitor qualification requires careful, well thought out planning and prep
The newness of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) means there’s a large element of unknown for all those involved, with the stakes being highest for that first group of students who will be attempting SQE1 in November. But there are some underpinning approaches to SQE, such as how students learn and prepare that will improve their likelihood of success. So, what are those secrets to success?
The first part, SQE1, assesses functioning legal knowledge through 360 multiple choice questions (MCQs). Not only does a student require the relevant knowledge but they need to be adept at tackling MCQs. Rarely does a client offer five possible scenarios from which the solicitor simply selects the right one (if only!), but that ability to select the right one quickly will be an essential skill. Developing that skill will require a secure foundation in law followed by regular practice at MCQs.
At The College of Legal Practice, we believe that how a student progresses through gaining that legal knowledge (under the guidance of experienced practitioners who are passionate about teaching), will have a bearing on their ability to retain and apply their knowledge. Multimedia presentations introducing topics will prime them for moving on to more detailed reading followed by interactive activities and flashcards incorporating scenarios similar to those in MCQs. This approach is designed to stimulate and hold a student’s interest which, in turn, will build a strong base from which they can develop an ability to be decisive and cognitively agile when tackling 360 MCQs in ten hours, albeit spread over two days. It should now be apparent that in SQE1 a student’s intellectual stamina will be thoroughly tested alongside their legal knowledge.
However, the best answer to a MCQ may not be obvious. As in real life, spotting it can be a process of elimination. This means being given feedback on why the other four options were not appropriate is just as important as receiving feedback for the right answer. Note the word “appropriate” here, the catch is that all the offered answers may be plausible but only one will be better than the others. Being able to identify that one and not be tempted by the other options needs a student to have secure knowledge that they can draw on easily. Frequent practice at MCQs will be key.
Now moving on down the SQE continuum, contrast SQE1 and the nature of its preparation with the next part, SQE2, which assesses practical legal skills through writing or an oral presentation. Although when reading this article, your move from one to the other is easy, for students it’s not quite so effortless. They must first pass SQE1 before they can attempt SQE2.
SQE2 will require a student to be confident both in the skill of being examined and the application of the knowledge within which the skill is being tested. How students gain and/or refresh this knowledge along with the ability to practise and build upon it, will be key to retrieving and performing under the pressure of an assessment. It follows that a solid understanding of the legal knowledge obtained in SQE1 will be essential for success in SQE2.
Now most seasoned practitioners would quail at the prospect of being assessed, as in SQE2, in 16 oral and written scenarios within five different practice areas over five half days. Where would you focus your revision given the tight timescale, the skill or the practice area, or would you play safe and recognise that one without the other is not viable and therefore focus on both?
Alongside all the modes of teaching and learning outlined above, at The College of Legal Practice we will offer demonstrations as well as regular one to one virtual supervision by experienced legal practitioners to prepare students for SQE2. Throughout the process, students will benefit from constructive individual feedback to know exactly where they need to improve and focus their efforts. Often, the challenge when supervising is to convince a student that much of what they are doing is better than they think and that only small adjustments are required to banish nerves and produce a confident, polished result. With occasional exceptions that trump the adage, we are usually our own biggest critics, so virtual presentations and recordings will utilise this to a student’s advantage.
Given the indisputable demands and rigours of SQE coupled with that element of unknown, preparation needs to be structured and well thought out. In all of this, many students will be fitting their studies around work and family commitments. With this in mind, The College of Legal Practice has designed its preparation courses to allow students regular access to experienced supervisors and an online platform that offers support seven days a week.
Of course, there are no secrets to success other than careful preparation not just by students but by the providers who have been entrusted to get them ready. In all of this, we’re on the threshold of a new era in legal education which is both exciting and daunting.
Jane Waddell is head of curriculum design and development at The College of Legal Practice. Dr Giles Proctor, chief executive officer at The College of Legal Practice, will be speaking at LegalEdCon 2021, a two-day virtual conference, taking place on Wednesday 19 May and Thursday 20 May. Third release tickets are available to purchase.
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