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My reflections on SQE1

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By Samantha Wong on

Mikaela Hristova, future trainee solicitor at Stephenson Harwood and current BPP SQE student, discusses her exam experience

Mikaela Hristova, a future trainee solicitor at Stephenson Harwood, recently completed and passed SQE1 in January. Recounting her post-exam worries, she tells me, “for FLK 2, I was convinced that I’d failed, but I ended up being in the top quintile. It just goes to show, you never know!”

Like many SQE1 candidates, Hristova felt very anxious going into her SQE LLM course at BPP. “The main issue is the uncertainty, just because the SQE is such a new process of qualifying. The information that is out there is, I would say, more negative than it is positive,” she says. Even towards the end, Hristova did not feel better about her prospects. “I was hearing about all these amazing and exceptional students going to top firms who were failing SQE1. I felt that no matter how much work I put into it, there was a 50-50 chance that I would fail, which is a huge gamble.”


It is safe to say Hristova worked hard regardless. When discussing her study technique, she explains that she developed a study system based on her visual learning style. “I was doing a lot of mind maps with a mixture of things.” She recalls taking screenshots of diagrams and flow charts from the resources provided by BPP, then annotating them in mind maps.

She also used flash cards to revise the multiple-choice questions (MCQs) she had answered incorrectly in practice papers. In the final month leading up to the exams, Hristova copied her study notes onto sticky notes, which she then stuck onto her fridge. “Every morning I would spend maybe one or two hours going through every single thing,” she says. “Even the legal rules that I knew and was quite comfortable with, I would really make sure I knew them.”

However, Hristova stresses the importance of being strategic with your learning when it comes to SQE1. “The thing with it is that it’s a very holistic exam. Sometimes it’s about breadth, not depth,” she explains. “Get the general principles, ask the questions in class and all that, but move on afterwards because we just need to be very strategic with how much there is that can come up in the exams.”

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

While Hristova happily divulges her study methods, she also notes that they may not work for everyone. In her study group, she saw that her peers all had very different approaches. Seeing that some of her classmates were solely doing practice questions in the final month, Hristova at times felt that she was adopting the wrong tactics. “I was putting so much pressure on myself that I started doing MCQs for a whole week, but in the end, I knew that it wasn’t working for me,” she explains. Now, she believes that students should feel less guilty about taking more time to understand the material, because what really matters is just knowing and understanding the law. “If flash cards work better, then just do flashcards. If MCQs work better, just do MCQs.”

I assumed that Hristova would find the SQE’s biggest challenge to be the volume of information that candidates are expected to learn and retain, but that was not the case. “The hardest part for me was actually just going in with the idea that there was a possibility that I might fail regardless of how much work I had done.” It’s no surprise then, that her tutor’s advice to think and stay positive was instrumental throughout her SQE1 preparations. Reflecting on the importance of mental health support during this period, Hristova remarks, “I was very lucky to have a tutor at BPP who would always make the time to speak to me after class and address my concerns”.

When I ask Hristova for her advice for future SQE1 candidates, Hristova offers these words of hope and encouragement: “Don’t focus too much on the negative news out there. Even though there is a lot of uncertainty, hard work actually equals very good results in the end.”

It’s clear that a strong mindset has been crucial to Hristova’s success, whether with exams or with securing a training contract. She explains that she met the firm at law fairs on multiple occasions, building connections and strengthening her resolve to secure a vacation scheme with them. “Getting a training contract is about persistence, so it’s important to stay at it and taking advantage of as many experiences as you can get”, advises Hristova.

In this vein, she notes the importance of “getting yourself out there and speaking to people” as the key to securing legal opportunities. “I attended so many Legal Cheek events. I reached out to a lot of people on LinkedIn. I asked a lot of people about their experience with applications, and I was quite surprised to find that there are actually so many trainees and future trainees who are willing to help.”

As we approach the end of our conversation, Hristova explains that she stood out in her applications by showing how her personality and career aspirations matched the firm she was applying to. “This will sound like such a cliché but it’s just about being yourself – not being afraid to talk about your experiences and how they shaped you as an aspiring lawyer.”

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

Mikaela Hristova will be speaking at “A deep dive into SQE1 – with BPP University Law School” a virtual student event taking place this Thursday (11 April). Apply now to attend.

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