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‘My SQE journey as a non-law student with dyslexia’

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By The Careers Team on

ULaw student Freya Patten shares her experience of the SQE and her transition from a science grad to future lawyer

Freya Patten, an SQE student at The University of Law (ULaw)’s London Moorgate campus, began her education journey in the sciences before switching to law.

Having secured a training contract at DLA Piper and now embarking on the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), she spoke to Legal Cheek Careers about the realities that non-law students face on this new route to qualification and how the exams particularly impact neurodivergent students.

Can you tell us a little bit about your education so far?

In secondary school, I was really interested in biology and the humanities, so I pursued these passions at A-Level by taking biology, chemistry, and philosophy. When it came time to choose a university course, my interest in the sciences led me to environmental sciences because it combined most of my interests. This broad undergraduate program, which included biology, chemistry, physics, geology, geography, and social sciences, offered numerous career options, making it a solid foundation for my future

What prompted you to make the switch from science to law?

When I began my first year of environmental science at the University of Southampton, law quickly became a real interest for me. This interest developed as I researched different career paths. The main paths that attracted me were environmental consultancy and environmental law, which would inevitably require further legal education. I started taking the necessary steps to transition into a legal career with a focus on environmental law. Protecting the environment is a passion for me, and I want a career where I can make a real difference.

APPLY NOW: The SQE: Students and law firms share their stories — with ULaw on 25 June

Which aspects of SQE1 did you struggle with the most, and how did you manage to overcome these challenges?

I think I struggled the most with the structure of the exam day. During revision, you reach a point where you’ve covered everything you need to know; the knowledge itself isn’t the issue. The challenge lies in the way you are assessed. The knowledge tested is pinpointed to very specific areas, and you’re presented with five answer options that are all equally legally valid. In my opinion, practice is absolutely key.

I also struggled with my dyslexia during SQE1. It is well-known that students with learning difficulties are at a disadvantage with multiple choice questions. The SQE1 exam consists of 360 single best answer questions, which is a huge task. Due to my dyslexia, I was given extra time, which extended my total exam time to around six and a half hours in one day—very challenging.

To manage this, I practiced repeatedly and ensured I had measures in place to take breaks on the exam day without becoming overwhelmed. It’s important to stress that this style of exam is particularly discriminatory towards students with learning difficulties.

While the underlying law is the same for both SQE1 and 2, SQE2 tests the knowledge in a very different way. How did you find the transition between the two assessments?

I must admit, it was very strange getting used to the examination style of SQE1, only to shift gears for SQE2. I found that I not only had to change the way I revised, but also the way I initially learned the content.

For SQE1, you could learn the content to the extent that you felt confident pinpointing the right answer based on the knowledge you had accumulated. However, with SQE2, you’re not afforded the same luxury. You don’t necessarily get the same ‘hints’ that consistent practice with SQE1 exams provides.

SQE Prep: Prepare to take the plunge with these revision tips and assessment advice

Because of this, I felt like I had to revisit and re-learn the knowledge from SQE1 in a different way. With SQE2, the written exams require a deep understanding of the underlying law to analyse and reach a reasonable conclusion. For the SQE2 oral exams, you not only need to know the material but also how to present it, how to communicate with a judge, how to conduct interviews, and how to ensure the client is comfortable in the interview setting. Each of these requires a vastly different skill set and approach.

What did you find most challenging when preparing for SQE2?

The most challenging was this transition; trying to switch gears effectively. Having to re-learn and revise the SQE1 content again was particularly intense.

It didn’t help that the SQE1 exam results were released around six weeks before we were expected to take the SQE2. So, I struggled a little with motivation! We suddenly had very limited time ahead of the release of SQE1 results to prepare for the next SQE exams that were in many ways even harder than SQE1.

For this reason, I must admit that I personally found that SQE2 was the more challenging set of exams out of the two.

What was your experience of the SQE1 and 2 exam days, and was there anything about them that caught you off-guard?

At this stage, the administrative errors around the SQE exams were common knowledge.

But personally, when it came to the exams, I feel like I had quite a smooth run! Given that I’m dyslexic, I was allocated to a specific test centre which contributed to an overarchingly positive experience. Having said this, I don’t have any experience with the neurotypical test centres and therefore I cannot comment on this specifically.

APPLY NOW: The SQE: Students and law firms share their stories — with ULaw on 25 June

It’s true that we weren’t allowed water in the exam room for the SQE 1 or SQE 2 written exams as they were computer rooms. However, we were allowed outside of the exam room whenever we wanted to drink. Nothing caught me off guard necessarily as I had done a considerable amount of prep for the day. For me, the prep felt like it was the one thing I could control — I could ensure I knew what to do during the exam itself.

I was undoubtedly shocked about the SQE1 errors on the results though. That was a very stressful day. I received an e-mail from the SRA that just said, “your results to the SQE 1 have been changed, please log in to see” — my heart dropped right to my feet.

You completed a law conversion course before starting the SQE. Do you think this course is essential for non-law students before beginning the SQE?

Personally, I cannot stress enough how important my law conversion course was. It covered all the black letter law essential for a law degree and for taking the SQE. Without this core legal knowledge, I wouldn’t have been able to pass the SQE. This is because, when you’re completing the LLM in preparation for the SQE1 exams, these core law areas are not covered. You go straight into ‘practical’ legal modules, assuming you already know the basics. So, in the end, I believe that skipping the PGDL won’t save you costs in the long run, but rather, that it increases your chances of success in qualifying.

Lastly, is there anything you would have done differently in any aspect of your SQE journey?

I wouldn’t change anything about my leg of the journey running up to SQE1 purely because I passed and that in itself, I consider an absolute miracle!

With SQE2, I worked as much as I could, although I would have potentially started preparing for the oral exams a little earlier. But, because of the way the SQE2 exams are structured, I found it hard to focus too much on the exams that were a few weeks later. On the flip, I think it was beneficial to practice my orals with my friends and listen to others advocate and interview.

Find out more about studying for the SQE at ULaw

Freya Patten will be speaking at ‘The SQE: students and law firms share their stories — with ULaw’, a virtual student event taking place on Tuesday 25 June.  Apply now to attend.

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