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The big bad SQE

The big bad SQE

The Rookie Lawyer


Reading time: four minutes

Whoever said law was an uphill battle wasn't lying. With my Postgraduate Diploma in Law exams over and done with (at last!), I've got the glorious SQE to look forward to. Having heard the horror stories from friends and family, I've decided to do a little research to understand what, exactly, I'm getting myself into − and in this article, I'll be taking you along with me.

What’s the SQE?

The SQE is a series of exams that aspiring solicitors must take as part of their route to qualification. It was introduced in 2021 as the replacement to the Legal Practice Course. The aim of the SQE is to ensure that solicitors are equipped with both legal knowledge and the necessary practical skills for their roles.

To find out more about the SQE, visit the SQE hub and read this Feature, 'The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE): everything you need to know’.

The breakdown

The SQE is split into two components: SQE1 and SQE2. These are typically undertaken around four months apart (assuming, of course, that you pass SQE1 on the first go).

SQE1 comprises 360 single best answer multiple-choice questions, split over two examination days. It mostly tests your academic legal knowledge on modules such as business law, tort law, contract and criminal law (as well as 10 others). It’s split into Functioning Legal Knowledge 1 and Functioning Legal Knowledge 2.

SQE2 exams are split over several days and include oral and written exams. Skills to be tested include advocacy, interviewing, legal research, legal writing and drafting, and client interactions. These will be assessed through 16 tasks in 'stations', which are simulated legal environments. You’ll complete four oral assessments and 12 written skills assessments across several days.

Read this Oracle to find out more about more about what to expect in the SQE assessments.

Preparation tips

Having undertaken rigorous exams not unlike the SQE in the past, I figured the best thing to do is prepare. Here are some tips I've accumulated from SQE graduates − hopefully they help!

1. Consider a prep course

While you can prepare for the SQE yourself, completing a formal prep course is recommended. If this is something you want to look into, it's worth comparing the various providers before coming to a decision − for example, weigh factors like price, length, structure, study materials and support given.

Read this Feature for more information about the different SQE preparation courses on offer at various education providers.

2. Play the long game

As the old saying goes, “fail to plan and you plan to fail”.

If you're a law graduate − or if, like me, you've recently completed the PGDL − take a moment before your SQE prep course starts to acknowledge where you are in terms of understanding the content, and map out where you need to go. It might be worth skimming your SQE textbooks (if those are provided to you), or else having a look at the SQE syllabus on the SRA’s website. Note down what you're confident in, what you don't quite get and what you absolutely need to work on.

By completing this task as soon as possible, you’ll have more of an idea of your strengths and weaknesses well in advance of the assessments. This means that, by the time the SQE swings around, you'll have had more than enough time to improve!

PS – If you've done an LLB, it's definitely worth dusting off your old first-year notes, as quite a bit of the SQE syllabus is foundational law stuff.

3. Practice − you guessed it − makes perfect

Since the format of SQE1 is single best answer questions, it's definitely worth familiarising yourself with the format through regular practise and testing.

In addition, because the exam is closed book and timed (with an average of one minute and 42 seconds given per question), practising under exam conditions well before the exam is a useful way to prepare.

You might not be able to complete an entire 180 questions in timed conditions at home, but time yourself doing 10, 15 or maybe even 50 questions and see how you get on. The SQE is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you get questions wrong, it's worth considering why: sometimes more than one answer can be technically correct, but only one is absolutely correct as it answers the specific particularities of the given question.

As for the SQE2, since it tests practical skills, it’s best to practise with a friend (or tutor!). Use the assessment criteria to form a solid structure for your answers. If you're lucky enough to have a friend who's taken the SQE, ask them to practise with you − their feedback will likely be invaluable!

4. Switch it up

Rather than relying on just one revision method, switch it up! From YouTube videos and podcasts to flowcharts and mind maps, using varied strategies for revision can ensure that the information sticks in your brain (which is precisely what you need for a memory-based exam like SQE1). Stick to your strengths, but don't be afraid to mix it up.

If you've done your GCSEs, A levels or university exams, you're no stranger to the kind of pressure you might feel under the SQE. The earlier you start to prepare, the better you'll do − so long as you don't burn yourself out, of course!