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The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE): everything you need to know

updated on 09 July 2024

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam was introduced in September 2021. Here's everything you need to know about the new exams, from the syllabus to the format of the exams themselves, to the cost for candidates, to what law firms, universities and law schools are doing.

By now, you probably know that the SQE is the new centralised assessment that all aspiring solicitors must pass to qualify. It was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC). There are transitional arrangements in place between now and 2032 – you can read more on these below.

The SQE is divided into two stages, with SQE1 covering functioning legal knowledge; and SQE2 focusing on practical legal skills and knowledge. The new system of exams was introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and is being provided by Kaplan.

Recent SQE updates in the news

Why’s the SQE replaced the LPC?
How will the SQE affect people already studying a law degree, GDL or LPC?
How do I qualify as a solicitor under the SQE?
Qualifying through the SQE: what do I need to do and when?
What’s QWE?
What does the SQE cover?
Where and when will SQE assessments take place?
How much will the SQE cost?
SQE preparation courses
Your route to becoming a solicitor

Why’s the SQE replaced the current system?

The SRA designed the SQE with the aim of ensuring consistent, high standards for all qualifying solicitors while introducing increased flexibility. So while all aspiring solicitors must now pass the same centralised assessment to qualify, the SQE enables solicitor apprentices to qualify in six years by combining study with on-the-job training, while SQE students and graduates working as paralegals can qualify as solicitors by completing the SQE.

In short, the SQE is now the final, centralised assessment at the end of all these different pathways to ensure that all qualifying solicitors are tested consistently, regardless of the route they’ve taken.

In recent years, the SRA’s efforts to introduce more routes to qualifying have been aimed at increasing competition and innovation among universities, and widening access to careers in the profession. The SQE is intended to further increase flexibility by keeping the current system’s requirement to complete two years’ legal work experience (now referred to as ‘qualifying work experience’ (QWE) but making it possible for volunteering roles and placements through university to count towards the total (as well as paralegal experience, much like equivalent means).

How will the SQE affect people already studying a law degree, GDL or LPC?

There are still opportunities to qualify via the LPC if you meet certain criteria. According to the SRA, candidates can qualify via the LPC if they:

  • have a qualifying law degree (QLD) or exempting law degree (ELD) (completed before 1 September 2021).
  • started one of these degrees before 1 September 2021.
  • accepted an offer for a QLD or ELD by 21 September 2021 and started the course before 31 December 2021.
  • deferred their 2020/21 place on a QLD or ELD but started it by 31 August 2022 – evidence of the deferral will need to be provided to be eligible for the LPC.

Candidates who are eligible to qualify via the LPC but want to make use of the flexibility that the new QWE requirement allows can do so but they must also take and pass SQE2. This will mean additional costs incurred (ie, LPC fees, plus SQE2 assessment costs and any preparation required).

Although the LPC will remain a valid alternative to the SQE, universities may stop providing the LPC for new students before the official transition period ends in 2032. In addition, over the past year, we’ve seen a number of law firms start to adopt the SQE in various ways, including a hybrid cohort, consisting of LPC and SQE applicants.

It’s important that you check what your shortlisted firms are doing in this regard, so you know what’s expected of you.

‘Are law firms still recruiting LPC graduates?’ – find out what firms are doing in this Oracle.

How do I qualify as a solicitor under the SQE?

There are four requirements to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE. You must:

  • have a university degree or equivalent in any subject (law or non-law);
  • pass the SRA’s character and suitability assessment;
  • pass SQE1 and 2; and
  • have two years’ QWE.

Qualifying through the SQE: what do I need to do and when?

The SQE is a graduate assessment so you'll first need to complete a degree (law or non law) or equivalent.

The rules on when you complete the SQE and QWE requirements offer real flexibility but many law firms are likely to have preferences regarding when and where you complete your QWE (because most firms want to train you themselves). However, the SRA doesn’t stipulate any requirements in this regard, other than that the SQE1 must be completed before SQE2. QWE can be completed before, alongside or after SQE1 and SQE2.

Following the first attempt at SQE1, candidates then have six years in which to complete both parts of the assessment – and can attempt SQE1 and SQE2 only three times each. Candidates must have also completed their two years of QWE before they apply for admission to the roll of solicitors.

What's QWE?

QWE can be undertaken before, during and/or after completing SQE1 and SQE2, at up to four organisations such as law firms, law centres and university pro bono clinics.

Read ‘What counts as QWE?’ for more advice on the type of work you can do.

A single placement doesn't have to be a minimum length of time – the two-year total just needs to be completed within the maximum of four separate periods of QWE.

Each placement must be signed off by a solicitor at the organisation, compliance officer for legal practice, or failing the first two, another solicitor outside the organisation with direct experience of the candidate’s work. It's up to the confirming solicitor to decide whether the QWE meets the SRA's requirements. 

QWE isn’t assessed by the SRA, unlike SQE1 and 2. But as SQE2 tests practical skills, QWE should involve candidates learning the skills they'll need to pass SQE2.

Find out more about how to get your QWE accredited via The Oracle!

There’ll no longer be a requirement for trainee solicitors to work in a specific number of different areas of law, or experience both contentious and non-contentious practice areas.

Many firms will continue to offer two-year training contracts and they’re not obliged to shorten the period of training they offer if a candidate has already gained some experience. Plus, many law firms have training programmes that prepare solicitors for life within a specific specialism, working environment and client base. These firms are also likely to provide funding for the SQE – for example, if you’ve secured a training contract with RPC, you’ll be required to complete the SQE assessments before starting the training contract. Future trainees will need to complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Law (if you’re from a non-law background) and the LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2) at The University of Law. The firm has stated that it’ll provide bursaries for the course fees, the assessments and a maintenance grant up to £10,000.

The graduate solicitor apprenticeship is another alternative way firms might adopt SQE – for example, Hill Dickinson LLP launched a graduate solicitor apprenticeship to replace the firm’s traditional training model. The firm’s future generations of junior lawyers will join a graduate solicitor apprenticeship programme to study for the SQE at The University of Law before joining the firm as solicitor apprentices.

What’s the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship?’ – find out in this LCN Says.

Plus for more information on how the SQE will impact training contracts, read this Oracle.

Do you have more questions about QWE? This LCN Says addresses a number of FAQs that we’ve recently encountered.

What does the SQE cover?

The SQE is split into two stages – SQE1 and SQE2.


The first stage, SQE1, covers 'functioning legal knowledge' (FLK). It tests not just your knowledge of the law, but how you’d apply it in real-life situations as a solicitor.

Find out what to expect from the SQE assessments in this Oracle.

SQE1 is made up of two exams, each containing 180 multiple-choice questions (MCQs) that test how candidates would apply their legal knowledge, research and writing skills in real scenarios across different practice areas

The first 180-question exam covers:

  • business law and practice;
  • dispute resolution;
  • contract;
  • tort;
  • legal system of England and Wales; and
  • constitutional and administrative law and EU law and legal Services.

The second SQE1 exam covers:

  • property practice;
  • wills and the administration of estates;
  • solicitors accounts;
  • land law;
  • trusts; and
  • criminal law and practice.

The SRA has released these SQE1 sample questions

Find out about the latest SQE1 pass rates via LCN’s News.


SQE2 covers 'practical legal skills' and involves both oral and written assessments. The emphasis on the everyday skills of lawyering, such as drafting contracts and interviewing clients, means that it tests many of the same skills as the LPC.

However, a key difference between SQE2 and the LPC is that the SQE tests to the level of a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor, not a trainee solicitor – that is, it tests whether your practical skills are at the standard required of an NQ solicitor. A candidate’s ethics and professional conduct will also be tested throughout this stage.

SQE2 assesses the following six key skills:

  • client interviewing and attendance note/legal analysis;
  • advocacy;
  • case and matter analysis;
  • legal research;
  • legal writing; and
  • legal drafting.

These skills are assessed across five practice areas:

  • criminal litigation;
  • dispute resolution;
  • property practice;
  • wills and intestacy, probation administration and practice; and
  • business organisations, rules and procedures (including money laundering and financial services).

SQE2 is made up of 16 practical exercises (four oral skills assessments and 12 written skills assessments) covering the six areas of law above. It's a uniform assessment, meaning that all students sit the same exam. The 16 exercises take place over multiple days but result in one overall mark. SQE2 oral will take place over two half days and SQE written will take place over three half days.

Find out about the latest SQE2 results in LCN’s News.

Where and when will SQE assessments take place?

Students will sit SQE1 and 2 written assessments at their nearest Pearson test centre in the UK and internationally (where driving theory tests in England and Wales take place). SQE2 oral assessments are available to take in Birmingham, Cardiff, Manchester and London with the written assessments available to take at Pearson VUE locations in the UK and internationally.

There’ll be multiple exam sittings throughout the year, providing flexibility to students, law schools and employers.

FLK1 and FLK2 must be taken in the same assessment window unless a candidate has an exemption. The SRA is encouraging aspiring lawyers to register for the SQE1 exams set to take place in January and July of each year.

According to the SRA website, SQE2 written assessments will take place in January, April, July and October.

You can check the SRA’s dates and locations page for the most up-to-date information regarding the exam arrangements.

Please note, to book an assessment you must first register as an SQE candidate.

Want to find out more about the assessments and what to expect on the day? Read this Oracle for insights. 

How much will the SQE cost?

The current cost of taking the SQE is £4,564 (for assessments taken up to August 2024). This is broken down into:

  • SQE1 – £1,798; and
  • SQE2 – £2,766.

From September 2024, these fees will increase, taking the total to £4,790. This is broken down into:

  • SQE1 - £1,888; and
  • SQE2 - £2,902.

These figures don't include the SQE preparation courses that candidates should take before attempting the exams. LCN has created a guide to SQE preparation courses, which includes the costs and course content on offer at different law schools and universities.

You can also search for SQE prep courses via LCN’s Courses search function.

While there are plenty to choose from, the cost of some of the SQE prep courses has been criticised. The Junior Lawyers Division (now the Junior Solicitors Network) previously expressed concern that the overall costs of completing the new ‘super exam’ is likely to rival, if not exceed, the costs of the LPC. For example, at the top end courses could cost between £13,000 to £17,000 (excluding the exam fees) – similar to the cost of the LPC. That said, at the lower end some providers are offering less expensive alternatives, which could see the total cost of the SQE (including exam fees) come to around £10,000 – a significantly lower figure than the LPC. The price of these courses will reflect the material candidates will have access to, as well as contact time with tutors, for example.

As mentioned briefly above, there are funding options available for the SQE depending on the way a candidate chooses to complete the prep courses and training. For example, various optional SQE preparation courses being developed by different law schools will also include the option to combine with a master’s, making them eligible for the postgraduate loan in the same way as the GDL and LPC; and some training providers (ie, the law firms) will offer funding for their trainees in much the same way as they’d previously done for the LPC.

You can find out more about funding the SQE preparation courses via The Oracle.

SQE preparation courses

It's not compulsory to complete a preparation course to take the SQE. However, given that aspiring solicitors can only attempt each part of the assessment three times, candidates will likely choose to complete a prep course to give themselves the best chance of passing the SQE – in fact, if you’ve secured a training contract with a firm, they'll most likely require you to take a preparation course before attempting the assessments.

A range of postgraduate SQE1 and SQE2 preparation courses have been developed by providers such as BARBRIBPPThe University of LawQLTS SchoolNottingham Law School and the College of Legal Practice. There are full-time and part-time study options available depending on your circumstances.

Find out more about The University of Law's SQE, LPC and law conversion courses today:

If you’re a non-law student, there are specific SQE preparation courses available that incorporate the PGDL/GDL, or aspects of it.

To find out more about whether you need to take a law conversion course before embarking on the SQE as a non-law student, read this Oracle.

The University of Law’s LLM Legal Practice (SQE1&2) – a course designed to prepare students for both stages of the SQE and replace the current LPC – will cost between £14,150 and £17,800 (for 2024/25), depending on location and excluding the fees to take the SQE assessments. The University of Law has several other SQE prep courses on offer, including its MA Law (SQE1), which is designed for non-law graduates; it acts as a law conversion course and includes SQE1 preparation.

The University of Law’s Peter Crisp, deputy vice-chancellor, said: “Our new programmes will enable students to pass the SQE with confidence as well as making them office-ready for practice in a law firm by empowering them with the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for a successful career in law.”

Find out how Rachel Hii found preparing for the SQE with The University of Law via this LCN Says.

Interested in studying at The University of Law? Find out whether they have an open day coming up!

BARBRI’s SQE1 preparation course starts at £2,999 and can be completed over 10, 20 or 40 weeks. Each course is timed to lead directly into sitting the external SQE assessments, which can be sat at various times during the year. BARBRI's SQE2 preparation course also starts from £2,999 for BARBRI SQE1 alumni, otherwise it'll cost candidates £3,499. It can be completed over 20 or 10 weeks. There’s also an SQE Foundations in Law course available, which can be bought as a package with BARBRI’s SQE1 Prep course for non-law graduates or law graduates who want a refresher for £3,399.

The College of Legal Practice, established by The College of Law Australasia, has also developed its own SQE preparation courses, which include a module called Solicitors Legal Knowledge (SLK) for SQE1 and Solicitors Legal Skills (SLS) for SQE2.

The SLK course (SQE1 preparation) will cost £1,800 and is available as a 13-week full-time course, or a 20-week or 40-week part-time course, while the SLS Course (SQE2 preparation) will cost £2,300 and is available as a 10-week full-time course, or 20-week or 40-week part-time course. The College of Legal Practice also has an LLM in Legal Practice available from £7,245.

At undergraduate level, students may also have the option to undertake a modified law degree that combines SQE1 preparation with the traditional LLB.

These new courses provide a variety of options and a range of different fee levels and learning styles, but at the top end of the fees scale, early promises that the SQE would make becoming a solicitor more affordable than the LPC route have so far not been realised.

The above is just a short overview of the courses on offer – LCN’s guide to SQE preparation courses goes into more detail and has information about courses on offer at other legal education providers, including QLTS School, Law Training Centre and Nottingham Law School.

Our advice to you is to speak to firms to find out how they’re adopting the SQE as this may impact your decision between the LPC and SQE (if you’re eligible to choose), as well as how you build up your QWE. Make sure you also regularly check LCN’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law, for the most recent updates.

Your route to becoming a solicitor