updated on 23 June 2020
After much speculation about the details, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has finally announced the dates and design of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
It is confirmed that the SQE1 will be assessed entirely in multiple-choice format, covering functioning legal knowledge and no skills will be assessed at this stage.
The focus of preparation will therefore be entirely on the application of functioning legal knowledge in a multiple-choice context. This is understandably an unfamiliar form of assessment for graduates, but one that has been tried and tested effectively elsewhere, both within England and Wales and abroad. BARBRI specialises in offering courses preparing for the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) and the US Bar Exam, both of which test 50% of the qualification on multiple-choice testing and the remainder on other forms of assessment. With 360 questions tested over two full days, SQE1 this will be a rigorous form of assessment and therefore focusing one’s preparation specifically on it, without any additional skills requirement, would appear to favour students and give the most chance of success.
Victoria Cromwell, director of UK programme at BARBRI, says: “This examination should not be underestimated. If the SQE1 follows the same pattern as the QLTS and the MBE part of the US Bar Exam, candidates will have 1.8 minutes to answer each question, each of which will have five plausible answers. That is no mean feat 360 times over approximately six hours of exams.”
The first SQE1 assessment is scheduled to take place in November 2021.
The SRA has announced that this will be a uniform assessment that will contain all the skills-based elements of the exam. There will be 16 practical exercises (four oral skills assessments and 12 written skills assessments) covering five areas of law and taking place over the course of multiple days.
Students will have to demonstrate a range of skills: client interview and attendance note/legal analysis, advocacy, case and matter analysis, legal research, legal writing and legal drafting. This is likely to be similar to the second stage of the QLTS, where the exercises put equal emphasis on skills and legal knowledge.
Qualifying work experience (QWE), which can be taken anytime before, during the preparation and taking of the two stages or after, will likely not be sufficient to prepare students in full for this assessment due to the range of skills and subjects covered. Therefore, a preparation course, whether with a provider or a future employer would, in practice, be a necessity to successfully pass this stage.
The first SQE2 assessment is scheduled to take place in April 2022.
Finally, it was announced that the total cost of assessment will be between £3,000 and £4,500 based on this design. The choice of keeping skills in SQE2 means that the costs may be lowered for both the SQE1 assessments and consequently any preparation courses. However, this still places a substantial burden on students, as it is likely to be an added cost to any preparation. However, the one advantage the SQE system offers students is the opportunity to study flexibly, potentially around full-time employment that can contribute to their QWE, as well as offer a chance to cover the finances of the qualification independently. This can alleviate many of the concerns around fees and the time for qualification and make it a viable option for many more students than the traditional Legal Practice Course (LPC) option.
BARBRI will be launching its own SQE preparation courses from January 2021, ahead of the first SQE1 assessment in November 2021, offering both part time and full-time course options for law and non-law graduates. For more information email SQE@barbri.com.