BCAT: fit for purpose?

updated on 13 September 2021

The Bar is considering whether to scrap a student aptitude test that removes fewer than 1% of candidates, after deciding that it is “not operating as an effective filter”.

The Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) five-year evaluation of the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) discovered the following:

  • Overall failure rates on the BCAT were between 1 to 3% for the first four years of its implementation.
  • A very low proportion of those that take the BCAT do not eventually end up passing the test. Only 89 out of 12,663 people who have attempted the test as of September 2019 had not yet ended up passing the test (0.7% of those that have attempted it since 2013).
  • The reliability of the BCAT appears low, with large jumps in BCAT score between first sit and second sit score for those that fail their first attempt.

In a consultation paper published this month, the BSB analysis concluded the BCAT appears to be an ineffective filter to enrolment on vocational training for the Bar. They said: “This raises questions as to whether BCAT is proportionate/worthwhile.”

If the BSB decides against scrapping the test, they have two options:

  • retaining the BCAT in its current form; or
  • making the assessment more difficult to pass.

Aspiring barristers must pass BCAT before enrolling on a bar training course. The mandatory test was first introduced in 2013 due to the high failure rates of students.

The biggest challenge aspiring barristers face is the Bar’s severe oversubscription, with thousands of students completing the Bar course – which costs up to £14,000 – only to find no pupillages available, a situation that has worsened during covid-19.

Students currently pay £150 to sit the aptitude test in the UK and £170 abroad. They can re-take the BCAT any number of times until they pass the test (subject to a fixed interval between retakes).

The consultation closes on 31 October and seeks the views of students and other stakeholders.

To find out more about Bar training courses: