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SQE assessments: what to expect

updated on 17 October 2023

Dear Oracle

I’m getting ready for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) assessments. What can I expect from the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments? What do I do when I get to the test centre?

The Oracle replies

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The SQE, the new centralised assessment that all aspiring solicitors must pass to qualify, comprises two assessments – SQE1 and SQE2. These assessments will test students’ knowledge to the level of a newly qualified solicitor. Knowing what to expect from the assessments and how you can prepare (aside from the range of SQE preparation courses on offer), is one of the best ways you can calm those nerves.

We’ve pulled together information from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to provide insights into what you can expect from the SQE assessments, including what you need to bring with you on the day and what to do on arrival at the test centres. There’s lots of information, so take your time to digest it and please make sure you check the SRA’s website for updated guidance ahead of your assessment dates.

Arriving at the test centres for SQE1 and SQE2

If you’ve booked an SQE sitting (whether it’s for SQE1 or SQE2), you’ll receive an email from the SRA that outlines:

  • the timings (ie, the time you need to report to the assessment centre and the start time of the assessment itself);
  • the test centre’s address; and
  • assessment duration.

All SQE assessments (except SQE oral) will take place at Pearson VUE test centres and you’ll be expected to register on arrival – you’ll need to take two forms of identification (ID) with you to do so. The SRA recommends that one of these is the same ID you used to register your account with.

There’s more information about which forms of ID are accepted on the SRA’s website – check the SRA’s guidance to ensure you have the correct forms of ID, otherwise you could risk being turned away from the examination.

Late arrivals will also be denied entry to the assessment, so arrive in plenty of time. Take into account traffic, train delays, finding a parking space and any other factors that could contribute to a delay.

Following the necessary checks (outlined above), you’ll find your seat and workstation. Before starting the assessment, you’ll be required to:

  • make a Fit to Sit declaration;
  • confirm that you understand that the assessment’s content is confidential; and
  • confirm that you understand that you’re bound by the assessment regulations. 

You won’t be able to start the assessment until a test administrator has logged you in and confirmed that you’re taking the right assessment. There may be other forms of tests occurring at the Pearson VUE test centre aside from the SQE so double check that you’re in the correct room, and ready to complete the correct assessment.

SQE1 and SQE2: what to expect

SQE1: assessment overview

SQE1 has been designed to test the functioning legal knowledge (FLK) of candidates. It’s split into two, closed-book exams (FLK1 and FLK2) that’ll take place on separate days (but must be completed in the same assessment window). Each exam comprises 180 multiple-choice questions (360 in total across the SQE1).

It’s also worth noting that students will have an average of one minute and 40 seconds per question. That’s not to say you’ll spend the same amount of time on every question – some are longer and some are shorter, so time spent will vary but this is a good indicator to take with you into the assessments.

Find out more about what SQE1 covers in LawCareers.Net’s Feature ‘The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE): everything you need to know’.

SQE1: what to expect on the day

The individual days will be split into two sessions with a 60-minute break in between. The SRA has confirmed that candidates can leave the test centre during the break but they must return at least 10 minutes before the second assessment begins to allow time to register again. Anyone who’s late will be denied entry to the second session.

All candidates will have access to an erasable whiteboard and marker pen that can be used throughout the assessment and must be handed in at the end. The SQE1 tests will take place at the workstation you’re assigned and are all computer based.

SQE2: assessment overview

The SQE2 assessment has been designed to test practical legal skills, and comprises a written and oral assessment. This is broken down into four oral assessments and 12 written skills assessments that take place across several days.

Find out more about what SQE2 covers in LawCareers.Net’s Feature ‘The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE): everything you need to know’.

SQE2 written: what to expect on the day

The 12 written assessments will be split across three consecutive days, with four assessments taking place on each day across two separate sessions. These assessments will also take place at a Pearson VUE test centre.

As with SQE1, the assessment will take place at a workstation you’re assigned to and is a computer-based assessment.

The first session will last an hour and 30 minutes. Candidates will then have a 15-minute break before the second session of the day, which is scheduled to last one hour and 45 minutes. Unlike the SQE1 break, candidates aren’t allowed to leave the assessment centre during this time.

Equipment required for the written assessments, including an online calculator, erasable whiteboard and a marker pen will be supplied. You’ll not be able to take any other equipment in with you so please bear this in mind and prepare accordingly.

SQE2 oral: what to expect on the day

Unlike the rest of the SQE, the oral assessments aren’t held at Pearson VUE test centres. Instead, these will take place at venues in Manchester, London, Cardiff and Birmingham. The SRA has put together some guidelines regarding the assessment centres for SQE2 oral on its website.

The oral assessments are split across two consecutive half days, running from 8:00am to 8:00pm.

You’ll receive an email from the SRA around two weeks before the assessments are due to take place; the email will include joining instructions and the time of your assessment. You must make a careful note of your allocated time because there’s an early and late reporting time for the SQE2 oral assessments; candidates who’ve been allocated a later reporting time will be asked to arrive at the test centre around 12:30pm but the exact time will be specified in the SRA’s email – we can’t emphasise enough the importance of checking this and giving yourself plenty of time to travel. As with the SQE1, any candidates who are late on the day of their assessment won’t be permitted access to the assessments.

The group that’s been allocated the later slot will then finish around 7:30pm. While the assessment is around two hours, candidates could be at the assessment centre for between four-and-a-half to seven hours – you’ll receive instructions regarding this in your pre-assessment email.  

For candidates who require reasonable adjustments and are unable to attend the later reporting time due to a disability, you must apply for adjustments as soon as possible.

Find out more about applying for reasonable adjustments via this LCN Says: ‘SQE and reasonable adjustments: everything you need to know’.  

There are also various rules regarding refreshments and opportunities to purchase food on the SRA’s website.

For the oral assessments, you’ll have access to a preparation room to get ready for each assessment. Someone will then come to collect you to take you to your assessment room for the client interview or oral presentation. Following the client interview, you’ll be taken to a base room to complete the attendance note/legal analysis. As you’re unable to wear a watch during the assessments, there’ll be exam marshals around to indicate how much time you have left for each element.

For the client interview and attendance note/legal analysis assessment, candidates will have 10 minutes to read the email and any other documents that have been provided. The email and documents will contain details about the client and what they want to discuss. You’ll then have a further 25 minutes to conduct the interview with the client (ie, the assessor who’ll play the role of the client). During the interview, you’ll be assessed on skills, including the ability to:

  • question effectively to enable the client to relay important details;
  • communicate in an accessible way for the client; and
  • demonstrate client focus, which means understanding the problem from the client’s point of view, not just from a legal perspective.

Following the interview, you’ll have another 25 minutes to prepare an attendance note/legal analysis of your interview (in a written format, by hand).

For the attendance note/legal analysis, you must:

  • record all relevant information;
  • identify suitable next steps; and
  • provide client-focused advice.

You can see SQE2 sample questions and answers for the client interview and attendance note section via the SRA’s website.

For the criminal litigation advocacy assessment, those able will be expected to stand to deliver submissions – you’ll need to contact the SRA to request reasonable adjustments if required.

As with the written part of SQE2, candidates are unable to leave the assessment centre until the end of their assessment day.

Feeling the nerves?

It’s totally natural to feel nervous during the build up to an exam but by familiarising yourself with what’s expected of you for each element of the SQE, you’ll hopefully avoid any surprises. Don’t forget to visit our SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law, for regular updates and in-depth information about everything to do with the SQE. As more cohorts go through the SQE assessments, we’ll look to provide first-hand insights and advice from SQE candidates so they can share their experiences with you.