Partners will be pleased to hear that their future lawyers can sufficiently behave themselves in line with the Regulator’s code of conduct… though it may be back to the drawing board if they’d like a will drafted. 

In an annual report for 2022/23 released yesterday, the SRA addressed disparities in average candidate performance across the assessed practice areas across the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE1 and SQE2).

SQE1 is split into two exams over two days, containing functioning legal knowledge (FLK).  

FLK1 covers business law and practice, contract law, dispute resolution, legal services, legal system and tort. FLK2 covers criminal law and practice, criminal liability, land law, property practice, trust law, and wills and intestacy. 

Meanwhile the SRA says, “ethics and professional conduct are examined pervasively across the two assessments.”

For the second year, ethics is the front-runner for performance across both FLKs with a 70.7 per cent mean score in FLK1 and 63.5 per cent in FLK2. 2021/22 saw an average of 71.2 per cent in FLK1 and 70 per cent in FLK2. 

The worst-performing practice areas across FLK1 and 2 in 2022/23 were: wills and intestacy (49.9 per cent), property practice (50.7 per cent), legal services (51.6 per cent), and dispute resolution (52.3 per cent). 

Average SQE1 mean scores across practice areas in FLK1 and 2

By comparison, performance across practice areas in SQE2 shows little variation. However, SQE2 assesses the skills and application of legal knowledge, unlike SQE1, which looks at the functioning legal knowledge. There are also fewer practice areas assessed. 

Average SQE2 mean scores across practice areas

SQE2 covers six legal skills: case and matter analysis, interview and attendance note/legal analysis, legal drafting, legal research and legal writing. Across the board, candidates performed the best at advocacy with a 76 per cent mean score and the worst at legal writing with a 63.3 per cent mean score. 

The pass rate for SQE2 is also higher than for SQE1 at 75 per cent as candidates have to pass SQE1 before they can take SQE2, unless they have a transitional exemption. 

The SRA encourages candidates to use the data released in these reports to better improve their performance should they fail an SQE exam. In yesterday’s report, the SRA wrote: “The lower pass rates for resitting candidates might indicate that they should consider taking more time (and/or putting in more work or training) between sittings. This may help them improve from a failing to a passing standard.”

With many mean scores averaging below 60 per cent, these reports continue to highlight the need for more transparency from the SRA to education providers and candidates about the content of the exam. 

Results from the most recent SQE1 sitting in January this year were the first to show candidates their performance on a practice area basis, allowing them to see areas for improvement should they need to resit. 

The SRA will also be providing new anonymised and confidential candidate data to education providers. This will allow providers to get a better understanding of their pass rates and have their preparation courses better reflect exam content. Crucially, this data is not for publication and there are calls on the SRA to release this data to enable candidates and employers to make informed decisions on their SQE planning. 

To increase confidence in the assessment of SQE practice areas, the SRA are being called on to confront the issues surrounding its candidate confidentiality policy which inhibits transparency around the exam’s content.