The board of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has approved the final design of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), following the conclusion of its final pilot exercise.
A total of 167 candidates took part in the second pilot (the first concluded in summer 2019), designed to test SQE2 – the second part of the super-exam.
Of those candidates who responded to an end-of-pilot survey, 87 per cent agreed and 6 per cent disagreed that the legal skills questions they had been set were clear. Meanwhile 67 per cent agreed and 16 per cent disagreed that the questions reflected problems that might be encountered by a ‘day one solicitor’; that is, a solicitor on their first day in the job.
The SRA has taken away two key recommendations from the pilot. Firstly, Kaplan, the organisation given the contract to run the SQE, has recommended that the second part of the exam should be a uniform examination in which all candidates take the same assessment.
In 2016, the SRA had originally proposed giving candidates the option to choose two out of five legal contexts within which to be assessed. Kaplan raised concerns, however, about whether a consistent standard could be achieved by giving students this choice and the SRA has concluded that “the optional models explored in the pilot did not give sufficient confidence that all candidates would be assessed fairly against the same standard.” The board members voted 8-2 in favour of a uniform exam.
Kaplan has also recommended that the SQE Part 2 should be “a single examination consisting of between 15 and 18 tasks (or ‘stations’) in which candidates’ skills are sampled across the range of reserved activities and business law and practice. This number of stations would achieve the high standard required to assess candidates’ competence reliably and precisely.”
Geoff Coombes, the SQE Independent Reviewer, said that the SRA will now carry out a final period of engagement with interested parties as well as publishing the final costs for taking SQE1 and 2 which he said “will be within the initial estimates of between £3,000 and £4,500 for both.” This does not include the costs of SQE preparation courses.
The SRA will make a final submission to the Legal Services Board this summer and, if approved, the SQE will be introduced on 1 September 2021. The first assessment – SQE1 – would then run in autumn 2021, with the first SQE2 assessment in spring 2022.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “Extensive input, expert and independent review and careful testing means we are confident that we have developed a rigorous, fair, world class assessment for all aspiring solicitors, regardless of background or route taken. The SQE will provide greater assurance for the public and employers that qualifying solicitors have met the consistent, high standards they would expect.”
How solicitors will qualify in future: the basics
SQE Part 1:
- Tests functioning legal knowledge
- Will consist of two exams of 180 multiple-choice questions
- Questions will be complex, with ‘single best option’ answers rather than ‘right/wrong’ ones
- A small legal skills assessment was included in pilot but deemed a failure and has been redesigned so it just covers functioning legal knowledge, testing the application of key principles of legal knowledge to practical situations.
- Part 1 could cost between £1,100 and £1,650, according to estimates from the SRA in November 2018
SQE Part 2:
- A single examination consisting of between 15 and 18 tasks (or ‘stations’) in which candidates’ skills are sampled across the range of reserved activities and business law and practice.
- Part 1 must be passed before Part 2 can be taken
- Part 2 could cost between £1,900 and £2,850, the SRA estimates
- Two years of work experience must be completed before qualification
- Can be completed in chunks at different organisations or all in one go
- Parts 1 and 2 of the SQE can be taken before, during or after work experience is obtained
- To qualify as a solicitor candidates must have been awarded a degree or an equivalent qualification, or have gained equivalent experience
- They must also be of satisfactory character and suitability
The GDL and LPC
- Set to be gradually phased out as SQE is brought in
- But law schools and other organisations are now designing similar courses