exam fail

Leaving the SQE 1 knowing you've failed.

A law student who “smashed” the first part of the new Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) has called the profession’s replacement for the GDL and LPC “a joke”.

Despite achieving high scores, he said the experience of sitting the exam was subpar, that SQE preparation courses were hit and miss, and that its multiple choice format had caused good candidates to fail.

In his anonymous account provided to RollOnFriday, the student stated that he scored over 80% in both elements of SQE 1, known as FLK1 and FLK2. 

“I’m not some caricature of an angry, whingeing student bitter about their own failure. I smashed this exam. And it’s a joke", he wrote.

Some of the issues 'SQE1 Survivor' highlighted can be categorised as teething problems which Kaplan, the exam provider, should be able to prevent in future.

He said invigilators appeared confused, instructing candidates to take off their jumpers and, during breaks, they were denying them water while some candidates were "clearly seen looking at their phones". The exams themselves were disrupted by people “noisily coming in and out after sitting driving theory tests”.

“These test centres are not fit for such a crucial professional examination”, he said.

He also questioned the suitability of the various SQE preparation courses. 

“The SQE prep landscape is currently a law school version of the Wild West”, claimed the student, where “you’re likely to feel that your course provider has not prepared you quite as well as their website assured you that they would (nor as well as you might expect after paying them £3,000+)”. 

The student said, “I know of extremely talented candidates, graduates from excellent universities, who failed”. He said their difficulties arose because the SQE was promoted as a route to law that did not require a formal legal education, which “encouraged many to sit the SQE straight out of a non-law bachelor’s degree”.

“My course provider was enrolling students who had studied no more than a four-week intensive course on black-letter law. They were obviously at a massive disadvantage.” 

However, the multiple choice format also tripped up candidates who did have a formal legal education, because it "dumbed down" legal principles "into simplistic right/wrong answers”, according to the student, who has a first-class law degree from a Russell Group university.

SQE1 Survivor said that relying on a multiple choice format meant people who lacked the requisite language abilities “might squeeze through SQE1 only to be found out later", after spending more money on exam fees.

“If I have to read another gushing, self-congratulatory article (probably written by someone who has not sat the SQE) about how its ‘opening up the profession to a diverse range of lawyers’, or ‘revolutionising’ qualification, I’ll scream”, he said.

However, he conceded that some paralegals “do like this more flexible qualification route in principle”, and that the LPC was “not perfect”.

According to SQE1 Survivor, the most damaging legacy may be to the SRA’s reputation.

”A significant volume of future solicitors have emerged from this experience feeling that their regulator is incompetent, inept, and generally unresponsive to their concerns. The depth of ill-feeling directed at the SRA by my coursemates is remarkable”, he said.

An SRA spokesperson said, “The big problem with the old system was that multiple courses and exams meant that neither the public nor law firms could have full confidence that qualifying solicitors were all meeting the same high standards".

“A single, consistent assessment addresses that. All analysis suggests the SQE is a fair, valid and reliable assessment, including from the SQE’s independent reviewer. It effectively tests the range of skills and knowledge you would expect of a day one solicitor".

The spokesperson added, "It’s early days. We have collected feedback from hundreds of candidates about the SQE and qualifying work experience. Many are positive, but there are also concerns. We will continue to listen and evaluate. There are certainly aspects of delivery on which we can further improve, and we are committed to doing that".

The majority of the 347 candidates who took part in the SRA's SQE survey agreed that the SQE was a fair assessment.

Tackling SQE Survivor's claims, the SRA spokesperson told RollOnFriday that in the exam halls candidates "can access their possessions, including water, during the assessment, but they can’t bring water to their desks in case of spillages on computers. A spillage could result in severe disruption to them and other candidates".

He told RollOnFriday that the SRA dropped the written component of SQE1 because the low number of exercises "meant this part of the assessment could not reach the high standards of accuracy required".

As previously reported, the SRA also found that the written assessment was an "unnecessary barrier to qualification that disadvantaged Black, Asian, and minority ethnic candidates", although it told ROF "that wasn’t the reason we dropped it". The low pass rate of BAME candidates remains a concern for the SRA.

At least no-one had to pee in a bottle.

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Tip Off ROF


The Paginator 21 April 23 08:54

But the SRA is "incompetent, inept, and generally unresponsive to their [solicitors'] concerns".

So the SQE looks like great prep for qualified life.

Anon 21 April 23 09:39

@The Paginator

Had to laugh because my immediate response on reading that was much the same, the SQE appears to be very accurate representation of the views of most practising solicitors on the usefulness of the SRA.

Anonymous 21 April 23 10:13

Well said that student.

Sick of this indulgent, molly-coddling claptrap.

I came from a poor hill farm in the N. of Ireland, and was a member of the wrong (i.e., pro Irish unity) community.  All these self-pitying whingers nowadays crying about “micro-aggressions” lol.  The army raided our small hill farm regularly, and beat me up at checkpoints on nights out.  My parents left school at 14.  We were poor, and our area was officially a “disadvantaged” area.  I often missed school to work on the farm.  Tutors and grinds unheard of.   

But, despite my unfortunate initial encounters with armed English folk on lonely late-night Irish roads lol, I had a whale of a time in London.  Read about why I still love the place and how someone from my background (poor, nominally Catholic) would never have got a job in N. Ireland at that time – London gave me a chance, when Belfast never would have:

“Post college, before I saw sense and headed over to London, I was wasting my hill-farming-background time among golfist lawyer snobs in Belfast. In job interviews with law firms in Belfast, the killer question was always delivered with a smile like Castlereagh: “And do you have any relatives in the profession?“

See blog: https://ayenaw.com/2021/12/03/class-bias/

Bring back the Law Society Finals (LSF), folks.

13 subjects.

No continuous assessment, no multiple choice.

1 or 2 full-length, essay style, exams per subject.  Questions designed to catch you out.

Average 40% failure rate - even after they made it competitive entry, which in practice meant red brick 2:1 minimum.  Before that, when they just ran a 4-year waiting list, failure rates were even higher.  The idea was very much “weed out the thickos”, and keep it awful.  As indeed was my law degree itself in the late 1980s – our law faculty had a relatively small annual intake (100), and nonetheless had a standard policy of chucking out the bottom 25% every year, to keep standards high.  Whereas now the “universities” would admit a tub of lard, provided it paid the ludicrous fees.   

All examined over 6 days back-to-back, no days off in between.   You’d cram subject A to 4am, and start cramming subject B from 4am.  Sleep not possible.  As much a test of stamina as anything else.  Suicide, and suicide attempts, unremarkable. 

The entirety of every subject taught.  

50% pass mark in exams.

No question choice - all questions compulsory.

The, to rub it in, they didn’t even post out your results.  Or even pin them to a college noticeboard.  Instead, they published them in the Times newspaper, 2 weeks after you had started your 2-year training contract.  So you’d bought the suits, got the business cards and the overpriced flat in W2 (affordable on a trainee salary in the early 90s), had moved to London etc, and there was a 40% chance you'd fail.  The Monday the results were published was "Black Monday" - spectator sport for the 2nd year trainees as they took bets on who might have defenestrated themselves.  

I remember standing outside Kings Cross station at c 5am, waiting for the first edition newspapers from the printer.  Surrounded by drunks and hookers.  People,  with shaking hands in the orange streetlamp glare, desperately trying to find their surname and initials in the small-print pass list.  Some were cheering, others crying. 

The LPC was introduced partly as a desire to modernise, but also because there had been credible threats of litigation from former students, concerned by the French Foreign Legion way in which the exams were ran.  For instance, I agree with difficult exams, but there was certainly no need to cram all the exams into one week.  That added a measure of physical stress which probably added to the number of suicide issues.  Could easily have been mitigated by spacing the exams out over 2 or 3 weeks.  But it was considered much more important to wrap things up early so the lecturers could get away earlier on their Summer break : )

I enjoyed it very much.

I hate the way the profession I worked hard to access is now giving out professional qualifications in cereal packets, in the name of social inclusion. 

Tant pis if you’re semi-literate, or mainlining on self-pitying identity politics.  Bring back high failure rates.  

Anonymous 21 April 23 10:17

SQE Survivor also hits the nail on the head about how the SQE is potentially being missold as something where you don't need much in the way of a formal legal education, and can just roll off a non-lawyer bachelor's degree into the exams via less than a month of training.

This is possibly a reason for the higher failure rate among people less likely to have a lawyer in the family or as a family friend who can steer them away from this dangerous perception.

People go on and on about "mickey mouse" degrees being in subjects like media studies or PE, but those kinds of degrees tend to have good postgraduate rates of employment in areas related to the subject studied. Law is the real mickey mouse degree- people are sold the dream of a high paying job at a commercial firm when they have absolutely no hope of getting there.

SQE Passer 21 April 23 10:19

Self funded the LPC and then had to do the SQE when given a TC. Can confirm the SQE is a lot easier, better to have it centralised and sorted in this format. Content was the exact same as my LLB and LPC combined too. I think people want it to be as easy as possible to gain access to this profession, grow up

FLuKe 21 April 23 10:23

No water, sharing a test centre with driving test footfall, and bad IT is just a terrible all round experience which will hopefully be remedied. 


'Despite achieving high scores, he said the experience of sitting the exam was subpar, that SQE preparation courses were hit and miss, and that its multiple choice format had caused good candidates to fail.'

'However, the multiple choice format also tripped up candidates who did have a formal legal education, because it "dumbed down" legal principles "into simplistic right/wrong answers”, according to the student, who has a first-class law degree from a Russell Group university.'

Hit and miss? He seems to have learnt enough from them to pass 1 and 2 well.

And scoring so highly? He doesn't seem to have been tripped up by "dumbed down" principles.

So, is it that he is a cut above the rest, such that others will be tripped up but not him, or is it that he has learned from the hit and miss prep courses about how to deal with "dumbed" down principles, and so in fact benefitted from the prep course itself? 




Anonymous 21 April 23 10:43

"I hate the way the profession I worked hard to access is now giving out professional qualifications in cereal packets, in the name of social inclusion."

Ahh, I see.

You're one of that remarkably common generation of Irishmen whose only issue with the sign was the "No Dogs" and the "No Irish" bit. 

Give that ladder a good yank now, do make sure it's up all the way.

Anonymous 21 April 23 10:46

"My parents left school at 14."

I think that their real mistake was having you when they were still only 12 themselves.

It's hardly surprising that they had to drop out after that.


"I came from a poor hill farm in the N. of Ireland"

And then this... no wonder you were poor. Why didn't you try growing something like sweetcorn instead?

It’s logical if you think about it 21 April 23 11:32

So the simple lesson (which was already clear to me anyway) is to do your research of prep course providers, and weigh what each one says it offers against what the exam entails. We know that the exam covers all subject matters and is multiple choice and you need to answer 90 q’s in 2.5 hours 4 times over 2 days. So the real essential tool is adapting your study techniques. Don’t just do the same thing you did in your LLB. It won’t work. It’s completely different. The goal is not just short-term retainment of information, but actually having that knowledge in your head at all times so you can call on it freely. This is what it means to be tested at the level of qualified solicitor as the SQE states, as opposed to trainee solicitor which is what the LPC did. Practice papers are also essential for the timing aspect as you need to ensure you can answer that many q’s in that amount of time and work towards a decent pass rate. There’s no point in sitting the exam if you haven’t tested yourself and repeatedly got a reliable result.
I was immediately sceptical when the sqe first started, seeing all of these different providers rushing to capitalise on the new-found flexibility of what prep courses they could offer and what random fees they could pluck out of thin air. It is clear that some of them are practically making it up to try to appear like you’re getting your moneys worth, but in actual fact they are guiding you to failure.
Now I do think some element of structure is useful, having some ability to track your progress along the way and some mentoring support is valuable, so I would look for the providers that offer lots of this. But most importantly don’t just waste your money and certainly don’t pick the most expensive one as I guarantee it won’t be worth it. I would bin off anything that tries to make you write a bunch of practice essays because that’s not what the exam is, and personally I would avoid anything that has too many workshops or classroom style discussions. (Maybe you learn better that way, but I think they are a waste of time for the purpose of this exam. Maybe just my minority opinion, don’t shoot me). Remember that MCQs are simple in principle - there is only ONE correct answer. But the other wrong answers are there to trick you. Everything will be based on principles of law and established legal tests. So study your principles, know them inside and out, and you should be fine. Also use process of elimination!!

A final point on if you are in the position where you are thinking of self-funding your study, I would seriously recommend doing some research into solicitor apprenticeships, where your employer will either pay nothing (under the apprenticeship levy) or just £940 if they are a smaller firm. And you as the apprentice pay NOTHING. And for this you basically get a full course from a well-known provider, as well as mentoring and progress tracking. The one I am doing is designed to take just 18 months to complete both SQE1 & SQE2, so it is far quicker than what most firms are currently offering (27-30months, give me a break!). For anyone interested check out Damar Training Limited which uses the BARBRI platform. I don’t work for them, I am a candidate and tbh when i found out about them I was so happy as it seemed like just what I had been looking for, and now I want to give others the same chance.

But fundamentally I would say whichever provider you go for, DON’T just put all your faith in them and then do the exam and blame them if you fail. You need to use your initiative and if you think the things they are telling you to do won’t work then go and study in some other way. Speak to other students. There’s no point wasting one of your 3 chances to take the exam on putting blind faith in a provider that at the end of the day wants to capitalise on student failure (maybe a bit pessimistic? Probably). Anyway, that’s my 2 cents

Anonymous 21 April 23 14:10

@ Anonymous 21 April 23 10:13

Thanks for the link to the (your?) blog - definitely enjoyed reading the piece on work parties.


Response to SQE passer 25 April 23 08:40

Erm why do you have to do SQE 1 when you already done the LPC?..your firm made you do SQE 1 and 2? Also, not much is spoken about SQE 2, how’s that like? 

Soo 25 April 23 08:44

So will the SQE be scrapped? We can only hope. Love Joe law is usually averse to change but decide to do a complete revamp on postgraduate law qualifications lol

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