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.