SQE 650

The (just) majority that passed, are one step closer to obtaining a diploma in the form of a cute animal which makes everyone 'SQEEEEEE!'

Law firms have been urged not to rescind job offers for incoming trainees who fail to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).

The City of London Law Society (CLLS) training committee held a meeting last week with 16 firms and three legal education providers, to discuss how to support any future trainees and solicitor apprentices who fail to pass SQE1 at the first attempt.

The CLLS posted a note of the meeting which called for a "supportive, understanding approach" from firms taking into consideration that SQE is a "new, little-known assessment regime".

The meeting came about following the recent announcements of low pass rates for SQE. In the latest SRA report, published this week, only 51% of candidates passed the January 2023 SQE1 assessment, making them eligible for the second part, SQE2. 

The CLLS committee pointed out that the LPC (the previous route to becoming a solicitor) had a "very high" pass rate among City-sponsored students "typically above 95%".  Although the LPC did not always have glowing pass rates for all candidates - for example, the overall pass rate in 2019 was 58%.

A source also told RollOnFriday that they understood one explanation for the current low pass rate, is that the cohorts of people who have sat SQE1 so far were made up of a lot of overseas solicitors, paralegals. And that "realistically very few people on a traditional route, including anyone with City firm training contracts, will actually have taken SQE1" in the latest stats.

In 2020, the Legal Services Board gave the green light for the GDL and the LPC, to be replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination.

The examination component has done away with separate exams for each subject area, as was the case in the LPC. Instead, SQE1 comprises of multiple choice questions designed to assess legal knowledge, while SQE2 assesses practical legal skills such as drafting, research and case analysis in 12 written exercises. 

Candidates will not need a law degree, or even a non-law degree, if they have an "equivalent qualification" or an apprenticeship comprising "equivalent experience".

In a significant change from the old system, the two years of 'qualifying work experience' (QWE) for candidates does not have to be completed as a block two year training contract with a single provider. Instead, candidates can work at up to four appropriate places, which will include student law clinics and pro bono projects. 

Lending further flexibility to the process, unlike the LPC where candidates had to do exams before a training contract, the assessments and QWE can come in any order.  So candidates may wish to get some work experience under their belts before choosing to sit the assessment exams. 

However, in the latest results, candidates who had undertaken (QWE) recorded a pass rate of 49% on SQE1, lower than the pass rate of 55% for those who hadn't undertaken QWE.

In its meeting, the CLLS committee noted this difference in approach meant that "the level successful candidates are expected to achieve in the SQE1 is that of a ‘day-one solicitor’, in contrast to the level under the LPC which was that of a ‘day-one trainee’".

The assessment is a closed book exam, and the CLLS committee said that a number of candidates had reported that "some of the questions were rather esoteric and not things that a day one solicitor could be expected to know without looking up."

The committee commented that the format for SQE1 assessment was "gruelling" with some candidates experiencing "IT issues at some assessment centres, and delays waiting for these to be remedied." Each paper is five hours long with a short break, and the CLLS said it was reported that "some candidates had not been allowed to take water into assessment centres (let alone food)". Candidates had previously blasted one particular test centre for an exam fiasco.

The committee urged firms to consider deferrals for their future trainees who fail SQE1, taking into consideration matters including "personal and other extenuating circumstances" and distinguishing between "marginal fails and more significant fails".

The CLLS report commented that rescinding training contracts could have "potential negative publicity" for firms.  

Patrick McCann, director of learning at Linklaters and chair of the CLLS training committee, posted on LinkedIn that "much more data" is needed "before we can be in any way sure that first-time failure is indicative of lack of trainee solicitor-capability."

"The assessment is largely unvalidated, tests performance with a methodology unfamiliar to nearly all candidates, is producing unexpected outcomes for some," said McCann. "I’d urge understanding, support and lassitude. I hope more guidance will be forthcoming soon but — for now — no sudden negative decisions, please.”

The SRA's report provided pass rate data based on undergraduate degree grades: 73% of candidates with a 1st class degree passed SQE1, compared with 52% of those with a 2:1 degree, 23% with a 2:2 and 13% with a 3rd.

The report also gave stats for different ethnic groups: 63% of white candidates passed SQE1, compared with 47% of asian candidates, 29% of black candidates and 38% for other ethnic groups. 

The CLLS committee said the SQE1 results revealed "an attainment gap between BME and other students" and that the SRA had commissioned Exeter University "to produce a study" (to be published) which would include "the differentiated attainment by ethnicity".


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Anon 31 March 23 10:02

As someone who has sat this exam (overseas qualified and been working in law for several years) it’s a terrible way to assess the ability of anyone entering the profession.

I have no idea how someone’s ability to advise a client coherently can be based on a multiple choice exam. It’s also a “best possible answer” exam so you’re faced with 3/4 approaches which could work but you have to pick “the best” and goodness knows who determines what “the best” is based on one sentence of a factual scenario.

This is the biggest threat to the industry by a long way. 

C*ckwomble 31 March 23 10:28


If I was a client, I wouldn’t want someone who didn’t work hard enough to pass their exam. 

Anonymous 31 March 23 11:11

Multiple choice seems quite a lot easier than the reality of advising clients 

They should stop moaning

Anon 31 March 23 11:23

"the level successful candidates are expected to achieve in the SQE1 is that of a ‘day-one solicitor’, in contrast to the level under the LPC which was that of a ‘day-one trainee’".

It's great to see the narrative is now that training contracts are no longer necessary as long as one can manage a few multiple choice questions...

Anon 31 March 23 11:49

Are there any statistics on sponsored SQE students pass/fail rates? LPC used to have a quite mid-level pass rate for non-sponsored students but near on 90%+ pass rate for sponsored students. Would be interesting to see if the same applies here, to see if it’s an inherent issue with the SQE or otherwise.

Anonymous 31 March 23 12:39

Institutions fail to exercise any quality control. It's unsurprising that those barely literate when they begin will fail an exam at the end.  It all needs to be dumbed down for the (broken) system to work.  

Anonymous 31 March 23 13:26

The SQE joins the LPC, BPTC and frankly the GDL too as a form of post-graduate (or non-graduate) legal education which is a total waste of money for a large chunk of the people who fork out for it. And while the headline fail rates looks pretty bad, once things settle down and people going through the traditional route start being included in the figures too, it's probably not going to look too dissimilar to the LPC in terms of pass rates.

The problem is that the bar for entry has always been set way too low, with acceptance onto these courses/exam entry being more to do with whether your deposit cheque has cleared than a cool-headed assessment of whether you'll be able to pass the exam at the end. 

I'm all for access and letting people into the profession who might have once been looked over, but stats like the SQE's make it look just cruel to be letting young people enter without some form of free initial check to see whether they're up to it. 


It doesn't seem to be pro-social justice to me to be disproportionately taking these candidates' money and leaving them with nothing to show for it at the end, quite the opposite in fact.

Anonymous 31 March 23 19:29

As someone who had taught on all of the above mentioned courses, I have to agree that far too many students are allowed to spend huge amounts of money on fees when they have damn all chance of making it in the legal profession.

LPC pass rates are generally high because the standard required is often pathetically low.  Some of the stuff that gets through assessments (particularly skills) is extremely weak.

The SQE is harder but not necessarily better.  All the SRA needed to do was have a centralised assessment system (rather than each provider setting their own exams), with rigorous standards applied. 

Train Need 02 April 23 14:04

@Anonymous 31 March 13.26

The GDL is not a waste of money. It was/is a great route for those wanting to get into law from a non law background. Don’t diss it. The alternative would have been to fork out 3 years’ fees on an LLB instead of 1 year’s fees. How is that a total waste of money? 

Train Need 02 April 23 14:26

@Anonymous 31 March 19.29

Not of those who perform badly on LPC are academically challenged. Some who fail do so because they aim for a pass, but skip lectures, treat the LPC year as a bit of fun, and so perform way below their potential.. can’t hold the course to blame for all students as each student approaches the course in a different way, attitude motivation and seriousness. Just a thought. 

What’s the issue 03 April 23 01:28

I was relieved to see this exam is rigorous enough ti have a low pass rate. If you haven’t been to law school, why is it so controversial that you must objectively demonstrate a foundational understanding of English law before being awarded a practicing certificate? I can’t think of a more fair exam format than multiple choice. 

I’m saying this as someone who qualified via the QLTS (basically the same exam) after many sleepless nights of balancing self-funded study with full-time work and no study leave. I don’t recall any statements being issued encouraging compassion or criticising the exam format when those results came out. 

3-ducks 03 April 23 11:19

27% of people with First Class degrees are failing this thing? Something's wrong. 

Anonymous 03 April 23 15:50

lassitude? really, Patrick

SecularJurist 03 April 23 23:25

Indeed, they could become Minister of Justice instead.

Or 'Head of Legal' and Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur Ltd -cum-Manager  -cum-Director of Football of THFC.


NVTL, I agree with various anon postings. BPTC/BVC/LPC/SQE produce an over-supply of graduands who have been sold a pup that their future is golden. Instead there is hubris, disappointment, massive debt and cruddy low-level law jobs.

There used to be four locations for the pre-LPC and one place for the Bar (Inns of Court School of Law). While not advocating the 'old' set up, there are too many places providing these courses.

If you've got an LLB-/Non-law degree plus GDL AND an LLM, you should be able to take the courses. No entry without an LLM. That reduces the potential pool of disappointed graduates.

Too many poly-universities providing these courses too, as well as the LLBs.  Shut them down.

Excession 06 April 23 14:07

"There used to be four locations for the pre-LPC"


Remind me, please.

I remember Guildford, Chester and York. Where was the 4th?


LLM are meaningless now - almost all the LPC courses were rebranded as Masters so the student could get Govt. funding for them.

I passed under the old system (LSF and articles). And, as training partner, I've spent the last 25 years reviewing thousands of CVs and interviewing hundreds of trainee applicants.

I've been angry for a long time about the sheer exploitation of so many kids by the LLB and LPC providers. And about the firms which then continue their exploitation with endless years of paraweaseling whilst they dangle the ever-fading vision of that golden carrot, the training contract, in front of them. I suppose at least the SQE offers those trapped in that the possibility of escape, although into what post-qualification jobs I'm not sure.

The problem is that the good jobs/TCs still tend to go the same type of candidates who were getting them 40 years ago. The ones from the good Unis with decent A levels and academic firepower.

In a TC interview the lad with BBC at A level and his LLB,LPC, LLM etc. from an ex-Poly will be carrying the same £80,000 debt as the girl from UCL or Durham or wherever, but they are usually just bringing a knife to the gunfight at that point. In fact it's even worse as the latter is more likely to have richer parents who have paid her fees and living costs for her.

The wasted potential and the sheer weight of that debt (and knowing the heart-rending slog of paralegal jobs for years which often awaits them before they give up the dream) really gets to you after seeing hundreds of perfectly decent kids in this position year after year. All they did was what their parents and school and Uni career advisors told them to do. 


Train Need 08 April 23 19:08

3-ducks 03 April 23 11:19

Are you really concluding that there is a problem with the assessment just because 27% of people with 1st can’t pass it?

Is that the standard? Lots of people who get 1st go on to do the bar course which has a fail rate just as high. Is there a problem with that course too?!

Getting a first is no guarantee that you will do well on these courses or that you have the skills to be a lawyer. Most of the time it just means you can repeat things you’ve read in a coherent way.. 


Train Need 08 April 23 19:23


‘’And, as training partner, I've spent the last 25 years reviewing thousands of CVs and interviewing hundreds of trainee applicants..

I've been angry for a long time about the sheer exploitation of so many kids by the LLB and LPC providers.’’

Maybe stop being angry and as training partner start doing something about it? 

You’re saying that those with poor academic performance aren’t going to make it as lawyers because of the process and you seem to blame the careers advisors and LLB LPC providers for this but they aren’t the ones using academic criteria in deciding who to recruit for a TC. 

The blame for this cycle lies with the recruiters and the gatekeepers of law firms who have for a long time used academics as a way to thin out applications. Some firms are starting to realise academics aren’t everything and are starting to use other criteria eg experience to whittle down applications but most are still using this to determine entry. If firms keep using academics as the bouncer on the door, then you can’t really expect anything other than the same cycle being perpetuated… the same jobs going to the same people etc.. 

Train Needs 08 April 23 19:48


‘Too many poly-universities providing these courses too, as well as the LLBs.  Shut them down.’

So what if many places offer the LLB? People do LLBs for many reasons. Not everyone will want to go on to train as a lawyer.

So what if lots of places offer LPCs etc? It gives students choice of where to study rather than being forced to study at a particular Uni. Not all of them fill their places and most won’t sign up to an LPC without a TC or  solid plan and a load of grit and determination and knowing it’s a tough competition getting a TC. It’s their choice. 

There are different calibres of TCs, students, lawyers, and law firms, along with differing requirements for a TC. Not all firms want a triple A Russell group 1st student. Horses for courses. Choice is good. Students need to do their research and firms should focus more on non-academic criteria. 

Train Need 08 April 23 19:56

@ Ducks 

‘73% of candidates with a 1st class degree passed SQE1, compared with 52% of those with a 2:1 degree, 23% with a 2:2 and 13% with a 3rd.’

The value placed on a 1st is misplaced. You suggest there is something wrong with the course if 27% of those with a 1st failed the course. But look at the stats. 13% of those with a 3rd passed it and 23% of those with a 2.2 also passed it. These 2.2 and 3rd students outperformed the 27% of 1st students. That doesn’t suggest to me that there’s something wrong with the course. It suggests to me that we are placing too much importance on the value of 1sts and setting too much store by them. 

Train Need 09 April 23 20:20


’’It's great to see the narrative is now that training contracts are no longer necessary as long as one can manage a few multiple choice questions...’

Not quite.

You are muddled about the what the SQE replaces. It effectively replaces the LPC not the Tc. You still need QWE of 2 years, there’s just more flex about how you go about getting that experience. Whether to keep training contracts or not is a decision for firms. It’s got FA to do with the SQE exams that you need to pass. 

Remoaning 10 April 23 19:14

@Anonymous 31 March 23 12:39

“Institutions fail to exercise any quality control. It's unsurprising that those barely literate when they begin will fail an exam at the end”

Can’t just blame HE. There are A level or equivalent requirements to get onto a degree. There are degree requirements to get onto a PG course like the LPC. You meet those requirements and can pay the fees, then you are in. You need to be literate enough to ha e done your GCSE and A levels which means you are literate enough for Uni. 

Those who do PG courses variously fail pass get distinctions. That not everyone gets the same results suggests there is a standard and therefore quality control. 

I think your blame might really be misplaced? 


SecularJurist 10 April 23 22:34

Excession, 6 April

I totally agree with your submission on this chain.

#4 for the ex-College of Law was in Chancery Lane, London.

The four locii are now part of the University of Law.

Advice to current non-stellar students who weren't A* since they were in the cradle. Get an accounting qualification instead, e.g. AAT and work your way up from Accounts Assistant.

Or do the brokerage exams and sell dog-*** pink slip stocks.

My certificates are worthless. Yes,I was sold the dream. Plus family pressure. It has ruined my life. Unpayable debts also. My credit score? Forget it!

Incidentally, those considering the New York Bar with the LLB as a way in. That's delusional too unless you're a stellar student. 


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