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"What do we want? Exams! When do we want them? Now!"

Law students have complained of being left "exhausted and frazzled" after being forced to wait several hours to sit an exam that was finally cancelled due to IT issues. 

97 candidates were due to take one of the written parts of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) on Monday at the Pearson VUE Centre in Chiswick, west London. However, over a third of them were forced to hang around for several hours before being told they wouldn't be able to sit the exam that day. 

A number of students started the SQE2 at the set time of 9am, but others were told that they couldn't sit the exam yet and would have to wait in separate rooms, without access to their phones or notes. 

The penned-in students were given an hour lunchbreak, after which 55 of them were then permitted to start the exam at a delayed time. But the remaining 33 candidates were left waiting until mid-afternoon until they were finally informed that their exam would be rescheduled.

One candidate told RollOnFriday that the "hardest part of the day" was having to "wait and be ready to take the exam" at any moment. "We lost preparation time, were exhausted, stressed out about how the situation affected our individual circumstances, and left in a state unfit to sit such a high stakes exam,” they said. 

Kaplan emailed students that evening to tell them they could either opt to take the exam on Thursday at a relocated centre in Aldgate East, or reschedule the entire SQE2 sitting (including the oral assessments they had already taken) in January. 

"Either choice is absolutely gruelling, leaving us all apprehensive about what the consequences of our choices may be," said the source, adding that the situation had left students feeling "exhausted" and "stressed". The candidate also opined that the relocated centre in east London wasn't ideal for candidates who had planned to sit the exams in west London. 

Another candidate posted on LinkedIn that they were "lost for words...for this failure that the Solicitors Regulation Authority are continually allowing to occur through their provider Kaplan. There are numerous issues with these exams at every sitting. These are professional exams and yet nothing is learnt and student pay the dear price of disruptions, anxiety and worse delaying exams further".

The SQE replaced the GDL and the LPC as the route to becoming a solicitor. Kaplan, which ran a law school until it was closed down because of low student numbers, won the SRA's contract to deliver the super-exam.

It is not the first time that students have blasted Kaplan over exams. Last summer, candidates accused the exam provider of engineering a "total shitshow" at the Pearson Vue exam centre at Hammersmith. A source told RollOnFriday that some candidates who had the exam cancelled this week had also been in the group affected by the Hammersmith cock-up last year.

A spokesperson for Kaplan told RollOnFriday: "There were IT issues at two floors of the Pearson VUE Chiswick test centre on Monday 30 October. This prevented 33 candidates sitting the first day of their SQE2 written assessment and a number of other candidates were significantly delayed in starting." 

"To avoid the risk of further disruption, we relocated the exams scheduled on the affected floors on Tuesday and Wednesday to an alternative test centre and out of pocket travel expenses will be refunded to candidates," said the spokesperson.

"We have arranged for candidates that did not test in Chiswick on Monday to take a rescheduled assessment on Thursday, 2 November," the spokesperson added. "A full refund is also available for those who are unable to attend. We will also be making a goodwill payment of £250 to each candidate who was unable to complete their assessment on 30 October. We apologise to all candidates affected."

A disgruntled candidate told RollOnFriday that some students are complaining to Kaplan that the compensation of £250 is insufficient, as they believe it is less than the sum offered for the Hammersmith exam farce last year.

The Kaplan spokesperson said in response: "We will be in touch with candidates next week with more detailed information about expenses and compensation".

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Anon 03 November 23 09:42

Whilst I appreciate the students frustration one might point out that whilst disruption is unhelpful, it is also part of everyday life being a lawyer and being able to adapt to it and still deliver is a huge part of the job - making excuses is not!

As our trainee partner likes to say, the unfortunate reality is that students come from a world where being 80% right makes you the best of the best - in practice if you're 80% right you're negligent! Better that students learn this early, if they can't handle this stress I suspect they won't enjoy a legal career.

That said Kaplan still pants - Law Soc/SRA equally pants and need to do better!

Anonymous 03 November 23 09:58

(in response to Anon @ 09:42) If as a lawyer you uphold breaching contract terms, then maybe you need to redo your legal training. You’re missing the point- it’s not about candidates wanting an excuse, it’s about the principle of sitting exams for the SRA to prove you uphold the standards to become a lawyer whilst there’s a failure from their end to uphold contractual obligations.

Lydia 03 November 23 10:16

This is unacceptable. I don't think BPP for example had similar issues when student were taking the LPC. Also the problems of booking an SQE date are ridiculous. Kaplan should let BPP block book sittings for its candidates at one big London venue with very reliable IT in advance and not leave the candidates having to take hours to book things and then these mess ups in Chiswick and previously in Hammersmith on the day.

Anonymous 03 November 23 10:40

It's appalling that they didn't learn anything from the previous sittings. I had a similar issue at the SAME centre last year - it's not fit for purpose. I would strongly advise the candidates to submit a mitigating circumstances claim, to cover themselves, so that they can regain the attempt if required.

Name 03 November 23 10:55

@Anonymous 03 November 23 09:58

Suggest you actually look at the exam provider's T&Cs and report back. You might be surprised.

Anonymous 03 November 23 11:34

Shambles. And comments above re " it is also part of everyday life being a lawyer" misses the point. While all lawyers have to deal with interruptions etc, in this case, most students did not have to deal with this. Yet the students who were messed about will be marked as harshly as the students who were not messed about. Which hands an an obvious advantage to the students who were not messed about.

Anon 03 November 23 12:21

First of all what is the nonsense about it’s part of everyday life. It’s an exam scheduled to go ahead at a certain time. What is not understandable!!!!
These are exams are not a joke, students have been preparing for months in end and yet they are failed again! Go back to pen and paper and do us all a favour!!!
As mentioned before, Kaplan continues to break their obligations time and time again. Students are marked the same as non affected students!
People need to wake up, if you allow this failure then the profession is run by clowns!

Anonymous 03 November 23 13:03

Might sound silly at first, but hear me out: how about having the questions printed out on actual paper and hand those print outs to the candidates who sit down and answer said questions in writing? In order to be prepared for unexpected hardware problems you could even request that each candidate brings their own pen.

Anonymous 03 November 23 18:56

Kaplan and the SRA, two monopolies getting together and making overpriced delivery failures with each other.

Anonymous 04 November 23 16:50

This exam is highly intellectual and requires a lot of concentration. In real practice lawyers have access to the law, we did not have access to legislation, no case law. We had to rely on our memory and apply knowledge expeditiously. How on earth one can read several attached documents and write a letter with an advice to a client with 2-3 legal questions within 30 minutes if the computers were super slow and were uploading initial exam documents for ages. That was my only thought when we tried to log on the system with no success. My fear was that I would waste half of my exam time to open all necessary documents!

80% 08 November 23 14:42

‘.. students come from a world where being 80% right makes you the best of the best - in practice if you're 80% right you're negligent!’

What a load of BS. No. Most lawyers aren’t 100% in anything whether giving comprehensive, best or accurate advice. You don’t always need to be. And no, the step up isn’t going from 80% to 100%, it’s more like going from 80% to a sloppy 60% where a student now in practice soon learns how little the law is actually applied, and that those senior peeps who actually argue about the law know less than your average SQE student.

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