kaplan exam

Kaplan: keeping the bar high for entry into the profession.

Kaplan and the SRA have been accused of engineering a "total shitshow" after candidates were forced to wait five hours in overheated rooms to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, which was then cancelled.

The SQE has replaced the GDL and the LPC as the route to becoming a solicitor, and aims to improve diversity in the profession by providing a more affordable route to qualification. 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.

Candidates were due to sit the first half of SQE1, a computer-based multiple choice test called FLK1, at 9am last Thursday. Problems became apparent almost immediately as staff began letting candidates into the Hammersmith test centre at 8.15am.

Entry involved "just two staff members checking the IDs of around 100-120 people", said a senior associate at an international firm who needs to qualify to practice in England and Wales. "The queue was at this stage, probably 50 metres long. It was obvious as early as this that the venue was completely underprepared", she said.

Students had to wait again when staff checked their ID a second time, and registered them, and took a photo. "It was clear that this was going to take hours", said a partner seeking to qualify in England and Wales, who saw one candidate "cross examined for almost 15 minutes about whether her signature was actually her signature". 

Several employees, including a proctor, admitted it was their first day of work and that "they had no idea what was happening", an appalled student told ROF.

When candidates finally made it into the exam rooms at 11am, they were greeted with "ancient" computers, "broken or wonky" chairs, and no functioning air conditioning, which meant it was "unbearably hot".

Students had to explain numerous times to an employee whose job was to switch on the computers how to log in and enter the password, which he had "written down on a scrap of paper".

The candidates were given strict instructions not to access the FLK1 until everything was ready, but when they were permitted to begin the assessment, the majority of computers returned error messages.

"Staff speculated that there was too much traffic for the system to function properly", and "spent the morning huddled together calling unknown people for help to no avail, while trying to fend off constant inquiries from anxious and annoyed candidates".

According to unconfirmed reports, one exam supervisor told a candidate to "fuck off" after "an understandably heated exchange", said a senior foreign-qualified lawyer.

After waiting for five hours, students were allowed to leave for an hour to get fresh air and lunch. When they returned, staff were still struggling to access the exam. "This was, once again, and unsurprisingly, unsuccessful", said a candidate, and at 3pm they were informed the exam was cancelled. In a video of the news being broken which was passed to RollOnFriday, a Kaplan supervisor concedes to fraught candidates, "today was not good".

However, according to some candidates, Kaplan staff admitted that they knew there was an issue in advance. An invigilator "told us they knew the day before that the system was down", said one. "We were told was that there was a 'server issue'", said another candidate, "and they 'hoped' it would work on the day of the exam".

That evening, candidates received an email from Kaplan apologising for the debacle and promising it would undertake a "full review of the events of today". Kaplan appeared to blame Pearson VUE, "our test centre provider", which it said "has continued to work on the IT issue". But that excuse was rubbished by candidates.

"I am sure this has been positioned, and will continue to be positioned publicly as an 'IT issue' which was out of the control of Pearson VUE, Kaplan and the SRA", said a candidate. "This is far from the truth and from as early as 8am this morning, it was clear that the Hammersmith testing centre was not fit for purpose, was not staffed by qualified or knowledgeable individuals and should never have been used as a testing venue for an exam which for many, will be one of the most important of their lives". 

Candidates told RollOnFriday that Kaplan's dismal performance was "beyond outrageous", and some raised the prospect of legal action.

"For an organisation which expects so much and sets such high standards for its solicitors and future solicitors, including requiring a fee of £1,558 to sit the SQE1 exams, it is deeply shameful that the SRA and the third parties that it contracts with do not provide a similar high standard of services", said a candidate.

"Many candidates travelled from abroad (myself included)", another told ROF. "The test provider has not responded to how they will address the significant costs and inconvenience associated with this failure". 

Others agreed: "I don’t think they appreciate the magnitude and severity of the situation. Various people flew in from different places around the world to take this exam".

Kaplan told students that it anticipated holding the second half of SQE1 on Monday, but ROF sources were pessimistic and sure enough, it was cancelled.

"Because of concerns about whether the IT issues at Pearson Vue’s test centre would be entirely resolved by Monday, we took the difficult decision that the Hammersmith location would not host the FLK2 assessment", a spokesperson for Kaplan told RollOnFriday, adding that it would be "working with candidates regarding appropriate refunds".

Kaplan probably won't dwell on candidate feedback in its next update for the SRA, so ROF will include it here:

"Horrendous, stressful and baffling."

"I am devastated...for the last 5 months I was studying and working! We paid almost £1700 for this exam!"

"A total shit show."

"I cannot believe how badly it was handled and the lack of care from the SRA and Kaplan."

"They had over a month to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Honestly it has been such a horrible experience." 

"Given personal and professional obligations I have owing throughout the rest of the year, it is likely to prove impossible for me to sit the FLK1 exam at a later date. This has serious professional consequences for me."

An SRA spokesperson said, "We are aware of the situation, and we are very sorry for the stress this has caused candidates at the Hammersmith test centre. It is important candidates have clarity as soon as possible. We are liaising with Kaplan to understand the issues and what next steps need to be taken".

Tip Off ROF


Alice Payne 29 July 22 08:01

This is completely unacceptable, here at The College of Legal Practice, we had students who have been affected and the emotional, personal and financial costs incurred relating to this situation are very significant.

They have had to take extra time off work/change two weeks of plans for more revision, and imagine their anxiety as to whether this could happen all over again, affecting their performance no doubt. They are scheduled to take the assessments in the next couple of weeks now and I sincerely hope that Kaplan have sorted the issues.

For those who can’t make the new dates, I wonder what compensation will be offered to these affected students, and their career?

As an organisation passionate about access to the profession, we really want the SQE to be a success, and we already have students who are due to become solicitors in the summer, we really want to advocate for this route to qualification and need confidence in the process as soon as possible. 

Lydia 29 July 22 08:40

It is totally unacceptable. As a starting point everyone affected should ge something like £5000 plus their air fares, hotels etc. Secondly I believe most of them can do presumably a different paper of the same 2 exams in early August which is better than nothing. However some may be unabel to do those later dates.


More importantly BPP and UoL never to my knowledge have these issues. Everything works. They are very good. it is why 80% of students use them., I think for the next year Kaplan should lose the contract and BPP and UoL be allowed to put in a joint bid to run the exams as they will be the best to do it.

Olive 29 July 22 09:39

@Lydia I agree with the first part of your comment, but the rest is, frankly, quite ridiculous.

As someone who did GDL at BPP and then LPC at ULaw, they are both awful institutions riddled with their own clusterf*cks on an epic scale. No, not "everything works" with them, I think most of the students past and present could write a book on issues we have experienced with these two providers. 

Moreover, the way I understand it (maybe someone please correct me if I'm wrong), the idea behind the SQE was to have a separate exam provider so that the likes of BPP, ULaw etc do not dominate the market and twist the results as they please. As there are now more providers for the SQE (for example a chap in my firm is studying with Barbri), it would be unfair to throw the bone to BPP and ULaw again.

If anything, SRA should either create an in-house exam process like the civil jurisdictions do in the continent or just find something better than Kaplan.

Anonymous 29 July 22 09:56

"candidates were forced to wait for five hours in overheated rooms to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, which was then cancelled"

What's the problem here?

This sounds like a great screening exercise to weed out people who aren't suitable for life as a junior associate, in which that kind of experience is completely routine.

The only thing that might improve it is if it was held between the hours of 18:00 - 23:00 on a Friday night, and they retitled it as a 'closing meeting'. Just for the sake of realism.

Anon 29 July 22 11:43

Well done ROF for doing proper, unabashed journalism on this (unlike other legal websites who are worried about offending Kaplan and its advertising cash). This sounds exactly how people who were in that exam last week have told it to me.

MA 29 July 22 11:52

where do I start at the horrific experience faced on the day. Just to clarify these exams have now increased in value, I have no idea where this money go. 

For those of view looking to book for future exams, be warned the booking system is a fiasco in itself. 

summary of the SQE - I’ll prepared buffons I charge of serious professional exams! 

Still Bitter 29 July 22 11:58

My experience of dealing with Kaplan during the QLTS time was f-ing expensive and riddled with an opaque and unexplained marking system. My assessment of them is that this organisation is made up of a bunch of sadistic aunts (place the 'c' wherever you want) with a mission in life to make pots of money from struggling foreign lawyers. Long may they rot in hell!!! I'm down nearly £10K after having to pass that bloody exam.  

Anonymous 29 July 22 12:35

"I'm down nearly £10K after having to pass that bloody exam."

But why do you not just join a US firm and then skip a single month of avocado toast and shoe-maintenance expenses to pay that amount back in short order?

It's almost as if you want to be poor.

Still Bitter 29 July 22 13:48

Haha @ Anon 12.35 if someone had sat me down and told me like it is or was...before I went down this rabbit hole called a legal career I probably wouldn't be bitter 

Foreign Assoc 29 July 22 16:04

Has always been like that for the QLTS (which was also administered by Kaplan but even more expensive). Obviously nobody cared. Great this is finally getting some attention.

Former Kaplan student 29 July 22 16:23

As someone who did the GDL and LPC at the old Kaplan law school, this saddens me.  I was generally very pleased with the teaching there and the exams were well run.  I was disappointed when I heard that it closed.

Sadly, it appears that this new venture is not up to the standards that I experienced. Hopefully all of those affected by this mess can sit new exams ASAP and just get on with their careers.

Cirque de Shite’ 29 July 22 17:05

The SRA was too busy persecuting junior staff for pressured errors of judgment and did not have the time to act as a responsible and competent regulator.  It’s time to disband it! 

Ma 29 July 22 22:41

@alicepayne thank you for making the point. They have sent out an email refunding the students who are sitting the exams next week yet nothing was offered for the students who now through no fault of their own cannot sit august and have have to postpone it till January. 

This is frustrating- why is the compensation not for every affected students. This is unacceptable and Kaplan and the SRA need to seriously stop playing these games. We were affected emotionally and all our annual leave and time are wasted. Frustrating is an understatement. 

OldFart 30 July 22 00:19

"candidates were forced to wait for five hours in overheated rooms to take the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, which was then cancelled"

What's the problem here?

This sounds like a great screening exercise to weed out people who aren't suitable for life as a junior associate, in which that kind of experience is completely routine.

The only thing that might improve it is if it was held between the hours of 18:00 - 23:00 on a Friday night, and they retitled it as a 'closing meeting'. Just for the sake of realism.

Ha ha ha ha! I write this from my office at quarter past midnight on Saturday morning waiting for a pile of carp disclosure letter to blight my night!

Florafromfrance 30 July 22 01:47

The same dreadful provision from Kaplan under the SQE as existed on the QLTS. In any event, no aspect of this exam is even relevant to anyone actually practising from a common law jurisdiction, to say nothing of the cottage industry of dubious training providers the SRA has allowed into the frame charging a fortune for mediocre materials and questionable pass rates. I’m not a competition lawyer, but I find it baffling that this whole Kaplan set-up hasn’t been challenged from that perspective. If it was a ‘service’ capable of improvement or if the SRA was even interested in encouraging talented candidates from outside England & Wales it might be worth saving, but my experience having passed is that it is none of those things. If the SRA don’t want qualified people from outside E&W to have a fair shot at qualification then they should be honest about it and stop taking money from largely self funded people, or people who depend on passing this exam for job security.

Anon 30 July 22 10:51

I see 10 people from Kaplan and/or the SRA (my money's on the SRA) have given the thumbs down to Alice Payne's very measured and accurate comment

English lawyer 31 July 22 01:03

As an aside, my strong view is that we should have a major, structural change to the qualification process by only allowing candidates with a law degree (LLB or JD). We should adopt the US system where the non LLB holder isn’t permitted to take the NY bar. 

Then, we should ban civil law candidates from doing the SQE without having to do a full time, English LLB/LLM. 

ShootyOriginal 02 August 22 15:22

"I cannot believe... the lack of care from the SRA"

WARNING: Steep learning curve ahead.

bananaman 02 August 22 18:19

WTAF? The SQE is intended to prevent barriers to the profession. I'm sure spoon fed public school types would love it if a bigger regulatory moat was put round their inefficient money making machine. The US system ensures US lawyers are still paying off student debts (real debts - not soft UK student loans) into their 40s and 50s and have wasted 7 years of time and money if it turns out the job isn't for them. 

Most civil law candidates will have studied law for far longer than some 3 year English LLB student, but top marks for the Liz Truss school of legal education proposal. 

Re. Kaplan, it's because UoL and BPP are still clinging on to the hope of £15k a year per student from law firms that Kaplan got the examiner gig. 



sensible idiot 04 August 22 17:18

Just so poorly prepared.  Given the long time period to the next exams and so clearly foreseeable material impact on students if they were unable to sit, where was the contingency planning around IT failures?  A shared spill-over venue for London, perhaps.

The exams are multiple choice so it's barely clear to me why they need to do these online in the first place, let along why they didn't have printed copies as a stand-by/arrangement to print those in short order.

This is not a driving theory test where if they screw it up you can just sit again tomorrow.  

Most of this comes out of the weird fetish that SRA/Kaplan seem to have for making everyone sit the exam at the exact same time everywhere in the world

Anglesee 04 August 22 21:21

@sensible idiot

driving test comparison is interesting. The Pearson company used to the theory tests for the DVLA too. Maybe they were chosen precisely because they supposed to have the IT in place?!

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