The pilot SQE1 assessments - Law Training Centre
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The SRA’s first pilot for the new SQE concludes Legal Skills exam in its current form “should not be part of the SQE”
The SRA has published the first set of findings from their pilot of the SQE1 exams. Both Independent reviewers and assessment provider Kaplan recommend dropping the Skills part of SQE1 in its current format.

Over 300 candidates sat the SQE1 pilot over the course of three days at Pearson VUE test centres throughout the UK, in Singapore and France.
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The pilot SQE1 assessments were laid out as follows:

Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) Test – 120 BSA* questions in three papers

1. Business law and practice; dispute resolution; contract; tort

2. Property practice; wills and the administration of estates and trusts; solicitors’ accounts; land law

3. Public and administrative law, legal system and legal services, criminal litigation and criminal law

Stage 1 skills test – 2 assessments

Each “mini OSCE**” comprised

  • One research component
  • Two writing exercises (also known as stations)
  • Recommendations from independent reviewers and Kaplan

    The pilot was not graded with a pass or fail, but there was a broad gap between the highest grades and the lowest. As it was a pilot, the conclusion was that in a live exam the gap between the lowest and highest grades would be smaller as people prepare appropriately to pass. Most students felt the FLK questions were clear and Kaplan concluded that the operations aspect of the pilot ran well.

    Kaplan proposed splitting the 360 questions into two papers instead of three “for a fair, valid, reliable, accurate, cost effective and manageable Stage 1 SQE exam”.

    To achieve the above, both the independent reviewer and Kaplan proposed dropping the SQE1 Skills assessment. Kaplan states:

    “For reasons of the robustness and resilience of the exam as well as reliability, accuracy, validity, fairness and equality of opportunity, a Stage 1 skills exam in its current form should not be part of the SQE.”

    They further explain:

    “…performance in the two “mini OSCEs” was very different with mean scores of 75.8% and 59.1% respectively… This disparity between deliveries would be challenging to defend in a high-stakes professional exam. “

    Despite the big disparity between the two assessments, the independent markers marked each station almost identically and raised no issues about the question. The report concludes:

    “This suggested strongly that the results were not due to a poorly drafted question or poor marking… This draws attention to a major issue with a pass/fail decision based on so few stations. One station performing differently can have an unacceptable effect on outcomes.”

    The recommendations set out with the SQE1 Skills assessment suggests finding another way to assess legal skills. The report adds:

    “The design of a high stakes professional exam should ensure it is sufficiently robust and resilient to withstand unusual performance in a station for whatever reason.”

    The SRA will be in continual discussion on how to assess skills in SQE1 because stakeholders consulted on the SQE believe there is a need to assess skills in SQE1. The SRA will use the pilot for SQE2 (set for December 2019) to inform their decision on whether to drop the skills assessment from SQE1 and if not, how to assess writing and research skills.

    The new way to qualify as a solicitor

    From autumn 2021, the SQE goes live. It will be a single, national licensing examination that those who wish to qualify as solicitors will need to take.

    The assessment will be split into two parts:

    SQE 1

    Functional Legal Knowledge and Practical Legal Skills Assessments
  • Proposed 2 tests of 180 single best answer questions***
  • A skills test. Despite the perceived failures of the skills test in the pilot, stakeholders feel it is a necessary component and the SRA are looking into other ways to assess this.
  • SQE 2

    Practical Legal Skills Assessment
    This will test the following areas:
  • Client interviewing
  • Advocacy
  • Case and matter analysis
  • Legal research and written advice
  • Legal drafting
  • A candidate will likely need to pass SQE1 before undertaking SQE2.

    The cost for both exams will probably be between £3,000 – £4,500. Students will only be able to sit the examination a total of three times and this must be done within six years.

    In order to qualify as a solicitor, a candidate will need to pass the SRA character and suitability requirements as well as have qualifying work experience. More information can be found here.

    *Single Best Answer

    **Objective Structured Clinical Examination

    ***The SRA accepted Kaplan and the Independent reviewer’s recommendation to split the FLK tests into two papers instead of three.