20 June 2011Print This Post

Exclusive: LPC aptitude test offers “number of benefits”, says Law Society report

LPC studies: making it harder to pass is a way to balance numbers

There could be several benefits from using an aptitude test to exclude law students who are most likely to fail the legal practice course (LPC), according to a report for the Law Society.

However, it said linking a test to the likelihood of gaining a training contract would be “more difficult” to justify and that there are other methods of reducing the number of students looking for contracts.

As Legal Futures revealed last September, the society decided to investigate an aptitude test as one of a series of initiatives to “manage” entry to the profession because of concerns that too many students are coming through the system.

The report, which included surveying 1,000 solicitors and students, found a “substantial amount of support for introducing a test”, although more for a voluntary than compulsory one.

However, it said a voluntary test would be “unlikely to have a great impact on the standard or number of people enrolled on the course”. It would be for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, rather than the Law Society, to impose a compulsory test.

In any case, the work has since been overtaken by the creation of Review 2020, the fundamental review of education and training being undertaken by the SRA, Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards.

As a result, a Law Society spokesman welcomed the report – by Helen Baron, a psychologist specialising in selection systems – “as a contribution to the debate” and said it will be fed into the review. The report investigates the issues, rather than comes to a conclusion on the desirability of an aptitude test or any other approach.

With 10-20% of students failing the LPC, Ms Baron said a test that focused on verbal reasoning and “situational judgement”, as well as a measure of writing skills, would provide some indication of whether students were likely to pass. Were the test voluntary, it could also measure motivation and conscientiousness.

Weeding out students likely to fail the LPC would save them the costs of the course and from wasting a year. “Other students on the course might have a better learning experience if teaching staff were not required to support very weak students,” she continued.

“It is even possible that by removing the lowest-performing students, the level of the whole course would be improved. Teachers would be able to focus their teaching at a higher level knowing that the least able students are still at a high enough level to cope.”

However, Ms Baron pointed out that excluding these students would have little impact on the overall number of people passing and so not address the shortage of training contracts for the number of LPC graduates.

The aptitude test could be set at a higher level so as to exclude a larger proportion of students, and not just those most likely to fail. “However, it is more difficult to justify the requirement for a standard beyond that required for the LPC,” she said. “It would be important to be able to justify the higher standard required on grounds other than just reducing numbers on the course.”

A more direct way of achieving this would be to raise the standard required to pass the LPC, Ms Baron said, which would feed back to applicants, who might then “self-select more effectively for the course”. She added: “In time this could filter through to an improvement in the standard of practice.”

The psychologist highlighted other alternatives to testing: raising the standard degree class required for entry to the LPC from a 2:2 to a 2:1; restricting the number of resits (only around 65% of LPC candidates pass first time); and restricting the time for which passing the LPC is valid, so that the pool of graduates seeking training contracts does not just keep on increasing.

The research also identified as “a common theme” the need for better information about the real costs and difficulties of training to be a solicitor.


By Legal Futures

Tags: , , , ,



One Response to “Exclusive: LPC aptitude test offers “number of benefits”, says Law Society report”

  1. So:

    • Aptitude tests would be difficult to introduce for anything other than highlighting those most likely to fail the LPC. It is difficult to see the regulatory case for this from the point of the view of the SRA as these people would not be admitted to the profession in any event.
    • This would have little impact on the numbers passing the LPC and so would not impact on the shortage of training contracts for the number of LPC graduates. The main reason the Law Society decided to investigate aptitude tests to “manage” entry to the profession.
    • Linking a test to the likelihood of gaining a training contract [as this would] would be “more difficult” to justify. This is an argument I find difficult to understand: aptitude tests should be designed to assess aptitude for practice, so why wouldn’t they be justified? (Perhaps what is meant is that firms would not stomach them).
    • Reducing the number of students looking for contracts can be done by more proportionate (but still potentially anti-competitive?) means e.g. raising the standard required to pass the LPC. The report suggests candidates might then “self-select more effectively for the course”. That might be right, but it is not something which works brilliantly at the Bar or indeed, as I understand it, Bars around the World.
    • There are other alternatives to testing which do not cost students money, such as: raising the standard degree class required for entry to the LPC from a 2:2 to a 2:1; restricting the number of resits (only around 65% of LPC candidates pass first time); and restricting the time for which passing the LPC is valid, so that the pool of graduates seeking training contracts does not just keep on increasing. The first of these might also have the effect of increasing the level at which LPC students could be taught, the other putative benefit of aptitude tests.
    Interestingly, although amongst solicitors and students surveyed, support for a voluntary aptitude was strong and such a test had the added benefit of providing some assessment of motivation and conscientiousness. The report said a voluntary test would be “unlikely to have a great impact on the standard or number of people enrolled on the course”. That is, plenty of people want aptitude tests, they just want them for someone else.

  2. Richard Moorhead on June 20th, 2011 at 11:25 am

Leave a comment

We encourage you to be part of the Legal Futures community but please note that all comments will be moderated before posting. We draw your attention to clause 5 of the Terms and Conditions of the site, which deals with user-generated content.





Legal Futures Blog

End of an era

Legal Futires

Eight years is a long time at the helm of an organisation like the Law Society, and so as he departs Chancery Lane as its chief executive for the last time, Des Hudson takes a lot of baggage with him. But what is the legacy of a man who started off as a breath of fresh air after taking over from the unpopular Janet Paraskeva, and ended up on the wrong end of a vote of no confidence from the profession?

August 29th, 2014

News In Brief-See Round Up>>