Posted by Dr Giles Proctor, CEO of Legal Futures Associate, The College of Legal Practice
As comes the New Year, so does an element of reflection at the scale of change facing the legal education sector. Here at The College of Legal Practice, it has been no different, and we have been on a learning curve as the first year of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) has initiated repeat cycles of preparation and examination.
In this article, I will share our reflections on the first assessments for SQE1 and SQE2.
Students have a direct relationship with Kaplan as the assessment organisation, meaning there is no provider-wide data available as yet. We all rely on students to share their results and those who pass are much more likely to do this than those who do not.
To toot our own horn for a moment, we received high satisfaction rates from our own students for their preparation and the preparation courses as a whole; the most important concrete data we have is from students telling us that our internal assessments get them to the level to feel comfortable in the actual assessments.
But there are some emerging themes across our student body that may help future students at any provider have the best chance of passing the SQE.
The amount of time that students have to study, whilst working and given other pressures, greatly affects their ability to revise and perform in the assessments. This may seem obvious, but we are finding that students don’t know enough about the SQE or the amount of work required before they start.
It is our responsibility as providers to help them understand this and manage their expectations and their work/study/life balance. This is also something for employers to consider when they are looking at what time they need to give their trainees to prepare.
For SQE1, teaching technique to students to address multiple-choice questions (MCQs) efficiently at pace is vital and builds confidence.
It is very difficult to learn the functioning legal knowledge principles required for SQE1 and pass the MCQs without a specific learning design that supports your development and practice, and incorporates guidance from the supervisors.
For SQE2, students must have legal knowledge at their fingertips – mastering the legal skills alone is not enough. Half of SQE2 assessment marks come from a sound grasp of underpinning legal knowledge.
So, students must revise for the relevant practice areas for SQE2, particularly if it has been a while since they studied law.
Be realistic and self-aware about your own progress as you prep for the SQE. For example, we provide individual ready reviews and mock assessments in a bid to give students a clear sense of whether they will be successful.
This isn’t ‘failproof’, but we are confident that we can give an expert opinion on a student’s chances of success towards the end of the course before the booking window closes.
Also, take up the offer of individual supervision to guide you and manage your performance helps with your chances of passing the exam. It’s certainly been the most highly rated part of our courses.
Providers should also be committed to becoming a critical, continuously developing higher education community, part of which involves constantly talking to students about what does and doesn’t work for them.
Doing so helped us make changes, such as extending our question bank for SQE1 and offering students early access to sections of our SLK and SLS manuals so they can get started early.
Looking forward, I have three thoughts on the SQE’s second year.
First, can we narrow or remove the attainment gap which has been evidenced in the past on LLBs and the legal practice course (LPC)?
We welcome the Solicitors Regulation Authority commissioning the University of Exeter to research into attainment gaps in the SQE for different ethnic groups, particularly Black/Black British candidates. But why’s it taking so long?
Second, how will the legal sector adjust to the impact of the qualifying work experience regime (which goes hand in hand with the flexibility of the SQE assessments)? Is there a new trainee model emerging here?
Finally, as we see our first qualifiers through the SQE assessments (and our first LLM completers), we will start to see the next generation of solicitors emerging through the new training regime. Will their grounding in legal principle and SQE2 skills give them a better foundation for practice than LPC? We believe it well may do.
As a team, we have learnt and refined a lot in 2022, and this year we are greatly looking forward to supporting many more students as they progress towards their dream of becoming a solicitor.