Multiple choice questions (MCQs) will enhance the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) if done well, according to the person charged with designing the replacement for the traditional solicitors’ qualification.
Dr Eileen Fry, director of SQE for Kaplan, which was appointed in August as the assessment organisation to develop and run the new qualifying exam, said MCQs were “better than a lot of people think” if properly drafted.
Meanwhile, Julie Brannan, the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) director of education and training, said it was not yet clear whether the SQE would come into force in 2020 or 2021.
It depended on the readiness of stakeholders, such as training providers, she said, but a decision would be taken on the start date and on fees “by the end of 2018”.
Both were speaking at an SRA roundtable on the SQE yesterday. Dr Fry said the criticisms of MCQs – that they tested memory more than knowledge, were not intellectually rigorous, and had no relationship to solicitors’ practice – were true only if the question was not well drafted.
A good MCQ was “extremely hard to write” and could “easily take a day” to do, she said.
Well-drafted questions, for example, involved “application of fundamental principles” and a correct answer was something a solicitor should know.
Also, all the possible answers covered similar ground and those that were incorrect were “based on common misconceptions”.
She added: “Advantages [of good MCQs] are that you can assess application of fundamental legal principles in realistic situations… you can assess a large number of topics, reducing the likelihood that candidates will pass or fail by luck… [and they are] less open to allegations of subjectivity, bias and discrimination.”
Ms Brannan said Kaplan and the SRA believed they were ready to start the SQE in 2020, but “stakeholders need to do a lot of work to adjust to what they have to do”.
She said the SRA would publish a range of possible fees by the end of 2018 “to give an indication of the parameters within which the SQE fees may be set”. The actual fees would “depend on the exact assessment design; the number of questions will drive the fees”.
Dr Fry said that, before the scheme was launched, it would be piloted.