SQE will be of ‘similar difficulty’ to the US Bar Exam – as it draws very mixed responses from profession and educators.
It is thought that the newly-announced LPC replacement, the SQE, will be of similar difficulty to US Bar Exam, but it may appear more difficult to those taking it.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners – the NBCE – said that the proposed design of the SQE was relatively similar to the US equivalent, but just how similar it is – in structure and difficulty – couldn’t be fully judged until the SQE is tested on students. Confusingly, however, they did say that it could be seen as more difficult that the US Bar Exam to those actually sitting it.
They explained that this was for two reasons, the first because
“The SQE is more complex than the bar exam in terms of the number of type of components. Having to demonstrate skills through interviewing and oral communication is likely to be seen by some as a more demanding form of examination than a multiple choice or essay-type examination.”
Secondly, they said that it will likely have a higher failure rate than the US Bar Exam does. The NBCE said that this is due to
“The bar exam uses a compensatory model where scores from the components are summed to arrive at an overall score which determines passing.”
Whereas the SQE will require each individual component to be passed, in order to pass the exam overall. However, it does still offer some relief to students as, if they failed, they would only have to re-sit the component that was failed, rather than the entire test, which their US counterparts have to do.
The NBCE clarifications on the structure and difficulty of the SQE comes amidst academics and professionals offering mixed reviews to the reformation.
The Law Society have shown strong support for a more centralised assessment, but are concerned about how realistic the new system will be in terms of work experience. President Robert Bourns said that the work experience
“Must be at an appropriate standard and sufficiently relevant to what the market requires.”
He continued by saying that:
“If the new system is to broaden access, it will be important to ensure that high-quality guidance is available, and that it reaches the broadest possible community of firms and individuals. Having funding support in place will also be key to ensure it is talent and work ethic, not background, that defines your success.”
The Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Law, Professor Andrea Nollent, echoed Robert Bourns, saying that, whilst the reforms will be a good opportunity to improve legal training, there were still important details missing from the SQE, including the specifics of the syllabus, and how it will be assessed. She said that
“These will be fundamental to developing new courses that fit the needs of employers and students, and we encourage the SRA to give more information as soon as possible.”
Head of Lincoln Law School, Duncan French, seemed less optimistic, tweeting that:
— Duncan French (@Prof_DFrench) April 25, 2017
Caroline Pearce, the Chair of the Training Committee of the City of London Law Society, did, however, say that she welcomed the reforms. Ms. Pearce said that:
“Whilst in principle, a centralised set of examinations is a sensible approach, we still have reservations about standards, the methods of examination and whether the narrower syllabus will produce solicitors who are properly trained in the law that they need to be able to practice effectively in today’s world,”
“We look forward to the SRA providing more specifics of the SQE syllabus and assessment methods. We encourage the SRA to give more information as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, the Bridge Group have published an independent study into the SQE. They concluded that whilst there was “no silver bullet” to address the issue of diversity in the profession, the “reforming qualification can be a step in the right direction, but is not a panacea to address all diversity concerns; continued effort is required.”