Are you collecting GCSEs on Thursday? Maybe it was A Levels last week? If so, then like me, these are likely the results of any children you have, not the product of your own efforts. In our house the long summer wait has prompted debate about what exams show, and what they don’t.
The ability to pass exams being central to beginning a legal career, the profession might take the opportunity to reflect on what exams do, and do not, show. Not least, the solicitors profession is headed for its own ‘super exam’, the SQE, and its form remains controversial.
Exams reward last minute adrenalin junkies
I’m not going to talk down the abilities traditional exams test – it always favoured my skill set. But with the near-total move away from coursework to exams, there’s a risk that grades don’t reflect the full suite of skills. A common complaint is that law does not attract enough good managers or people with project management skills.
As people hiring and offering training contracts consider candidates, they should remember that if they lionise those last minute skills, then litigation, projects and deals will include some unnecessary white knuckle rides.
In exams you work alone
Plenty of legal work involves long periods of solo effort. This week I was in a law firm’s reception area when someone who was clearly a candidate was given written tasks to do. All right and appropriate. But when she qualifies into, say, IP, she will work and collaborate effectively in a team that includes, say, corporate, disputes, safeguarding and employment lawyers. Errors occur when collaboration breaks down.
Exams don’t measure potential
They are a snap shot of where you are – but they might also measure how well you were prepared by others. What if you had a rubbish teacher for one subject? A school that tended to worry more about getting everyone a qualification, rather than stretching the bright kids?
Why does this matter?
At one level, exams are all that many young people have been tasked with mastering – what else would you test some on? But perhaps exam results at A Level, or even GCSE, shouldn’t be the first filter applied to candidates – the first sift of applications.
Instead, at the moment, most in law treat these exams as the first test.
I’ve had reason this summer to think back to my exams. And I can say with absolute certainty that my results said absolutely nothing about the things I’m bad at in the workplace, and that none of those very real faults were tested.
For these reasons, the legal profession needs to look less closely at exam results, and find ways to have a closer look at the candidates they’ve been lucky enough to attract an application from.