Prospective barristers will have to take an aptitude test as part of their application to bar school, the Bar Standards Board confirmed.
All students applying for a place on the bar professional training course (BPTC) will have to take the test, at a cost of £150 (£170 for overseas students) – over twice as much as the £67 proposed by the BSB in its consultation.
Students hoping to start the BPTC in 2013 will have until the end of July to pass the test. They will be able to register for it from 1 March and take it from 3 April.
Applicants will sit the tests in assessment centres across the UK and around the world. They will be able to take the BCAT as many times as they need to, subject to a fixed interval between retakes.
The BCAT will test students’ critical thinking and reasoning, not knowledge of law or procedure. Practice tests will be available on the BSB website from April.
The test was introduced in response to recommendations made by the Bar Vocational Course Review Group, chaired by Derek Wood QC. Its report found that nearly half of BPTC students considered that the presence of weak students had affected their learning experience on the course.
BSB chair Lady Deech said: ‘Most students who fail the BPTC do so because they struggle with the critical thinking and reasoning required for practical elements of the course. Students role-play courtroom and client interactions and if someone on the course finds this difficult, it impacts on the learning of all students,’ she said.
Deech added that the test would improve the quality of learning for all students on the BPTC. ‘It will also save prospective candidates the cost of sitting an expensive course they are unlikely to pass.’
The Law Society looked at the idea of introducing a similar test in 2010 for LPC students, but decided not to proceed with it for a variety of reasons. The Society concluded that an aptitude test would not solve the problem that it was designed to address – that of too many students graduating from law school.
It said that a successful aptitude test would remove those who were likely to fail the course anyway, thereby improving the quality of candidates, which would have little effect on the number of students graduating and competing for training contracts.