Bar exams plagued by technical difficulties last month affected significantly more students than estimated, the Bar Standards Board has admitted.

The BSB was inundated with complaints after students on the Bar Professional Training Course due to sit a professional ethics assessment reported difficulties on social media posts. On Friday, the BSB announced that students will be able to sit the centralised BPTC and Bar Transfer Test assessments in professional ethics and civil and criminal litigation in the traditional pen and paper format starting from 5 October.

The BSB said: ‘This new opportunity follows the difficulties encountered by many students in attempting to complete these assessments as computer-based exams in August. Although we believe that the majority of students were able to complete their exams at that time it is now clear that around one third of exams were affected by difficulties at some point during the examination period, significantly more than the original estimate from our supplier when the exams began.’

The October exam will be open to those who were unable to sit their exams online or whose access was interrupted. ‘It will also be open to any student who felt that they were unable to perform as well as they might have done because of the conditions in which they sat the exams and to any student who had deferred until December 2020,’ the BSB said.

Some students claimed to have resorted to ‘adult nappies’ and other receptacles after being told they could not leave their desks during the three-hour assessments.

Around 2,200 students were due to sit the August assessments, the BSB says in a letter posted on Twitter. For planning purposes, it estimates that around 1,600 students will want to sit the autumn assessments.

BSB director general Mark Neale said in Friday's announcement: ‘The majority of students were able to complete their exams as computer-based assessments but we deeply regret that technical and other problems prevented many students from doing so and left others feeling that they had been unable to give their best performance.'

Despite calls to waive the exams, Neale said the tests were essential to demonstrating students' core knowledge. A waiver will be issued to those who have secured pupillage, enabling them to begin their non-practising period of pupillage before receiving their exam results.

The BSB says providers will release the civil and criminal litigation results of the August sit on Monday 12 October and of the October sit on Friday 27 November. The professional ethics results of the August sit will be released on Friday 6 November and of the October sit in the week commencing 18 January 2021.

Students must register by 21 September to sit the October exams and will not be able to sit the same subjects again in December.

One aspiring barrister described the BSB’s latest statement as ‘mind-boggling’. She said: ‘If I’ve got this right... those who suffered crashes, massive delays and general trauma which meant they underperformed by technically completed exam now have a matter of weeks to prepare for retakes or accept results?’