All questions in a ‘super exam’ for aspiring solicitors will be reviewed for cultural bias to ensure the new route to qualification does not disadvantage black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has said.

The regulator wants to introduce the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), a single assessment for qualifying solicitors, next year. A pilot of the first stage of the process, known as SQE1 (knowledge-based assessment), found that white candidates generally performed better than BAME candidates.

‘Emerging findings’ from the pilot for the second stage of the process, SQE2 (skills-based assessment), were shared in a SRA webinar yesterday. Julie Brannan, director of education and training, said 'univariate' analysis (performance by individual candidate variables) shows a significant performance difference between white and BAME candidates. Brannan stressed that the analysis should be treated with caution due to overlapping candidate variables and numbers. The findings of the SQE2 pilot will be published this summer.

All exam questions will be reviewed for cultural bias, Brannan said. The regulator wants to recruit and train a 'diverse pool' of question writers and assessors. They must be qualified solicitors.

Brannan said: ‘We’re working closely with special interest groups, within the profession. We would welcome applications from a wide range of candidates, making sure we can recruit a diverse set of question writers and assessors.’

The regulator is currently deciding the final design for SQE2, which will be a ‘uniform' or 'optional' model.

Brannan said: ‘When you’re having any skills assessed, should you be able to choose two out of five [practice areas] or require everyone to have all of the skills assessed across all of the reserved activities so they can demonstrate they are safe to practise in all areas in which they are being licensed to practise? It’s a tricky issue.’

Highlighting the risks and benefits, Brannan said the uniform model is a fair assessment of all the candidates taking the same test. However, additional classroom training may be required and the model does not reflect particular career aspirations.

The optional model offers an element of choice but may be less fair to all candidates because different groups may take different assessments. Quality assurance mechanisms would be in place to try to ensure the tests have the same level of difficulty, ‘but that is quite hard to get exactly right’, Brannan said. Assessment costs are likely to be greater, but training costs might be lower. The optional model would help candidates to use their work experience to focus on the skills they need.