Latest analysis shows the new examination for aspiring solicitors to be a fair and reliable assessment, the Solicitors Regulation Authority said today. An independent report of the first full year of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination has concluded that, generally, SQE been delivered effectively.

But despite the SRA’s satisfaction, questions remain over the significant difference in pass rates between different ethnic groups. Based on analysis of the 3,300 people sitting the SQE in 2021/22, 28% of black candidates against 63% of white candidates passed the written element of the test (SQE1); the pass rate for the skills and practical element (SQE2) was 53% compared with 85%. Asian candidates had a 48% pass rate for SQE1 and 72% rate for SQE2.

The difference in pass rates based on ethnic background has already been raised as an issue with the new test, with SRA chair Anna Bradley last year describing the figures as ‘troubling’.

The SRA accepts the data reflect differences in performance by ethnicity, but said the evidence shows there is ‘no systemic bias’ in the SQE itself. The regulator has commissioned research from Exeter University to better understand why different groups perform better than others. It is expected to report in November.

SRA chief executive Paul Philip told the Gazette that the pass rate proportions were not out of line with other professional entrance exam qualifications and the SQE pass rates for different ethnic groups were similar to those of the previous Legal Practice Course.

‘The one thing we can guarantee is the SQE provides consistency and everyone sits a national exam – it is a real leveller,’ said Philip. ‘We said it was about a robust outcome to increase social mobility. We said the [pass rate] profile in the LPC may well continue and we would commission research [to find out why].

‘[The SQE] has not made the position any better but has not it any worse – what we have to get to the bottom of is why.’

The independent report shows that the overall pass rate for SQE1 was 53% and for SQE2 it was 77%. Almost half (45%) of those who failed the SQE1 resat nine months later, although the pass rate for second attempt candidates was a lowly 17%.

Although based on a small sample, there was evidence that legal apprentices taking both exams performed significantly better – perhaps a sign that learning on the job had prepared them better for the test.

The pass rate for SQE1 candidates who had a 1st class degree was 71%. This dropped to 58% for those with a 2:1 degree, 32% for those with a 2:2, and 14% who came away from university with a 3rd class degree.

The pass rate was almost identical for candidates from a professional and working class background, and there was a relatively small difference between candidates who went to state schools (pass rate: 65%), selective schools (66%) and fee-paying schools (73%).

The number of people taking the SQE in the current year is expected to be at least double that in the first year. Candidates took assessments in 42 countries.

Meanwhile the SRA said that the cost of taking the exam will increase by 11% in 2023/34, with candidates paying £1,798 to take SQE1 and £2,766 for SQE2.

Philip said the SRA was ‘disappointed’ it had to increase fees but this was allowed in the contract with assessment provider Kaplan and was linked to inflation.


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