Just over half of the candidates who took the first ever exam for the new route to qualifying as a solicitor have passed, the Solicitors Regulation Authority revealed today.
The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course and came into force last September. Candidates must pass two sets of assessments – SQE1 and SQE2 – and complete two years of qualifying work experience.
The first SQE1 assessment was taken by 1,090 candidates last November across more than 100 test centres in 26 countries. The regulator announced today that 53% passed, pointing out that pass rates for the LPC range from 23%-100% between providers.
Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA board, said: ‘The introduction of the SQE should give everyone confidence that those entering the profession have all met the same high standard. So we are pleased that the first assessment has gone well with results that suggest it was a robust, fair and reliable exam. It will of course take time for the full benefits of the SQE to be realised, but this is a good start.’
To pass SQE1, candidates had to pass two functioning legal knowledge tests. The results show that 67% of candidates passed FLK1 and 54% passed FLK2.
On the difference, SQE independent reviewer Geoff Coombe said: ‘It is possible that as candidates take FLK2 just three days after FLK1 they were becoming fatigued and/or had less time to prepare as well for FLK2.’
Whilst he did not recommend any immediate action, he suggested the SRA monitor the difference and see if it may be worth considering spacing the exams further apart.
Performance of those who went to state and private schools were broadly similar. However, the regulator said factors such as a top grade at university or prior work experience were indicators of a greater likelihood of passing.
Pass rates were significantly higher for white candidates – 66% compared with 43% for Asian candidates and 39% for black candidates.
For comparison purposes, the SRA provided LPC completion rates for 2019/2020: 65% for white candidates, 52% for Asian candidates and 39% for black candidates.
Coombe said the differences in candidate performance observed were ‘typical of those seen in other professional exam contexts’. The SRA said it had a range of measures to ensure the SQE is free from bias ‘and we remain committed to doing whatever we can to understand this difference in performance’.
Nearly all candidates were able to access their results yesterday. A spokesperson for exam provider Kaplan said issues for eight candidates were resolved early this morning.
SQE2 assessments, which test practical legal skills, will take place in April. The next SQE1 assessments will take place in July.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce congratulated everyone who passed.
However, she was concerned at the attainment gap between white, black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates. 'We welcome the news the SRA has commissioned in-depth research so it can better understand the causes of differential attainment in legal qualifications. The regulator needs to monitor closely whether the situation is worsening or improving with the move to SQE and if so why,' she said.
Update (Tuesday 25 January): Bookings for the SEQ2 assessment will now open at 10am on Monday 31 January.