The second stage of a new ‘super exam’ for aspiring solicitors is on course to be a reliable valid and cost-effective assessment, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has said, after publishing pilot findings today.

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. The SRA has said all of the SQE questions will be reviewed for cultural bias.

Today the regulator published the findings of the pilot for SQE2, which tests legal skills in criminal litigation, dispute resolution, property practice, wills and intestacy, probate administration and practice, and business organisations, rules and procedures.

Giving feedback on the pilot, 80% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the legal questions were clear; 84% agreed or strongly agreed that the questions reflected problems that might be encountered by a solicitor on the first day. Some candidates thought sample questions and answers would help clarify the standard or level expected.

Based on the findings, Kaplan, the education provider running SQE on behalf of the regulator, recommends a uniform exam in which all candidates take the same assessment. Optional models explored in the pilot did not give sufficient confidence that all candidates would be assessed against a single universal standard at admission.

Julie Brannan, director of education and training, said: ‘A significant problem with the current system is that there are more than 100 organisations setting and marking exams. It is hard to have full confidence that all qualifying solicitors are meeting a consistent, high standard. A centralised, independent assessment will tackle this problem.

‘We need to make sure we get the detail of the design right. These pilots, alongside a whole range of engagement and expert input, will help us make sure the SQE is a rigorous, fair assessment. We will announce our final decision on the SQE design shortly.’

Law Society president Simon Davis said:  'The Law Society is actively engaging with the SRA in the development of the SQE 1, SQE 2 and qualifying work experience to ensure the exams maintain high legal standards and do not create arbitrary barriers for new entrants – particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.'