SQE Update – February 2020

This bulletin covers qualifying work experience and assessing skills under the SQE, as well as how to get involved in our upcoming events and webinars.

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Qualifying work experience - get the facts

From autumn 2021, everyone will need to complete at least two years qualifying work experience (QWE) in order to become a solicitor. This replaces the current period of recognised training (the ‘training contract').

QWE will need to be signed off by a solicitor, but they will not be assessing the candidate's competence (that is done through the SQE). Instead they will be signing off that the candidate has had the opportunity to develop the competences in the Statement of Solicitor Competence, through their period of work experience.

To help employers, and people offering advice to candidates, we have information on our website about:

  • what counts as qualifying work experience
  • what it is that solicitors are signing off
  • suggestions on how employers can get ready.

Learn more

You can also watch our webinar to find out about what qualifying work experience means for both candidates and employers. Watch it now

Qualifying work experience - what support would you find useful?

Do you think you need more information about solicitors signing off qualifying work experience? Are you still uncertain how it will work in practice?

Tell us what more information and resources would be useful to employers and people who advise candidates. We want to know what will help you understand and deliver qualifying work experience now and in the future. Take our survey now 

We are also arranging a series of events to give you the opportunity to feedback us and help us develop supporting resources.

SQE Briefing now available

A number of stakeholders have asked for a document that covers the early inception of SQE from back in 2013, right through to where we currently are. The briefing includes:

  • why we are introducing the SQE
  • the period of development
  • key issues such as standard setting, costs and equality, diversity and inclusion
  • next steps.

Read more (PDF 29 pages, 436K)

Exploring the SQE1 sample questions

Our recent webinar considered queries relating to the 90 SQE sample questions we have published. In it we respond to a range of queries around specific questions.

You can watch this on demand to learn more and hear answers to pre-submitted queries. Watch it on YouTube

You can also view the full questions on our website. Learn more

You can also read our Director of Education and Training, Julie Brannan's article about our approach to SQE1, including why we are using multiple choice, single best answer questions.

SQE in the Welsh language

We are committed to making sure the SQE is accessible as possible, and that we serve the needs of candidates who may want to take it in Welsh. We are still working on the best approach, exploring a number of practical issues including:

  • Consistency - how we translate, moderate and standardise the approach across the two languages needs careful work to maintain consistent standards and to be fair to all candidates.
  • Demand - we are working with a range of people including students, universities and law firms to understand the likely level of demand.
  • Phased approach - there are potential benefits to a phased approach to implementation, which might involve first designing the option to submit written answers in Welsh, then potentially moving to having the option for Welsh oral answers for SQE2 as well.
  • Finding assessors - we need to look at how we can recruit bilingual assessors who are qualified solicitors.

We are currently speaking with a range of people, including academics, Welsh-speaking students, employers, Welsh Government and other experts to make sure we arrive at the best approach.

If you are a bilingual Welsh and English solicitor, and are interested in acting as an SQE assessor, please contact us.

SQE Assessment Specifications online to view

You can find detailed information about what we will be testing in the first assessment in the SQE1 Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessment Specification. You may also find the SQE2 Pilot Assessment Specification useful as this shows what we tested in the second pilot.

Learn more

Get involved

Qualifying work experience (Birmingham)

  • When: 16.00 - 17.30 on 10 March 2020
  • What: latest information on qualifying work experience and tell us what else would be useful to employers and people who advise students
  • Who: Law firms and organisations that employ trainees, people advising candidates
  • Learn more and book now

Qualifying work experience (London)

  • When: 15.00 - 17.00 on 17 March 2020
  • What: latest information on qualifying work experience and tell us what else would be useful to employers and people who advise students
  • Who: Law firms and organisations that employ trainees, people advising candidates
  • Learn more and book now

Qualifying work experience (Webinar)

  • When: 12.30 on 25 February
  • What: latest information on qualifying work experience and tell us what else would be useful to employers and people who advise students. You'll also have the chance to offer your views afterwards via our survey
  • Who: Law firms and organisations that employ trainees, people advising candidates
  • Sign up now

Assessing skills - watch our webinar and tell us what you think

Our SQE1 pilot showed the assessment worked well for testing application of functioning legal knowledge but raised questions around the approach to assessing skills at this stage in a candidate's journey. So we are now considering whether skills should be assessed in both SQE1 and SQE2, or just in SQE2.

To make our decision, we need to know what you think. Watch our recent webinar to learn more about how we test skills and give us your views via our survey afterwards (survey link is in the YouTube description). Watch now

Multiple choice and SQE1 sample questions

By Julie Brannan, Director of Education and Training

In December we published 90 SQE1 functional legal knowledge sample questions to help both education providers and candidates prepare for the assessment and plan their training.

It has been interesting to hear the reaction - some positive, some queries, a few challenges, while others are still uncertain about the use of multiple-choice questions at all.

A well-established approach

Multiple choice, single best answer questions are already used in legal assessments, both at universities and in high stakes licencing examinations. This includes the Legal Practice Course and the Bar Professional Training Course.

The Multistate Bar Exam adopted by 49 states in the US, is a single paper of 200 single best answer multiple choice questions covering:

  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Real Property
  • Torts.

Single best answer multiple choice questions are also widely used in assessments in other professions, such as medicine, pharmacy and accountancy.

They can be a very effective way of testing the application of a broad-range of fundamental legal principles, in contrast to essay-style questions where there is a greater risk that a candidate ‘gets lucky' on the subjects that come up.

They also have the advantage of being able to be objectively marked, and enable us to adopt modern, statistically based standard-setting processes to ensure accurate, consistent assessment decisions.

Drafting by expert solicitors

Single best answer questions must be well written. That means they need expert drafting to make sure they do not contain flaws and assess application of fundamental legal principles rather than knowledge recall. It can take a day to write a good, robust multiple choice question and then it still needs editing and reviewing.

That is why we are developing the assessment working with Kaplan, one of the world's leading professional assessment providers. To develop the questions, we are using a rigorous multi-stage process, which involves solicitors reviewing and refining the questions at every stage.

These types of questions are good at testing application of knowledge but being a solicitor is about much more that - good writing and oral skills, for example, are essential for a solicitor. So for the SQE, they will be combined with a range of other ways to test legal skills - from written advice to client interviews, legal drafting to advocacy.

Common queries on the sample questions

We have had a range of queries on the sample questions we have published: from whether more than one answer can be correct to what if there is departure from the rules of precedent. It's great that people have been so engaged. We recently answered those queries - and others - in our recent webinar on the sample questions.

Later this year we will be creating an SQE forum providing an ongoing opportunity for questions to be raised about all aspects of the assessment. In the meantime, if you have any queries about the sample questions, please contact us.

Watch the webinar on YouTube

View the questions

Learn more about developing multiple-choice questions

Other ways to get involved

Join our LinkedIn reference group. It will help you keep up to date with the latest SQE developments and opportunities to get involved in our surveys and events.

If you are thinking about taking the SQE, or know someone who is, please follow Career in Law for the latest information aimed at aspiring solicitors.

If you have any questions, or want more information on how you can get involved, contact us.


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Find out more about the SQE.