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SQE vs QLTS - What are the Differences?

Learn more about the SQE, the new route to becoming an English solicitor that replaced the QLTS in September 2021

SQE vs QLTS - What are the Differences?

Learn more about the SQE, the new route to becoming an English solicitor that replaced the QLTS in September 2021

The two exams are very similar in their style, structure and content


Changes to the solicitor qualification are now in effect

In September 2021, the SQE replaced the QLTS and forever changed how you qualify as a solicitor of England and Wales.

After the introduction of the SQE, the QLTS is no longer available as a route to qualification as a solicitor, subject to a short transition period.

The introduction of the SQE is expected to drive up international applications to levels not seen in many years.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the main differences between the QLTS, which assesses foreign qualified lawyers, and the SQE, which will assess all aspiring solicitors regardless of their background, whether they are UK university law graduates, non-law graduates, apprentices, chartered legal executives, paralegals, foreign qualified lawyers or non-UK students.

Structure of the assessments

The overall structure of the SQE and QLTS assessments are similar in the way that they are both divided into two different sections and that the first section must be passed before the second can be attempted.

The QLTS is structured into two different parts: Part 1, MCT, and Part 2, OSCE. SQE also has two different parts in stages: SQE Stage 1, the Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessments, and SQE Stage 2, the Practical Legal Skills Assessments, which test oral and written legal skills.

The QLTS and SQE exams are administered by Kaplan, a sole assessment provider that has been appointed by the SRA to carry out the assessments on their behalf. Kaplan is not allowed to offer preparation courses for either the QLTS or SQE.

Likewise in the QLTS, SQE1 and some elements of SQE2 will be available at various international centres, but the oral element of SQE2 will only be available in England and Wales initially.

Part 1 of the QLTS, the MCT, focuses on assessing the application of knowledge of substantive law, and is only one assessment, consisting of 180 questions, divided into morning and afternoon periods of 2 hours and 45 minutes each. The MCT lasts 5 hours and 30 minutes. You are given an unlimited number of attempts to pass.

SQE1 will focus on assessing the application of functioning legal knowledge required for effective practice, consisting of 360 questions, divided into two assessments of 180 questions each, which will run across two separate days for a total of 10 hours and 12 minutes.

With the SQE, you are given three attempts to pass each assessment in a 6-year period. The content of SQE1 covers more practice areas than the MCT, and assesses substantive, procedural and practical law, whereas the MCT only assesses substantive law. For example, SQE1 will assess civil and criminal litigation where those areas are not currently assessed on the MCT.

Part 2 of the QLTS assesses five different skills across three legal practice areas, has 15 assessments and takes 12 hours and 45 minutes, and also comes with an unlimited amount of attempts to pass. SQE2 assesses six different skills, five legal practice areas, has 16 assessments and takes 13 hours and 45 minutes, but you are given only three attempts to pass each assessment in a 6-year period.

With the QLTS, there is no time frame that both parts much be completed, but with the SQE, both stages must be completed within 6 years.

Exemptions from the assessments

Foreign qualified lawyers with practice rights may apply for exemptions from the SQE and QLTS on the basis of their prior qualifications or experience, and only from a whole component(s) of the SQE or QLTS.

There are pre-agreed exemptions available to lawyers from certain jurisdictions from the SQE and from some elements of the QLTS.

Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)

The SQE requires graduate students who are not qualified lawyers in another jurisdiction to complete a two-year Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) requirement.

Foreign qualified lawyers are exempt from the QWE. So in this aspect, there is no change compared to the QLTS which does not impose any experience or training requirement on foreign lawyers who pursue the QLTS.

English language test

Candidates undertaking the QLTS or SQE are not subject to any English language requirement. However, you should ensure that your standard of written, spoken, reading, and listening English is appropriate for the assessments otherwise you are unlikely to pass.

In very limited circumstances, the SRA may impose an English language requirement on foreign qualified lawyers who are exempt from SQE2.

SQE assessment and course fees

The total fee for taking both SQE assessments are: SQE1 – £1,558 (£1,622 from January 2023) and SQE2 – £2,493. VAT is not applicable.

As for training, QLTS School offers three course packages for each of SQE1 and SQE2 assessments, each with different features and modules. Course fees range from £1,590 – £2,390 for either SQE1 or SQE2.

Transitional arrangements for QLTS candidates

QLTS candidates who have passed the Multiple Choice Test (MCT) but not the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) before 1 September 2021 (which is the date the SQE was introduced), will have two options:

  • To pass the OSCE and apply for admission to the SRA by 31 August 2022 (inclusive); or
  • To sit SQE2 as an alternative to the OSCE, and if you subsequently pass the SQE2 exam, you must apply for admission to the SRA by 31 March 2024 (inclusive)

In both cases, you must meet the SRA Character and Suitability Rules at the time you apply for admission.

Candidates who have passed the MCT but could not meet any of the two options set out above will need to take both SQE1 and SQE2 exams. No credit will be given for passing the MCT.

What are the main differences between the OSCE and SQE2?

  • There are more oral assessments in the OSCE than in SQE2
  • A new skill will be assessed in SQE2 (case and matter analysis) which is not currently assessed in the OSCE
  • There is a slightly different allocation of tasks across the practice areas and skills in the two assessments
  • Legal research in SQE2 will not require the use of Lexis or Westlaw as in the OSCE
  • The cost of SQE2 is about £1,000 less than the OSCE

If you wish to combine the MCT and SQE2 you will have three attempts to complete SQE2 and apply for admission to the SRA before 31 March 2024. It does not matter how many times you have attempted the OSCE.

Information on the transition from the QLTS to SQE is still forthcoming and we will be continuing to update you as the SRA finalises more details. Be sure to check back often. If you want to begin preparing for the QLTS, we can help.

Watch this video presentation to learn more about the differences between the two routes to qualification as an English solicitor:

We have created the infographic below to better illustrate the major differences between the SQE and QLTS.

Please feel to share with your friends and colleagues!


Preparation courses for the SQE assessments

QLTS School offers comprehensive, affordable and flexible preparation courses for the SQE exams, which reflect the SQE Assessments Specification objectives and the examiner’s requirements.

Our courses will enable you to study in your preferred environment, at your own pace, and at the most suitable and convenient time for you – whether at home, in the office or elsewhere.

Our preparation courses for SQE1 and SQE2 are suitable for candidates from a variety of backgrounds – be it law graduates or non-law graduates, paralegals, chartered legal executives, apprentices, and foreign qualified lawyers.

The courses will save you time and money whilst at the same time will retain the advantages of our professional guidance and experience. Our SQE preparation courses combine comprehensive and subject-specific textbooks, video tutorials, an online training system, mock exams and extensive tutor support.

We invite you to check our free SQE sample materialsdownload our brochure or request a free consultation with one of our advisors.

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