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Solicitors Qualifying Examination – SQE


Solicitors Qualifying Examination – SQE

The SQE Exams – The New Way to Qualify as an English Solicitor

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) is a centralised assessment that all individuals must pass in order to be admitted as solicitors of England and Wales, regardless of which route into the profession they have taken before sitting the SQE exams.

This applies to you whether you are:

  • a law graduate or have an academic degree in a different discipline;
  • a legal apprentice; or
  • a foreign qualified lawyer

The SQE was introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body of the Law Society of England and Wales. It requires all intending solicitors to demonstrate a high level of legal knowledge and practical skills, as well as intellectual and analytical ability, which is necessary to perform their role competently and ethically.

The SQE exams are administered by a sole assessment provider, Kaplan, which has been appointed by the SRA following a tender. Kaplan is not allowed to offer preparation courses for the SQE.

Watch this video presentation to learn more about the SQE exams:

Simple and Consistent Approach

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination will replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC – the vocational stage for domestic candidates) and the QLTS (the fast track route for foreign lawyers) in September 2021. It provides a measure of consistency to ensure comparability, fairness, and high standards, while still encouraging a breadth of practical experience.

The SQE facilitates the development of more flexible pathways to qualification than before, for those who are able to meet the robust standards of the assessment, without diluting the standard of legal skills and practical skills expected of members of one of the world’s most prestigious legal professions.

The SRA has published an SQE Assessment Specification which sets out the outcomes it would test within the examination. The Assessment Specification is based on the Statement of Solicitor Competence. Using the Assessment Specification as a starting point, all candidates are required to demonstrate that they have met the relevant competences to practise as solicitors of England and Wales.

How are You Assessed on the Solicitors Qualifying Examination?

The SQE exams comprise two stages:

  • SQE Stage 1 – Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessments – two assessments which integrate substantive and procedural law
  • SQE Stage 2 – Practical Legal Skills Assessments – a set of 16 assessments, each focused on two practice areas which test candidates’ ability to carry out practical legal tasks

SQE1 – Two Functioning Legal Knowledge Assessments (FLK)

SQE1 comprises two separate exams which test functioning legal knowledge, or FLK, in a practical context.

The first assessment (FLK1) covers the following practice areas:

  • Business Law and Practice
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Contract
  • Tort
  • The Legal System of England and Wales
  • Constitutional and Administrative Law and EU Law
  • Legal Services

The second assessment (FLK2) covers the following practice areas:

  • Property Practice
  • Wills and the Administration of Estates
  • Solicitors Accounts
  • Land Law
  • Trusts
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Litigation

Computer-Based, Multiple Choice Assessments

Each of the two exams includes 180 questions and lasts 5 hours and 6 minutes (SQE1 would therefore have 10 hours and 12 minutes of examination time in total). Within each of the FLK assessments, questions may draw on any combination of the subject areas which might be encountered in practice. Ethics and Professional Conduct are examined pervasively across the two SQE1 exams.

The SQE1 assessments use computer-based, objective testing, employing a multiple choice test question format – consisting of a stem, lead-in question, and five possible options where only one is the best response.

The exam integrates substantive and procedural law into realistic scenarios and legal issues which a newly qualified solicitor may come across in practice. The SQE1 FLK exams are closed book. Candidates must take the two parts of SQE1 all together. The SQE1 exams are offered across two separate days in the UK and in various locations around the world.

SQE1 assessments employ a range of question formats, through single best answer questions, which takes the format of a multiple-choice questions. These questions include a scenario a solicitor might typically encounter in practice, a lead-in question, and five options for which candidates have to apply their knowledge of English law to the given context. The five options are all possible solutions or responses to the question arising from the scenario. However, one of the options will be the best response, and the remaining four will be partially correct, incorrect, or will not reflect a correct application of the law.

The SRA use an “Angoff panel” of solicitors to set the pass mark for the FLK assessments, which means the pass mark is not pre-determined. It is established after using the standard setting where the panel provides an estimate of the proportion of minimally competent candidates who would get each question correct. The information is then used in setting the pass mark.

SQE2 – The Practical Legal Skills Assessment

The SQE2 exam assesses core legal skills and candidates’ ability to carry out practical legal tasks through a series of assessments repeated in various legal practice areas. Candidates will be tested on ethical principles throughout.

SQE2 tests various skills: client interviewing and completion of an attendance note/legal analysis; advocacy; legal research; legal writing; legal drafting; and case and matter analysis.

The assessments must be taken and passed in the various practice contexts making a total of 16 assessments known as stations:

  • Dispute Resolution
  • Property Practice
  • Business Law and Practice
  • Criminal Practice
  • Wills and the Administration of Estates
QLTS OSCE Part 1 Format

The stations in the SQE2 exam will sample across the range of skills and practice areas. Candidates will not be able to choose the practice area for their skills assessment.

The client interviewing and advocacy assessments involve role-play exercises. An assessor who has been trained in playing the role of the client assesses the client interview. The attendance note which follows the interview is marked by a solicitor. The advocacy exam is assessed during the submission or presentation by a solicitor acting as the decision maker.

The legal research, legal writing, legal drafting, and case and matter analysis assessments are completed on a computer. The exercises are marked by a trained assessor, who is a qualified solicitor according to the SRA criteria.

For practical purposes the SQE2 exam is divided into two parts as follows:

SQE2 Oral Assessments

  • Interview and attendance note/legal analysis
  • Advocacy

SQE2 oral will take place over two half days. The following table shows the assessments candidates will undertake on each of the days. Candidates will take a total of four oral legal skills assessments, as shown in the table below:

Day 1Day 2
Advocacy (Dispute Resolution) x1Advocacy (Criminal Litigation) x1
Interview and attendance note/legal analysis (Property Practice) x1Interview and attendance note/legal analysis (Wills and Intestacy, Probate
Administration and Practice) x1

SQE2 Written Assessments

  • Case and matter analysis
  • Legal research
  • Legal writing
  • Legal drafting

SQE2 written will take place over three half days. The following table shows the assessments candidates will undertake on each of the days. Candidates will take a total of 12 written legal skills assessments:

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Case and matter analysis x1Case and matter analysis x1Case and matter analysis x1
Legal drafting x1Legal drafting x1Legal drafting x1
Legal research x1Legal research x1Legal research x1
Legal writing x1Legal writing x1Legal writing x1
Two of these exercises will be in the context of Dispute Resolution and two will be in the context of Criminal LitigationTwo of these exercises will be in the context of Property Practice and two will be in the context of Wills and Intestacy, Probate Administration and PracticeCandidates will sit all assessments in the context of Business Organisations, Rules and Procedures

The SQE2 exam will include at least one task involving negotiation. Negotiation may be assessed in either interview and attendance note/legal analysis, and/or case and matter analysis, and/or legal writing.

Candidates must pass the two parts of SQE1 before they can attempt any of the SQE2 exams.

SQE2 assesses candidates’ practical skills over their legal knowledge, and involves, for example, simulations of solicitor/client interactions, file reviews, and court-based scenarios. For example, an assessment might test whether a candidate can conduct an interview with a client who is confused, forgetful, emotional, unreliable, or with whom the candidate has to establish their credibility. The SQE2 exams would not be designed to test recall of legal knowledge.

Candidates will be provided with all relevant legal materials. Getting the law right is clearly a core competency, and candidates who misconceive or misapply the law and who are not able to correctly identify and apply legal principles or ethical considerations will fail the SQE2 exam.

The pass mark for SQE2 is set by borderline regression accompanied by quality assurance measures. In essence, an overall view is taken of whether or not a candidate reaches the standard of a newly qualified solicitor in England and Wales. The spread of candidates’ marks are then reviewed in the light of these judgements and a pass mark is determined. A correction will be made for error measurement in the test using standard psychometric procedures (SEm). In this way a pass mark which is empirically justified is established.

Assessment Rules

  • You must first pass both parts of SQE1 exams (FLK1 and FLK2) before you can attempt SQE2
  • You must take FLK1 and FLK2 assessments in a single assessment window
  • If you fail any of the two elements of the SQE1 exams, you must resit the specific element (either FLK1 or FLK2) of the assessment that you have failed
  • You have a maximum of three attempts to pass each SQE1 or SQE2 exams in a six-year period
  • If you have passed an assessment, you are not allowed to resit it in an effort to improve your pass mark. Only candidates who have failed an assessment may resit
  • You must pass all SQE1 and SQE2 exams within six years, commencing from the date of the first attempt of the SQE1 assessment to the date you receive your final result for the SQE2 exam.
  • No compensation is allowed across different assessments; each must be passed separately.
  • There is no English language test to take as a pre-requisite to sit the SQE.
  • Candidates are not allowed to take any materials into the SQE exams.

Can I Get Any Exemptions from the SQE Exams?

Where qualified lawyers from foreign jurisdictions recognised by the SRA can demonstrate they have gained the knowledge of English and Welsh law or the professional skills assessed by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination through their qualifications or experience, the SRA will not require them to pass the corresponding stages of the SQE exams.

Those lawyers may request that the SRA assess their professional background and qualifications, before they take the assessments, which may result in an exemption being granted by the SRA.

The SRA may offer exemptions to candidates who are able to demonstrate that they meet certain criteria of previous legal knowledge and practical experience in English Law. There will be no partial exemptions from some elements of either SQE1 or SQE2. There will be only full exemption from a whole of SQE1 or SQE2 exams. The bar however is very high and it will be very difficult to obtain any exemptions from the SQE.

All other candidates (domestic and foreign) must pass the two elements of the assessment and cannot apply for any exemptions.

Level of English Expected of SQE Candidates

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination is undertaken in English (the SRA may also offer the exam in Welsh). Candidates undertaking the SQE exams 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 received an exemption from SQE2, at the time they apply for a practising certificate (however not at the point where they apply for admission as solicitors or as an eligibility requirement to sitting the SQE). All other foreign lawyers who will complete the two stages of the SQE exams, are not subject to any English language requirement.

Are You Eligible to Qualify as a Solicitor via the SQE?

There are no pre-requisites for registering to take the SQE exams with Kaplan. However, you should meet certain requirements before you can apply to the SRA for admission as a solicitor of England and Wales.

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