What is the SQE?
From 2021, if you are looking to study for a career in law, you will need to complete the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
The SQE has been designed to replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC) as the way to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales, to ensure that all those who are newly qualified are assessed to the same standard. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has established the SQE as a new and more accessible route into law, with a lower cost in comparison to completing the traditional route, whether with a law degree or through a graduate law course.
The SQE consists of two exams that must be completed, and includes two years of work experience and the requirement to meet the character and suitability criteria of the SRA.
How the SQE changes the traditional route to become a solicitor
For those who started studying for a law career before 2021, there were two routes used to become a solicitor in England and Wales.
After completion of a relevant law degree (LLB), a graduate would then have to complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC) followed by a two-year training contract.
A graduate who has completed a degree in a different field would be required to complete a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) followed by the LPC and the two-year training contract.
With the SQE, there is no formal requirement for training - instead, they must hold a degree or equivalent qualification, pass both stages of the SQE, and do the required work experience. This makes the process much cheaper, quicker, and easier for the student. Those who have a law degree before taking the SQE will usually have done some preparation work as part of their course, and there are standalone courses that can be taken, on a full-time or part-time basis, for those who have not done a law degree.
Format of the SQE
The SQE is administered by Kaplan, and it must be taken in a local Pearson assessment center. There are two separate phases to the SQE, and you must pass both parts of the SQE1 before you can attempt the SQE2.
The first exam is the SQE1, which is usually taken after the completion of a law (or other) degree.
The SQE1 is split into two exams, each lasting about five hours. There are 180 multiple-choice questions in each test, and you will usually be asked to complete them on consecutive days at the Pearson test center. The exam is completed online, and it costs £1558. You have to pass this exam to move on in your career path, but you can retake it (at the same cost) up to three times in a six-year period.
The SQE1 is about what is known as Functional Legal Knowledge (FLK).
The FLK1 test is completed first, and this covers:
- Business law and practice
- Dispute Resolution
- The legal system of England and Wales
- Constitutional and administrative law
- EU law and legal services
The FLK2 test contains questions on the following:
- Wills and administration of estates
- Solicitors accounts
- Property practice
- Land law
- Criminal law and practice
Most students will complete their qualifying work experience after completing the SQE1, and then take the SQE2 at the end.
The SQE2 is a more practical, hands-on demonstration of legal skills, and it is assessed in a slightly different way. There are 16 practical exercises that need to be completed at the Pearson test center, and the SQE2 is spread over five days.
In the SQE2 you will have to complete four oral skills assessments, which take two half-days. These assessments will be marked by an assessor who is in the room, and they will be role-playing the part of a client when needed.
The last three half-day assessments will cover 12 written assessments.
In the SQE2, the following legal skills are being tested:
- Client interview and attendance note with legal analysis
- Case matter analysis
- Legal research
- Legal drafting
- Legal writing
According to the SRA, this is based on the following practice concepts:
- Dispute resolution
- Wills and intestacy, probate administration and practice
- Criminal litigation
- Business organization rules and procedures
- Property practice
The SQE2 costs £2422, and you must pass this exam to qualify. You can retake the SQE2 up to three times in a six-year period.
How SQE assessments are marked
Every right answer in both FLK1 and FLK2 earns a mark, and there are no deductions made for wrong answers.
Your results will be displayed as a percentage in both parts of the SQE1, and your total for both will determine whether you have passed the assessment. The actual pass mark for the assessment will be determined by the SRA Board, based on the relative difficulty of the questions asked.
You will usually receive your SQE1 results about 6-10 weeks after completion.
In the oral assessments of the SQE2, the assessor will be the client. In the written part, your answers will be marked by a trained assessor against standardized norms. Every individual assessment will be given a grade based on how well you have answered the questions, against the following rubric:
- A = Superior performance
- B = Clearly satisfactory
- C = Marginal pass
- D = Marginal fail
- E = Clearly unsatisfactory
- F = Poor performance
You will usually receive your SQE2 results about 14-18 weeks after completion.
Frequently asked questions
Who can take the SQE?
Anyone with a law (or equivalent) degree can take the SQE if they are aiming for a career in law. It has been designed to be accessible in terms of study time and cost.
When and where can I take the SQE?
The SQE is taken at a Pearson test center, which can be found throughout England and Wales. There are multiple sittings of the assessments, but these are allocated on a first-come, first served basis so it is a good idea to book in early.
How much does the SQE cost?
The total cost of the SQE is £3980. The SQE1 costs £1558, and the SQE2 costs £2422.
Can I retake the SQE if I fail the first time?
If you fail either part of the SQE exam, you can retake them up to three times each in a six-year period, but you will have to cover the costs for each retake.
How to prepare for the SQE
There are no formal requirements when it comes to training for the SQE.
Graduates who have completed a law degree will have covered preparation for the SQE1 as part of their studies. Non-law graduates can take a course to prepare themselves for the SQE1.
For most applicants, the principles that are being assessed in the SQE2 will be covered as part of the mandatory training.
Aside from learning about the assessment content through a training course, there are some other ways that you can prepare for the SQE.
Although SQE tests take place regularly throughout the year, places are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. You need to be prepared early for the assessments to give yourself the best chance of getting a test date, especially for the SQE2 because at the moment only certain test centers offer this.
If you know you are nearly ready to take the assessment (or you have been instructed to book by your tutor), then get it done sooner rather than later.
Part of the difficulty of any assessment is unfamiliarity, and practice tests are an excellent way to get prepared so that you know what to expect.
A practice test should be taken as if it is the real thing for the best results - use a timer and complete it under exam conditions so that you can get a real feel for how difficult it will be.
Practice tests will also give you an idea of the content of the assessment, which is useful for revision purposes. If there are certain areas in the practice test that you score lower on, this should be where you focus your revision.
Prepare your body
As you approach the test date, be sure to give yourself the best chance for success by fueling your body appropriately. Focus on good, healthy nutrition, get some decent sleep, and stay hydrated.
Your brain will not be able to perform at its best if it does not have the right food, hydration, and rest.
Give yourself time
Taking an assessment at a test center means that you need to allow yourself more time to get to the location and get set up - so plan your route in advance and make sure that you have everything that you need for the test.
Be early; it is likely that there will be some sort of check-in procedure and if you are running late you will be putting extra pressure on yourself.
Read the questions
The SQE at both stages are long exams, and while you have a lot of questions to answer (especially in the first one), it is important not to rush.
In the SQE1, make sure you are taking the time to read each question carefully so that you are completely sure of what you are being asked.
In the SQE2, you will be given enough time to read and understand any briefing documents before you start answering, so make the most of the time you have so that you don’t risk your grade based on a misunderstanding.