What is the BCAT Test?
The BCAT (Bar Course Aptitude Test) is an assessment that measures the critical thinking skills of those wishing to pursue a career in law. Introduced in 2013, the BCAT ensures only candidates who have the relevant skills and strengths needed to become a lawyer make it onto the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) as you must pass the BCAT first.
A high mark in the BCAT indicates a likelihood that a candidate will go on to do well in the BPTC, so it's a valuable time and money-saving resource for employers.
The BCAT is based on the Watson Glaser method of testing. Watson Glaser tests are also widely used in law firms across the world as a recruitment assessment tool.
The core skills you're evaluated on in the BCAT are those essential to the success of every barrister. As well as your critical thinking aptitude, the test is designed to probe your ability to recognize assumptions, evaluate arguments and draw conclusions. People often remember this using the acronym 'RED'.
How is the BCAT Formatted?
The BCAT is a 55-minute test that you take online at a designated test centre.
The questions on the test are set out in five sections:
1. Drawing inferences from facts
2. Recognition of assumptions
3. Deductive reasoning
4. Logical interpretation
5. Evaluation of arguments
You'll get your results as soon as you complete the test.
Drawing Inferences From Facts
In this section of the test, you'll start by reading through a paragraph of detailed text and an accompanying statement.
You'll then be asked whether the statement is 'observed' or 'supposed', based on what you've read.
This task is all about checking how well you can separate fact from fiction — a crucial skill in the legal world. It's made more complex by the tight time limit, which means you have to work through the test at a pace to complete each question.
Practicing past BCAT tests is the best way you can hone your skills and ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of success on the day.
Recognition of Assumptions
Recognising assumptions is another core skill you'll need to show you possess when you take the BACT.
In this section of the test, you'll be given a paragraph to read as well as an accompanying statement.
Your job is to determine whether the assumption is made within the statement or not.
In doing so, you'll show employers whether you have the necessary skills to recognise what is merely an assumption, and therefore lacking in evidence to back it up. This is a vital skill to acquire before taking the bar, as you'll need to be able to question things from every angle as part of your daily work.
In the deductive reasoning section of the test, you'll be given a series of facts followed by different conclusions.
You will need to show your deductive reasoning powers by determining whether each conclusion is supported by the facts or not.
Again, this is all in preparation for the bar where this kind of thinking will become a part of your everyday life.
Your interpretation skills will come under scrutiny in this section of the test.
You'll need to read and analyse a series of different factual paragraphs, before assessing the accompanying statements. Then, you'll have to interpret whether the statement follows from the text you've read.
Again, this can be tricky to navigate in the time limit you have, so it's essential to practice past papers in advance of taking the real BCAT.
Evaluation of Arguments
The final part of the BCAT test looks at how well you can evaluate different arguments.
You'll need to read through a selection of different statements, followed by several possible arguments relating to that statement.
Looking solely at the facts presented, you'll then need to select which arguments you deem to be 'strong' and 'weak.'
This can help to give a prospective employer a good idea of whether you know what it takes to make a robust legal argument.
Top Tips for Success in the BCAT
Practicing is the best way to prepare yourself for what's to come on the day.
Make sure you take every practice test in exam conditions to familiarise yourself with what to expect on the day.
And once you've finished a test, it's important to go back over your answers and take time to work on any areas you may have struggled with.
2. Brush up on your critical thinking skills
Honing your critical thinking skills is key to success in the BCAT.
Why not try to rate arguments you see in newspapers, make quick summaries of passages of text you've read, or practice analysing the strength of different conclusions? All of these things can help you to improve your skills and get you ready for the BCAT.
3. Be ready
The BCAT is a big commitment, both in terms of the time taken to prepare yourself adequately to take it and the application process itself.
So it's always worth thinking about whether it's the right time for your application. You want to be relatively free from other commitments so you can give yourself the best possible chance of making it through the process.
4. Don't panic
Taking any test is challenging. So if you find yourself panicking during the day, take a moment to draw a deep breath and collect your thoughts.
If you really can't answer a question, just make an educated guess and move onto the next one. If you've worked hard you have nothing to worry about.