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SQE1 Explained: What Aspiring Solicitors Needs to Know

SQE1 Explained: What Aspiring Solicitors Needs to Know

Table of Contents

Intro about SQE1

The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is the new centralised assessment introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). All aspiring solicitors must pass the SQE to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. It was introduced in September 2021 and will eventually replace the Legal Practice Course (LPC).

The SQE is made up of SQE1 and SQE2. The SQE1 exam consists of two functioning legal knowledge (FLK) assessments referred to as FLK1 and FLK2. The FLK1 and FLK2 assessments are completed on separate days. You are required to pass both FLK1 and FLK2 before you can sit SQE2.

Each FLK assessment is split into two sessions of 2 hours 33 minutes with 90 questions in each session. There is a 60 minute break in between the sessions. The assessment is made up entirely of ‘’Single Best Answer’ multiple-choice questions.

Is The SQE Right For You?

There are several factors that can determine whether taking the SQE is the right choice for you. 

First, you must check whether you can meet the criteria for qualifying via the SQE. 

Secondly, you must consider the cost of such assessments and associated preparation courses, tutoring, textbooks etc. 

Thirdly, the SQE examines a considerable amount of material in one assessment. 

You must have the ability to memorise the required information, as the assessments are entirely closed book. 

The SQE assessments require a great deal of discipline and time management. It is essential that you are prepared to dedicate time to studying for the assessments.

Entry Criteria

The following is required to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales under the SQE route:

  1. Have a degree in any subject (or equivalent qualification or work experience).
  2. Pass both SQE assessments – SQE1 focuses on functioning legal knowledge and SQE2 on practical legal skills and knowledge.
  3. Have two years’ Qualifying Work Experience.
  4. Meet the SRA’s character and suitability requirements.

 

You can only book and sit SQE2 after passing SQE1, or if you have been granted an exemption by the SRA for the whole of the SQE1.

You do not have to complete your degree (or equivalent) before sitting SQE1.

The SQE itself consists of two sets of exams – SQE1 and SQE2.

SQE1 features two multiple-choice exams, aimed at assessing ‘functioning legal knowledge’ in selected areas:

SQE1 FLK 1 Topics:

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

SQE1 FLK 2 Topics:

  • Criminal law and practice
  • Land law
  • Property practice
  • Solicitors accounts
  • Trusts
  • Wills and the administration of estates

SQE1 Pervasive Topics

Ethics and Professional Conduct are examined pervasively across the two FLK assessments.

Principles of taxation are examined only in the context of:

  • Business Law and Practice
  • Property Law and Practice
  • Wills and the Administration of Estates

How you’ll take SQE1 exam

You will need to register for the SQE before you are able to book an assessment. You will need to create an account and activate it before logging in. Once you are logged in you will be able to book an assessment.
Registration for the SQE includes ID verification where you will need to provide a valid, official photo identification. Ensure your ID has not expired at the time of registration and remains in date at the time of the assessment. You will also need to complete a diversity survey which will cover questions in relation to your education, background and ethnicity.

Further, you will be asked if any SQE exemptions apply to your situation (for example you may already be a qualified lawyer for which taking the SQE 1 to qualify as a solicitor will therefore be unnecessary). Lastly, you will be asked to state whether any reasonable adjustments are to be made to help ensure that you are able to sit assessments in the best conditions possible.

As of 2024, the SQE1 assessments take place in an assessment window within January and July. You will need to refer to the timings page on the SQE website to check when the booking window opens. Assessment dates will be published about 12 months before each assessment. We recommend that you book as early as possible as booking is on a first come first served basis with a finite number of seats. If the test centre you choose is fully booked you will need to choose an alternative centre.

SQE1 exams will take place in a Pearson VUE test centre. You can decide which test centre you wish to take your exam by booking your exam date on the SRA website. After booking you will receive an email confirming the date, location and duration of your exam. Click here to find your nearest Pearson Vue Test Centre. Pearson Vue Test Centres are located across the globe. It is not necessary to take your SQE1 assessment in England or Wales.

The SQE assessments are only available in the English or Welsh language.

Exam Format and Question Types

Detailed breakdown of the types of questions to expect

SQE1 is a ‘Single Best Answer’ multiple-choice exam. Each question in the assessment has a scenario/fact pattern, followed by a lead/question, followed by five answer options. Single Best Answer questions are not generally used to test simple recall, they often test ‘higher’ cognitive functions such as application. It is the single best answer rather than the single correct answer. The wrong answers may not be entirely incorrect, but are “less correct” than the correct answer. Do not underestimate how difficult MCQs can be to answer correctly.

The SRA have released 65 sample questions for both FLK1 and FLK2. These can be found here. These questions are indicative of the type of questions you will face in your SQE1 sitting.

When preparing for an MCQ test, ensure that you have deep knowledge and understanding. You have a higher likelihood of answering an MCQ correctly if you make an informed decision between answer options. It is essential to analyse the question and make sure you answer the question posed, not a different question that you would prefer it to be.

Candidates often use the “cover test” when answering MCQs. This is where you read the question and try to work out the solution, before looking at the answer options. You then uncover the answer options and match the answer with the one that you have already composed.

You are not required to memorise case names and dates of cases, as you may have done for undergraduate law degrees. This is unless the case is commonly referred to in practice. The example the SRA gives is “the rule in Rylands v Fletcher”. It is more important to have knowledge of the principles established from case law, as opposed to the nuanced facts of the case.

The cut off date for the law upon which you are examined in the SQE will be four calendar months prior to the date of the first assessment in an assessment window. You will be tested on the law as it stands at that date. You will not be tested on the development of the law.

Scoring criteria and passing standards

For each question, there are five answer options. You can only select one option. Each question is worth one mark. SQE1 assessments are not negatively marked. For example, you do not get minus marks for selecting the incorrect answer, you will instead score nothing for that question. For this reason, you are encouraged to select an answer for every question, even if it may be a guess.

Upon receiving your results, you will receive a “raw” score, with the number of questions you answered correctly. Raw scores are then converted into a scaled score to allow scores to be directly compared to reflect candidates’ relative performance across multiple papers in the same assessment window. The scaled score is out of a maximum of 500. The pass mark is set at 300.

The January 2024 sitting for SQE1 had a pass rate of 63% for FLK1, 61% for FLK2 and 56% for SQE1. This means that just over half of candidates sitting SQE1 pass both FLK assessments.

You can pass one FLK assessment and fail the other, retaking the failed FLK at the next assessment date. However, you must eventually pass both FLK1 and FLK2 to pass SQE1.

How long does SQE1 take?

There are many factors to take into account in relation to how long it will take you to prepare for the SQE1. For example, if you decide to undertake an SQE1 preparation course as a part-time student it will naturally take you longer than if you are a full-time student as you will be studying fewer hours in a given week.

Some SQE providers offer different course options from ‘flexible’ to ‘intense’. Flexible courses will allow you to study fewer hours over a longer period of several months. Intense courses will require you to study many hours over a shorter period of several weeks.

It is possible to work and study for SQE1 at the same time. It is advisable to book annual leave or study leave around the time of your SQE1 assessment to ensure the SQE1 has your full focus.

The SQE1 FLK Assessments:

The FLK assessments are each divided into two sessions. One session lasts 2 hours 33 minutes and consists of 90 questions. This equates to an average of just under 2 minutes to answer each question. Some questions will have a longer scenario/fact pattern and others will be shorter, some questions will therefore take more time to answer. You can ‘flag’ and return to questions at the end of the assessment. The first session is sat in the morning, the second session is sat in the afternoon after a break. You cannot return to the first session’s questions after the break. FLK1 and FLK2 are taken on different days.

Candidates often struggle with exam fatigue and exhaustion. It is therefore advisable to space the FLK1 and FLK2 bookings as far apart as possible.

How much will the SQE exam cost?

The SQE1 will cost £1,798 (£899 for FLK1 and £899 for FLK2) for assessments taken up to August 2024.

The SQE1 will cost £1,888 (£944 for FLK1 and £944 for FLK2) for assessments taken from September 2024.

You must book FLK1 and FLK2 separately but pay for them both in a single payment at time of booking. FLK1 and FLK2 must be taken in the same assessment window, unless you are resitting one FLK assessment.

The SQE2 will cost £2,902 for assessments taken from September 2024.

Preparation Tips and Strategies

Study Notes

It is advisable to use condensed notes to revise from for the SQE assessments. Textbooks have multiple pages of information, and although these are useful for initially learning the content, when it comes to memorising information, condensed notes are easier to digest.

Flashcards

Some candidates find it useful to create Q&A flashcards. Write a question on the front and the answer on the back. Ask friends or family to test you, or test yourself throughout the day whenever you have spare time. This is a useful way of keeping your knowledge fresh on subjects you may not have looked at for a while.

Practice Questions

To prepare for the SQE1 exams you must become familiar with the question format of multiple-choice questions. Practising multiple-choice questions is the key to performing well in the SQE1. If you choose a course provider, they will have many practice questions and mock tests. You can click here for further practice questions and also access the SRA’s SQE sample questions here.

Time management tips during preparation and on exam day

During Preparation

How long you spend preparing for the SQE is based on each individual’s situation. Candidates who have recently completed a law degree are likely to find preparing for SQE1 easier than candidates who have never studied law before. A lot of the legal knowledge tested in SQE1 is also tested as part of an LLB degree.

To give yourself the best possible chance of performing well in SQE1, it is advisable to give yourself enough preparation time. If you are studying for the SQE part-time, allowing yourself several months to a year of preparation allows you greater flexibility with your study scheduling.

Dedicate a certain number of hours each day or per week to studying for the SQE. Create a study schedule and try to stick to it. Make a goal to complete your learning of a certain topic by a certain date and check that you are on track. Ensure you have flexibility in your schedule, in case you face any setbacks, or learning of certain topics takes longer than you envisaged.

Familiarise yourself with the assessment specification from the outset. Print off the ‘Legal Knowledge’ bullet point list on the SRA’s website, and tick off each point once you have made notes and studied each element.

During the SQE1 Exam

Don’t fixate on the fact that the average for each question is just under 2 minutes. Some questions will take longer than others. Check the timer every 30 minutes to monitor your progress.

Do not panic if you cannot answer a question. Make an educated guess, select an option, flag the question and come back to it at the end of the assessment.

Leave enough time at the end of the assessment to come back to any flagged questions.

If you have enough time, redo any questions involving a mathematical calculation. You might have rushed the first time, and missed something.

Do not leave any questions without selecting an option. The assessments are not negatively marked, and there is always a chance you guess the correct answer.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

Do not underestimate the intensity of the exam. Practise questions in exam conditions: closed book and timed. Then it will not come as a shock in your SQE1 sitting.

Always practise the SRA’s sample questions. The SRA has prepared 65 questions on each FLK assessment. This will give you an understanding of the type of wording used, information provided, and question structure.

Always use a calculator. Exam fatigue can set in during the assessment and it is easy to make a basic mathematical error. Always double check your calculations.

Answering multiple-choice style questions requires practice. It is a common misconception that MCQs are easier than long form or essay style questions. However, it is easy to get caught out by red-herrings and misleading answer options. Practise which method works for you, whether that’s looking at the answer options before the fact pattern and questions or vice versa. Everyone’s exam and preparation technique is different. What works for one person may not work for you.

Comparison with Other Qualification Paths

How SQE1 compares to the traditional LPC route

SQE1 is closed book as opposed to the open book nature of the LPC assessments.

LPC assessments are varied, with multiple-choice questions, written examinations, oral examinations, and take-home assessments.

SQE1 is entirely a Single Best Answer multiple-choice question assessment.

The SQE examines candidates at the level of a competent day 1 newly qualified solicitor, whereas the LPC examines candidates at the level of a competent day 1 trainee solicitor. The SQE therefore assesses candidates at a higher level than the LPC and is generally considered as more difficult than the LPC.

For more information about deciding whether to pursue either the LPC or SQE click here.

Advantages and disadvantages of choosing SQE1 over other paths

An advantage of the SQE is that you do not need to have graduated with an LLB or taken a graduate or postgraduate diploma in law in order to qualify as a solicitor via the SQE route.

The SQE was implemented as a way to reduce the cost of qualifying as a solicitor and widen access to the profession. Some still consider the cost of qualifying via the SQE route as more affordable than qualifying via the LPC. However, after SQE assessment fees, preparation provider fees and other associated costs of attending the assessments and potential resit fees, there is not a considerable difference in cost compared to the LPC.

One of the main advantages of the SQE is that it is considered easier to obtain the Qualifying Work Experience required to qualify compared to securing a competitive training contract, as required by the LPC route.

The SQE will replace the LPC as the qualifying route to becoming a solicitor by 2032.

Retaking the SQE1 exams

A fee is required if you have to retake either FLK1 or FLK2. If you retake both FLK assessments the full fee of £1,888 is required for all retakes taking place from September 2024. The fee of £944 is required if just one FLK assessment is retaken.

You will only be allowed three attempts at both FLK1 and FLK2. These have to be taken within six years from the first attempt of an SQE assessment. The clock starts from the first day of the first assessment you sit. If you fail FLK1 and/or FLK2 three times during this six-year period, you must wait until that six-year period expires before reapplying, and previous passes will not be carried forward.

Exemptions from SQE1

If you have completed the LPC you will be exempt from having to take the SQE 1 and can qualify as a lawyer via a training contract or through taking the SQE 2 and having completed the required Qualifying Work Experience. If you are already a qualified lawyer you will most likely be exempt from taking the SQE 1. For more information exemptions see here.

Resource Guide

Recommended textbooks and materials

Bundles of textbooks can be purchased from some course provider’s websites.

You can access additional materials here.

Online resources and courses

You can visit the Legal Cheek website for a comprehensive list of SQE providers

SRA Sample Questions are found here.

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