The route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales was overhauled by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) in September 2021. As part of this change, the SRA introduced the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE is a new exam design to assess candidates on their legal knowledge and practical legal skills. The SQE is split into two parts, SQE1 and SQE2; these exams are taken by all aspiring solicitors regardless of their previous academic qualifications or legal training. Candidates must pass both exams in order to become a qualified solicitor. This article will provide an in-depth explanation to the first exam, SQE1.
What is the SQE1 Exam?
The SQE1 exam is the first exam of the SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination), it is designed to test a candidate’s functioning legal knowledge by using a series of client-focused scenario-based multiple choice questions. The SQE1 exam is divided into two parts, FLK1 (functioning legal knowledge 1) and FLK2 (functioning legal knowledge 2).
What is FLK1?
FLK1 assesses a candidate’s functioning legal knowledge across the following areas of the law:
- Contract Law
- Tort Law
- Business Law and Practice
- Dispute Resolution
- Legal System of England and Wales
- Constitutional and Administrative Law
- EU Law
- Legal Services
What is FLK2?
FLK2 assesses a candidate’s functioning legal knowledge across the following areas of the law:
- Property Practice
- Wills and the Administration of Estates
- Solicitors Accounts
- Land Law
- Trust Law
- Criminal Law
- Criminal Practice
Issues of ethics and professional conduct are examined across both FLK1 and FLK2.
SQE1: FLK1 and FLK2 Exam Format
FLK1 and FLK2 are designed to test a candidate’s functioning legal knowledge. This means that candidates must have an in-depth understanding of the areas of the law set out above, and must also be able to apply those legal principles and rules. Candidates are assessed at what is described as ‘Level 3 of the Threshold Standard’ in the SoSC (Statement of Solicitor Competence). This means that candidates are assessed at the level of a newly qualified solicitor.
The exam format for FLK1 and FLK2 is a series of scenario-based multiple-choice questions. These multiple-choice questions are client-based situations that candidates must work their way through, with candidates selecting one ‘best-answer’ out of a possible five. The questions are intended to simulate realistic scenarios that a newly qualified solicitor is likely to encounter in practice.
Each FLK exam contains 180 multiple-choice questions, so once a candidate sits both FLK1 and FLK2, they will have answered a total of 360 multiple-choice questions.
Candidates will sit the FLK1 and FLK2 exams on separate days (candidates will typically have a few days break between FLK1 and FLK2). On exam day of either FLK1 or FLK2, candidates will answer 180 multiple-choice questions in two sessions. The first session will see candidates answer a total of 90 multiple-choice questions within a time limit of 2 hours and 30 minutes (that’s around two minutes per question). Candidates will then take a one-hour break before completing the remaining 90 multiple-choice questions in the second session.
It is important to note that FLK1 and FLK2 are closed-book assessments and so candidates are not allowed to refer to case books or notes.
Candidates must pass both FLK1 and FLK2 before attempting the SQE2. Importantly, FLK1 and FLK2 must be taken in a single assessment window. Candidates also have a maximum of three attempts at the SQE1 exam in a six-year period.
The assessments are regulated by the SRA with Kaplan as the appointed examination provider. Kaplan previously operated the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (QLTS) exam. Kaplan does not provide any training or study courses to prepare for the SQE1 exam. This is to ensure the integrity of the examination process.
SQE1: FLK1 and FLK2 Question Format
The SRA has provided some sample questions in order to allow candidates to familiarise themselves with the scenario-based question format that is adopted for FLK1 and FLK2. Here are some of the key points to note on the scope and range of questions for the SQE1 exam.
- A candidate may be required to identify a legal principle or rule and then apply it.
- A question may identify a legal rule, and the candidate may be required to then know how that rule should be applied, and also the correct outcome once the rule is applied.
- Candidates may be required to select the correct advice to offer a client who is looking for a particular result.
- In reverse, a candidate could be asked to identify a legal rule or principle when a legal result has already been determined and explain why it has produced that result in law.
- Mathematical calculations may be required for certain questions (for example taxation). For taxation questions, candidates will need to remember tax thresholds and tax rates, as well as exemptions and reliefs.
- Candidates will not need to remember case law or statutory provisions unless it is part of that rule or principle, for example the rule in Rylands v Fletcher.
SQE1 Exam Cost
The fee for the SQE1 exam is £1,622. Candidates can also choose to pay for preparatory courses to aid in their study and preparation for the SQE1 exam, which will be an additional cost to be accounted for. Candidates who have a background in law may not feel the need to pay for any additional training courses and, may instead, choose to self-study for the SQE1 exam using self-study materials. Candidates who secure a training contract at a law firm will likely see their SQE1 exam fees covered by their law firm (as well as the cost of any preparatory materials).
SQE1 Preparation Courses
There is a wealth of SQE preparation courses available to prepare for the SQE1 exam, with flexible study options to suit candidates in different situations and with different knowledge levels. SQE1 preparation courses can be wholly online and consist of reading, practice questions, lectures and mock exams. SQE1 preparation courses vary according to price, study materials, support and duration. SQE1 preparation courses can also be taken full-time or part-time to fit around work and domestic commitments.
Modern legal apprenticeships offer candidates the chance to prepare via a mixture of work-based training and legal study. The solicitor apprenticeship covers all of the training, academic and study requirements for the SQE1 exam.
Post their law degree, candidates may require some specific training to refresh their prior knowledge of the law. Candidates who have followed the traditional route of going to university to study law, won’t be eligible for any post-graduate funding for this additional legal training. Candidates who followed a vocational training route and are already working within a legal practice may have their training and exam costs covered by their employer.
Candidates will find it helpful to purchase SQE1 books that are specifically tailored to the SQE1 exam. These books will often cover a particular area of the law that will be assessed in the SQE1 exam. Using SQE1 books is much preferable to using law books that are not tailored to the SQE1 exam, as they will not contain the correct information required to pass the exam. SQE1 books will be particularly helpful to candidates that are choosing to self-study for the exam.
There are only a few SQE1 books that are currently available to students who are looking to study for the SQE1 exam. One such option are the SQE Books offered by SQETestPrep. The SQE1 Books contain everything that a candidate will need to know for the exam, which means more effective and targeted studying.
The books are for candidates with a law or non-law background, or for candidates who are foreign-qualified.
Importantly, the books provide you with the same content as a £3,000+ prep course, but at a fraction of the price. Over 2,700+ students are using the SQETestPrep books to prepare for the SQE1 exam. Free sample books can be accessed here.
How to Pass the SQE1 Exam
There are numerous steps that a candidate can take in order to maximise their chances of passing the SQE1 exam. The first crucial step is effective preparation. A candidate must first determine if they are going to self-study for the SQE1 exam or prepare using an SQE course provider. This decision is ultimately a personal one, which will involve weighing up factors such as cost and the candidate’s prior background in law (if any). However, it is important to note that passing the SQE1 exam without any prior legal background and, without using a preparation course, is more than do-able. This leaves self-studying as the most cost-effective option.
The next crucial step to pass the SQE1 exam is to leave plenty of time to prepare. Realistically, candidates only have 3 attempts to the pass the SQE1 exam, so one should try and do so on the first attempt. The amount of time needed to prepare will vary depending on a candidate’s prior knowledge. However, preparing at least 6 months out (with more intensive preparation occurring in the 3-month mark) will ensure that a candidate is more than prepared to tackle the SQE1 exam.
Remember, candidates are assessed by way of a series of scenario-based multiple-choice questions. The best way to prepare for multiple-choice questions is to practice. Candidates should look to answer as many practice questions as they can before sitting the exam. This will ensure that the candidate is familiar with the style of questions in the real exam. Practice questions should also be answered in a timed environment to simulate conditions that the candidate will face in the real exam.
Candidates will have approximately two minutes to answer each question, which candidates should try to stick to. If you struggle to answer a question, you can always come back to it. It is also important to leave sufficient time to review any questions that you were unsure about.
One rule of thumb when answering multiple-choice questions is to adopt an approach of elimination. Instead of trying to guess the correct answer, candidates should first eliminate the obviously incorrect answer. Candidates will find this approach effective as, instead of choosing between all the answers presented, candidates can choose from the reduced pool of potentially correct answers.
Additional tips for passing the SQE1 exam include:
- Set milestones, it’s useful for candidates to work out a milestone so that they know at which point in time they need to have reached a certain question. This makes the exam feel less pressurised and avoids clock watching.
- Leave difficult questions until the end rather than waste too much time on them which only heightens nerves. Difficult questions often seem less daunting when revisited and it allows a candidate to work on other questions which may be easier to answer.
- Always leave time at the end for any flagged questions which have not been answered or that just need review.
- Use rough paper to sort out exam answers. It can be easier to do this on a separate piece of paper rather than trying to eliminate potentially wrong answers in your head. This helps focus on one or two options which may be the best answer. These notes are also useful for revisiting awkward questions at the end of the exam.
- Don’t flag too many difficult questions to review at the end, save this for questions which are tricky.
- Mix up your revision topics as this is how the questions will be presented in the real exam.
- Stats reveal that the first chosen answer is likely to be correct, so candidates should follow their instincts unless something obvious has been missed when it comes to review.
Working through practice questions can help develop the right technique for the style of the SQE1 exam. Most preparation courses will contain practice questions and for many students, this proves to be the most important element of their preparation. The application of legal knowledge is key and the point at which a candidate can stand or fall despite their prior legal knowledge and academic success.
The SQE1 exam should not be viewed as easier than the old Legal Practice Course (LPC) just because it has a multiple-choice format. The key to success for the SQE1 exam is identifying the right amount of preparation required and then choosing a study route which delivers this, whether that is full-time, part-time, classroom-based or self-study.
It is also incorrect to think that the answers will be obvious because it is multiple-choice. This is a best-answer exam, so the questions will have multiple correct answers, with one of them being more correct than the others. This requires a sound and very thorough knowledge of black letter law plus plenty of practice.
Results and Data from Previous Exams
Results and data from previous SQE1 exams are always important, but even more so when an assessment system is new. This provides invaluable guidance for candidates to aid in effective preparation.
Data from the SQE1 exams collated since the introduction of the new system reveals that the average pass rate for FLK1 is 64% and FLK2 is lower at 55%. This is for all candidates, including those who are re-sitting. First-attempt candidates score slightly higher, with a pass rate of 67% for FLK1 and 59% for FLK2.
SQE1 Exam Dates
The SQE1 exams take place twice a year, in January and July. The two FLK1 and FLK2 exams are usually three or four days apart. For 2023, the dates in January are: 26 January 2023 for FLK1 and 30 January 2023 for FLK2.
The second sitting for the SQE1 exam is in July. The dates for July are the following: 20 July 2023 for FLK1 and 24 July 2023 for FLK2.
Bookings for the SQE1 exams open a few months before the exam is due to take place. For example, bookings for the January 2023 SQE1 exam opened in September 2022.
The SQE1 exams are operated by the educational provider, Kaplan, and run at Pearson VUE test centres both in the UK and internationally. Candidates can indicate their preferred venue when they book their assessment but there is no guarantee that this will be available, so candidates may be required to travel in order to sit for their SQE1 exam.
Candidates can familiarise themselves with the different assessment centres on the Pearson VUE website, although bookings cannot be made on their website. Instead, bookings for the SQE1 exam must be made via the candidate’s SQE account. The availability of different test centres is visible to candidates when they go online to book the SQE1 exam. The Pearson VUE website provides details on test centre parking, access and any other relevant information. The test centres can accommodate requirements for candidates with special needs or who require adjustments such as wheelchair access.
Information on test centres is only available on the Pearson VUE website during the booking window. Pearson VUE runs lots of different assessments and exams and has multiple venues across the UK and internationally, so it’s important to check and not assume that an exam centre will be offered in a particular booking window.
Booking for the SQE1 exam is usually busy, with some centres proving more popular than others. Spaces are allocated on a ‘first come first served’ basis. Before anyone can apply to take the SQE1 exam, candidates must register an online account with the SRA.