SQE1: Preparing for the exams

SQ-Eek!: With the SQE exams looming, we chat to one SQE1 candidate as they gear up for the big day.

This week, candidates up and down the country are readying themselves for the SQE1 January assessment window. The two exams that make up SQE1 (Functioning Legal Knowledge 1 and the helpfully titled Functioning Legal Knowledge 2) will be sat on Thursday 26th and Monday 30th January respectively. Below, we chat to one candidate in the throws of preparation to learn more:


Chambers Student: So, first things first, why the SQE?

I work full-time and I’m a parent. Between the two, I’m not left with a lot of free time! When I decided to pursue the law route, I needed a course that I could do part-time, but one that would get me closer toward my goal of becoming a lawyer in the most efficient way possible. The GDL and LPC route [in the process of being replaced by the SQE] would have taken me around four years part-time, and would have cost around £30,000. The SQE route can be done in about two years, even less if you power through it, though I’m not sure that’s advisable! It also ends up costing about a third of the price.

“Technically, it’s possible to register immediately for the SQE2, which is the practical component of the course, but of course, you need to have passed the SQE1 to do it.”

I’m just coming to the end of the 40-week part-time course at the moment, which costs around £3,000. I will then write my first paper on the 26th of January and my second the 30th of January, with the results expected in March. Technically, it’s possible to register immediately for the SQE2, which is the practical component of the course, but of course, you need to have passed the SQE1 to do it. So, if you’ve failed the SQE1, you’re going to lose some money if you’ve spent it registering for the SQE2. But to be completely honest, I’m not sure I have the energy to immediately jump into another course!

CS: How challenging have you found the SQE1 prep?

I’ll tell you after the exam! It is intimidating. There are something like 16 different areas of law that you need to know about, which is a huge amount of material to get through part-time with sufficient competence to pass. I do feel like I’m starting to wrap my head around some of it, although I don’t feel like I know it well enough! I was telling a friend last week that it feels like I’m doing a full-time 40-week course part time. I think If I had 40 weeks of full-time study, I would know this material, but having done around two hours a day for the last 40 weeks, I’m a bit anxious.

CS: What is the structure of the exam?

There are two papers, one after the other on each of the two days of testing. Each paper is made up of 90 multiple choice questions and you’re required to give the single-best answer from the five options available to you. Each paper lasts two hours and 33 minutes. You are tested on nine subjects on day one: tort; contract; legal services; business law and practice (including tax questions related to this); dispute resolution; ethics; the English legal system; and public & EU law. On day two, it’s property practice & tax; wills & administration of estates & tax; solicitors accounts; land law; trusts; criminal law; criminal practice; and ethics.

As you can see, tax and ethics are spread across both days, but the questions are all mixed up, so you won’t be doing a set of ethics questions in a row. Instead, we’ve heard that you’ll do a random selection across all nine subjects on day one and the same again for the remaining subjects on day two. The SRA website has a set of practice questions (90 in fact), which you can look at. In theory, those are representative of what the exam looks like, but I’ve heard from those who sat the July 2022 exams that the actual exam questions can be more challenging.

CS: Are you able to take anything into the exam with you?

No, unfortunately not. We’ve been told by our course provider that some places will allow you to take in water, but we were told most of the test centres won’t allow you to take anything in with you. You need to empty your pockets before you start. But I’ve heard there are lockers, though bear in mind that they are quite small. There’s a calculator built into the system, which you can have a look at on the SRA website, and we’ve been told that there’s also an erasable white board and pen provided. In terms of the actual test itself, you need to arrive early to get booked in, and we’ve been told you can’t leave early if you finish early; though you can leave to go to the bathroom or take medication.

CS: Is there anything you find yourself particularly nervous about?

Just the normal things! I go through particular scenarios like ‘what if I blank?’, ‘what if I’m not prepared?’ etc. But honestly, the thing that really worries me is just making sure I get there OK! I hope the trains are running, I hope they are running on time, and I hope they get there on time. It sounds silly, but if you’re late, you won’t be allowed into the exam.

CS: What advice would you have for someone in your position?

Don’t panic! More practically, all the questions are equally weighted, and there is no negative marking. All the answers are there, so it’s worth taking a guess if you don’t know. One thing I noticed when I was going through the SRA questions was how differently they were worded from the questions we’ve had on our course. When you get used to a certain syntax, the questions become easier to interpret and it speeds up your answers. I noticed when I was doing the SRA questions that it took me much longer to read through them and figure out how I would answer them. So it’s probably a good idea to take a look at as many different questions as you can.

“Practice is the best thing you can do. Treat every error as a learning experience, as horribly cliched as that sounds.”

If you find yourself getting nervous, the temptation might be to avoid looking at the practice tests. You might be scared that if you take it, you’ll do badly, and so you avoid it. I think this is probably self-defeating. Practice is the best thing you can do. Treat every error as a learning experience, as horribly cliched as that sounds.

CS: Finally, what are you most looking forward to after you finish the exams?

Sleeping! I have spent the last six months getting up at 5am every day to study before work. At some point you are always going to run out of steam. I’m getting up later now, but I’m hoping I’ve put enough work in. It’s a double-edged sword after all!

On a more positive note, I’m looking forward to being able to be more fully present with the kids and my partner. My partner said they’re starting to feel study fatigue, and they’re not the ones studying! Odd as this may sound, I’m also looking forward to being able to clean the house properly! I’m really neat, and in the last few weeks things have started to slip as I concentrate on this final push. It’ll be great to read the news, see something that has legal ramifications, and not worry that I can’t remember all the laws that apply!

CS: Good luck!