In September 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) introduced the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) as the new route to qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales. Unlike the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), the SQE isn’t a course —rather, it’s a series of exams taken in two stages.
The SQE is a comprehensive exam, designed to assess thoroughly the legal knowledge of candidates. Therefore, extensive planning, preparation, study and practice are needed to pass this challenging assessment.
Under the SQE, the SRA no longer determines which courses candidates should take, which means you’re free to choose how you study for the exams.
There are many SQE preparation courses available to help increase your chances of passing, but if you’re considering self-study, you might find it helpful to read this article first.
Can I self-study for the SQE?
While it is possible to buy a few textbooks and learn about the SQE without the help of a tutor, it’s recommended you take a preparation course, so you’re fully familiar with all the topics that might come up in the exams.
It’s not just about passing the exams, though: The SQE has been designed to ensure that you qualify as a competent professional solicitor, and a preparation course will greatly assist you in this admirable goal.
There are several other benefits to taking an SQE prep course. Continue reading to find out more about these and for help deciding whether you should enrol.
Should I take an SQE preparation course?
Unless you are extremely self-motivated and able to learn without feedback or support, or you already have extensive knowledge of the law, it’s a good idea to enrol on a course to prepare you for the SQE.
However, your individual circumstances could help you determine for sure whether you should enrol on an SQE prep course:
If you hold a law degree, it may be that you learnt everything that’s assessed in the SQE1 while you were at university. If this is the case, then self-study in the form of just going back over what you’ve already learnt should be sufficient, and you shouldn’t need to undertake any additional training to pass the assessment.
Some universities do offer law degrees that don’t include SQE1 training though, so you should double-check which topics you covered. If you weren’t taught all of the topics covered by the SQE, then you can top up your learning either by enrolling on a prep course or through self-study.
Unless you’ve undertaken a training contract or another type of work experience in a legal environment, you might also find that a prep course helps you pass the practical element of the SQE.
Having a law degree isn’t a requirement for qualifying as a solicitor of England and Wales, but you still need to learn all the topics that are assessed in the SQE in order to pass.
While it is possible to self-study by reading or practising area summaries, if you’ve never studied law before, you should definitely consider taking a preparation course. It’s the most effective way to familiarise yourself with all the legal terminology and gain a general law background. It will also help you to decide whether a legal career is really the right option for you.
If you’ve converted your non-law degree to a law degree by taking the GDL, you will have more legal knowledge than a non-law graduate. But a preparation course will still be useful in providing you with the practical experience needed to understand and apply concepts in the realistic scenarios that you’re tested on in the SQE.
Candidates with a legal background
If you have a legal background that goes beyond studying — for example, you’re a foreign-qualified lawyer or a barrister looking for a career change — you will already have a high level of legal knowledge and experience, meaning self-study may be the better option.
What are the benefits of taking an SQE preparation course?
Your revision will be more focussed
As already mentioned, if you take an SQE prep course, you’ll be more aware of which questions are expected to come up in the exams.
This means that, while you should ensure you have a firm understanding of everything on the SQE syllabus, you can focus your revision schedule on the topics that are most likely to be covered.
You’re more likely to retain information
It’s been found time and again that active learning achieves better results than passive learning. On an SQE preparation course, students have the opportunity to engage with the content, rather than trying to self-teach by reading in an isolated environment.
Active learning on an SQE prep course can involve case studies, role plays, problem-based scenarios and other practical exercises, so students are better able to absorb information and retain it. Mistake-driven learning is one of the best ways to ensure you not only fully understand the legal concepts being taught, but you’re more likely to commit them to long-term memory.
Furthermore, the SQE tests you on your practical skills, as well as on your legal knowledge, so when exam time comes you’ll be more comfortable and confident being assessed in this type of environment.
You have access to support
With an SQE preparation course, you’ll usually have access to plenty of support, so you can ask questions, discuss issues and brainstorm ideas.
Support comes in various forms, from study sessions with your peers to direct contact with your tutor either in-person or online, and via video-calling or instant messaging.
Being in regular contact with a tutor or “learning coach” can help you stay motivated and ensure you stay on track with your studies.
You’ll also have access to a range of study aids, such as mock exam papers and textbooks at a discounted price.
You could save money
It’s a common misconception that self-study is always the cheaper option.
You might think you’ll save money on course fees by going it alone, but imagine your own studying wasn’t comprehensive enough and you fail the exam. You have to pay each time you resit, meaning the cost could really mount up.
What do you learn on an SQE preparation course?
The SQE is made up of the SQE1 and the SQE2, and there are courses that aim to provide you with the legal knowledge you need to pass each one.
Here are the topics that are covered in each exam:
The SQE1 comprises two closed-book, multiple-choice exams called the Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) 1 and 2.
Candidates are given hypothetical scenarios that test how they would approach legal issues they might encounter as newly-qualified solicitors.
This is what’s covered in the FLK1:
- Business law and practice
- Contract law
- Constitutional and administrative law and EU law
- Dispute resolution
- Legal services
- The legal system of England and Wales
- Tort law
This is what’s covered in the FLK2:
- Criminal law
- Land law
- Practice law
- Property practice
- Solicitors’ accounts
- Wills and the administration of estates
The SQE2 comprises 12 written assessments and four oral assessments.
The written parts of the exam are completed on a computer and practical skills are assessed through role-play scenarios.
Candidates must demonstrate that they can apply fundamental legal principles to address a client’s needs and concerns.
This is what’s covered in the oral legal skills assessment:
- Client interviewing with linked attendance note / legal analysis
This is what’s covered in the written legal skills assessment:
- Case and matter analysis
- Legal drafting
- Legal research and written advice
- Legal writing
How long does an SQE preparation course take to complete?
BARBRI’s SQE1 Prep course takes ten weeks if you study full time or 20 or 40 weeks if you study part-time. The ten-week version is aimed at law students who have recently graduated, while the 20- and 40-week versions are recommended for foreign-qualified lawyers or non-law graduates.
BARBRI’s SQE2 Prep course is a part-time programme, which takes 12 weeks to complete. It’s offered twice a year, leading into the exams which take place in April and October.
How much does an SQE preparation course cost?
If you’re in two minds about enrolling on an SQE prep course, the fee may be playing a part in your decision, especially considering it costs £3,980 just to sit the SQE exam (£1,558 for the SQE1 and £2,422 for the SQE2).
SQE preparation courses are generally cheaper if they’re taken outside of London or online.
BARBRI’s SQE1 Prep costs £2,999 and our SQE2 Prep costs £3,499 (or £2,999 for those who have also taken the SQE1 Prep).
We also offer funding options, such as scholarships and loans for those who may not be able to afford the full cost of the course fee. BARBRI alumni are also entitled to a £200 discount.
Three self-study tips
If you’ve considered all of the above and you still decide that self-studying is right for you, here are some tips to help you get the most from your studies:
Tip one: Decide what and how to study
It may sound obvious but before you do anything else, you should look at the assessment specification on the SRA’s website.
Then, you should determine how to study based on what kind of learner you are. Whether you’re a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learner, you can adapt your study methods to suit, choosing to use flashcards, videos or any other resources that are available online.
Tip two: Manage your time effectively
Drawing up a study plan is the best way to ensure you’re managing your time effectively.
First, work out how long you have until the date of your assessment and then map out your study plan, taking into account the areas of the law you need to focus on more.
The areas of law that usually require the most amount of time are business law and criminal litigation, with dispute resolution and property practice and wills or probate law taking the least amount of time.
If you don’t have a legal background, you’ll need to spend the first part of your revision timetable reading books, watching lectures and taking revision notes. If you do have a legal background, you should use this time to review everything you’ve learnt so far.
The two months before the exam should be an intensive period of study, where you immerse yourself as fully as possible in your revision, taking time off work and other commitments, if possible.
Tip three: Do as many mock exams as possible
It’s a good idea to start answering sample questions as soon as possible. This is so you can get a sense of how difficult the exam is and work out where your weak spots are.
You should also make sure you do a complete practice paper at least once, so you have an idea of time constraints.
Remember that if you’ve tried self-studying and it isn’t working out, you can always change your mind and enrol on an SQE prep course to boost your knowledge.
The SQE is a comprehensive exam, which has been designed to assess thoroughly your legal knowledge. Therefore, extensive preparation and study is needed in order to pass.
While it is possible to self-study for the SQE, it’s recommended you take a preparation course to increase your chances of passing.
But whether or not you should enrol on an SQE prep course depends on your individual circumstances. Law graduates with a degree that doesn’t include SQE1 training, non-law graduates and GDL graduates will benefit from enrolling on an SQE preparation course. But law graduates with a degree that includes SQE1 training, those who have worked in a legal environment, and candidates with a legal background may find self-study is the better option.
Taking an SQE preparation course means your revision will be more focussed, you’ll be more likely to retain information, you’ll have access to more support and you could save money by not having to pay for resits.
An SQE prep course covers the topics you’ll be asked about in the exams, including advocacy, business law, contract law, criminal law, land law, legal writing and tort law.
A BARBRI SQE1 Prep course takes ten to 40 weeks to complete, depending on whether you study full-time or part-time, and costs £2,999. A BARBRI SQE2 Prep course takes 12 weeks to complete and costs £3,499, but look out for discounts and funding options.
If you decide that self-studying is right for you, some helpful study tips include deciding what and how to study, managing your time effectively and doing as many mock exams as possible.