Undertaking the SQE is a daunting challenge. Having to learn the full expanse of core English black letter and procedural law for a single exam is extremely difficult and not the usual format for assessing law in British Universities. Generally, students prepare for a single subject area at a time allowing them time to focus their study and adapt their exam technique accordingly.
Boys Don't Cry: The Cure
The SQE turns this traditional approach to law assessment on its head by grouping substantive and procedural subjects into what we know as the FLK1 and FLK2 assessments. This creates a headache for students since they are essentially not preparing for two assessments, but multiple mini-assessments that have been lumped together and examined at the same sitting. In many ways, the SQE is difficult for all the wrong reasons - its design overwhelms and confuses the student. The SQE makes you feel you are drowning, that the syllabus is never ending and recall of the law becomes an issue when there is just too much to remember. If any of this resonates with you, you are not alone in feeling like this.
'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it': (Atticus Finch to Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird)
As an legal educator, I recognise why my colleagues at the main SQE providers teach their course and write their learning materials in the format that they do. They work in teams, with individual subject specialisms, to deliver a course to thousands of students. Their courses and materials are designed to deliver economies of scale to an endless stream of students. Furthermore, they are simply responding to the new format as set by the SRA and Kaplan following years of consultation.
However, my view of the validity and reliability of this approach changed when I asked myself the question: While this may be the most efficient way to teach, is this the best way to pass the SQE?
With a pass rate sitting at 53% it was an urgent question that needed to be asked. After much reflection on my time as a law student, practitioner and legal educator, I reached the profound conclusion that in order to truly answer that question I needed to:
'Become the student!'
Only by pretending to be a SQE student getting ready to sit the SQE could I understand the enormous task to single handedly learn the entire FLK1 and FLK2 syllabus and advise my students on how best to pass the SQE.
'Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Doc, are you telling me you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?': Back To The Future
Sat at my desk pretending to be an SQE student for almost the last 2 years, I just wanted to cry. It soon became obvious that there was an exhausting amount of content to learn for a single person. Before I could become a confident student to attempt the MCQs I needed to learn and recall the law, quickly and accurately. But with 15 distinct areas of law and practice to study, there was far too much material to cover in a limited time frame. A student needs to be able to prepare for and pass this assessment within one year. Any longer that than that is likely to cause them to dropout, burnout or cause financial hardship.
So what was the solution? I did not have a time machine but I did have an advantage over the average student: for the last 30 years all I have done is either study, practice or teach law and with that experience I realised I need to channel that experience to create a set of revision notes that would quickly navigate the SQE syllabus. It is for this reason I decided to split the 15 subject areas of the FLK into 2 separate books: SQE Study Notes: SQE1 Substantive Law and SQE Study Notes: SQE1 Procedural Law. This is a complete break from the approach of other SQE providers who have followed the 15 individual subjects or FLK1 and FLK2 format - it was a bold decision required to break through the impenetrable SQE syllabus.
By grouping certain subjects that have traditionally been taught together I organised the syllabus into manageable areas with each Chapter mapped against the SQE assessment objectives. Over the many months it took me to write SQE Study Notes, it soon became apparent that the emphasis and weighting in the SQE syllabus is about 1/3 substantive law (Contract, Tort, Legal Systems, Trusts, Land and Crime) and 2/3 procedural law (Business Law and Practice, Dispute Resolution, Property Practice, Wills and the Administration of Estates, Criminal Practice, Legal Services, Ethics/Professional Conduct , Tax and Solicitors Accounts).
Interestingly, this weighting has played out in the grades students have been scoring as evidenced by the SQE1 Statistical Reports published after the last three SQE1 sittings. Each report has confirmed students have scored extremely well on the substantive law subjects but poorly on the procedural law subjects. Of course, the number of questions is evenly balanced through out the SQE syllabus (visit the SRA SQE website - Annex 4 to see the question allocation percentages) but the results show where students need to improve in order to pass.
'I Have A Cunning Plan': Blackadder
If there is something that I learnt from some of my best students (many of who are now working at City law firms) is that you you need to have a plan for every assessment. Some subjects are more likely to be examined, others not so much. Some topic areas will need a lot of work to pass, others topics are 'low hanging fruit' that you must grab. The goal is to pass (finishing top of the class is not the goal), to qualify as a solicitor, start working and never look back. This is a high stakes casino - you only have three chances otherwise you are out!
To summarise, therefore, if you want to improve your chances of passing the SQE you need to incorporate two simple actions as part of your SQE revision plan:
Substantive Law - students scored extremely well in these subjects and therefore are advised to study these subjects to the max to build up your overall pass score; and
Procedural Law - students score poorly in these subjects and therefore are advised to spend more time on procedural law subjects to mitigate the high loss of marks as evidenced in the SQE1 Statistical Reports.
By adopting this twin approach to your study, your overall grade should balance out to cross the pass mark which is set between 56% to 58% on average.
'Just One More Thing': Columbo
The benefit of the SQE format is that by assessing subject areas within the same exam, you can play the system to a certain extent. For example, you may 'bomb' certain subjects (e.g. Wills & Administration of Estates on FLK2 ) but compensate by scoring well in another subject (e.g Trusts on FLK2). Similarly, there are certain subjects which produce a 'low rate of return' on the amount of study required such as Solicitors Accounts and Tax ( see the blog post 'What Can I Ditch When Studying The SQE Syllabus'). Students should adopt a pragmatic approach when allocating time to study these less well examined areas. SQE Study Notes has been written to reflect this approach.
'That's All Folks!': Looney Tunes
With all the above in mind, SQE Study Notes (Book 1 and Book 2) strikes the right balance between the SQE assessment objectives, the SQE syllabus and the feedback from the three SQE Statistical Reports to create revision notes to help you pass the SQE. Now the next step is understanding SQE MCQs, but that is another book in the making! In the meantime, check out the blog post 'MCQ Advice: Know The Enemy'.
Sunit Tejura is a Senior Lecturer in Law at Roehampton Law School and leads the Law School’s SQE Foundations Course. Prior to joining Roehampton University he worked at Kaplan for seven years teaching on their Legal Practice Course, Graduate Diploma in Law and writing multiple choice questions for the Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme (the precursor to the SQE). Sunit is a qualified Solicitor (England and Wales) and Attorney at Law (New York).