Laura Kyne: Solicitors Qualifying Examination – is it for me?

Laura Kyne: Solicitors Qualifying Examination – is it for me?

Laura Kyne

Laura Kyne explains the details of the SQE and how best to prepare for it.

I’m a senior solicitor within the Burness Paull employment team, originally qualified in Scots law. Whilst employment law is broadly similar across Scotland and England and Wales, I nevertheless decided to sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) exams to become dual qualified. I sat the SQE1 exams in July 2023 and passed first time so I thought it would be helpful to set out some of what I learned along the way for those considering taking the leap into completing the SQE.

What is SQE?

The SQE is a means to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. From September 2021, the previous methods of qualifying in England and Wales have begun to be phased out and to be replaced by SQE.

The SQE is split into two assessments – SQE1 and SQE2. SQE1 tests functioning legal knowledge (FLK) through two parts known as FLK1 and FLK2. Together FLK1 and FLK2 comprise of 12 topics ranging from business law to tort to criminal law and practice.

SQE2 assess practical legal skills and comprises of two parts – oral assessments and written assessments. As a Scottish Qualified solicitor I was not required to undertake SQE2 and therefore this blog focusses on SQE1 only. All the information you need can be found on the Solicitors Regulation Authority website, accessible here.

Format of the exam

In terms of the range of people sitting the exam alongside me, there was a real variety. As I took the exam in Glasgow many were qualified Scottish solicitors who wanted to dual qualify but there were also university students from England and Scotland.

The exam isn’t like anything I encountered during university. It does not involve essay writing at all, instead it is a computer based single best answer multiple choice test. Each paper (FLK1 and FLK2) take place on separate days and each is split into two session with a standard allocated time of 2 hours and 33 minutes with 90 questions in each session. FLK1 and FLK2 therefore each account for a 5 hours 6 minute exam with 180 questions each.

In order to pass SQE1 (and proceed to SQE2 if applicable) you need to pass both FLK1 and FLK2.

Dual Qualifying Law Degree – did it really help?

In full disclosure, my degree was the Dual Qualifying Law Degree which I graduated from in 2017 from the University of Dundee. Whilst it was helpful in the sense that there were certain concepts of the law that I was familiar with, there were various changes that had occurred since that I had to learn. I personally found it provided a helpful basic knowledge but that I did have to revisit many of the topics in the same manner as I would if I had had no experience.

What to consider when preparing for the exam?

Look at the SRA assessment specifications for both papers – these assessment specifications set out exactly what you need to know for the exam and therefore are a great tool to ensure that you cover off all aspects of study for the exam. You can find these here.

Make the time to prepare and study - everyone is busy and SQE study on top of a full time job or other commitments is challenging. I found working full time whilst studying to be quite difficult initially until I was able to learn to set boundaries. I finished work sharp in order to study in the evenings and had to turn down plans to study at weekends and bank holidays, but I was determined that I would hopefully only have to sit the exams once.

  • Preparation time - having spoken to those who sat the exam before me, some people had given themselves a year and told me they found it was actually too long as they then had forgotten much of the earlier material by the time they came to revisit it. I gave myself four months, starting in April but really upped my studying in June and July. I took two weeks of annual leave before my exam and Burness Paull give me an additional two days of study leave, meaning I could focus solely on the exams.
  • Find a study method that works for you – throughout university I was always an independent studier so I studied on my own, working through flashcards and mind maps. Find what works best for you – you may find you study better in a group. If that’s the case then you can definitely find others sitting the exam and work together.
  • Find a preparation course which suits you – there are a variety of different providers in the market, some are paid for and others provide free resources. If your employer doesn’t have a preferred provider or if you are self funding then definitely do your research and find what works best for you. There are lots of blogs online about this on the likes of Reddit etc. with some helpful reviews.
  • Prioritise yourself – whilst studying it can become easy to neglect doing things you enjoy but do try and take breaks. I would try and meet friends/family for walks or for meals so that I was “ticking two boxes at the same time”.
  • Keep up to date with SRA emails – you should receive emails regarding booking your examination so keep an eye on these for any changes. If you did not get booked into your preferred test centre immediately then keep checking as spots do open up. I had originally been booked in a different test centre but managed to get moved to the Glasgow test centre a few weeks after the test dates were released.
  • Do not forgot about FLK2 – there is typically only a few days between the FLK1 and FLK2 exams. It can therefore be tempting to focus solely on FLK1 and then intend to cram FLK2 into the few days in between. I recommend trying to split your time in the lead up to the exams by doing split days. I would study FLK1 in the morning/afternoon and then FLK2 in the afternoon/evening, or at weekends would spend a full day on each. Do what works for you but just don’t focus on FLK1 only.
  • Do the mock papers – these were by far the most useful tool for preparing for the exam. Preparation course providers will have a large bank of these and there are some free mock ones available, include those provided by the SRA themselves. I found these to be invaluable for the exam itself as it gets you prepared for the style of question and how to apply your knowledge to the question.

The exam itself

  • Time – keep an eye on your time clock. I found that in the exams I finished ahead of time and was able to go back through and revisit my answers. Others who sat the exam at the same time as me said they just about completed the exam in the timeframe. Again, there is no one size fits all and try not to compare yourself to others in this respect.
    Use the notepad - the first thing I did was go in and write down the things I thought I might forget – the SDLT boundaries being the main one!
  • Use the flags – in the exam there is the option to flag questions you aren’t sure about. If I was spending a long period of time on a question I would select the answer I thought it was and use the flag function to flag it. At the end when revisiting the questions, I would spend longer reviewing those I had flagged.
  • Changing answers – this is part I struggled with the most during preparation. I would select an answer and then question myself and change it. One of the best tips I was given for the exam was when revisiting questions only change things if you are able to give a valid reason why you should change it. More often that not you won’t be able to,and I found when sitting the mock exams that often the first answer I selected was correct.

Hopefully this guide has been somewhat helpful but if anyone has any questions about the exam or sitting the exam, don’t hesitate to reach out and I would be happy to have a chat!

Laura Kyne is a senior solicitor in the employment team at Burness Paull

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