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Bar to review aptitude test with just 0.7% fail rate

By Jemma Slingo >>

The bar is considering whether to scrap a student aptitude test that weeds out fewer than 1% of candidates, after concluding that it is ‘not operating as an effective filter’.

The Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) was introduced in 2013 because the number of students failing the bar training course was deemed too high. Aspiring barristers must pass the test before enrolling on a bar training course.

However, just 89 out of the 12,663 candidates (0.7%) who took – or retook – the assessment between 2013 and 2019 have not yet passed. When retakes are not taken into account, the failure rate has hovered around 3%.

In a consultation paper published yesterday, the Bar Standards Board said: ‘Our recent analysis – outlined in this document – shows that the BCAT has had little effect in filtering out students who do not have the required aptitude for the vocational component of bar training. As this was its primary function, we are now considering whether the BCAT remains a necessary and proportionate regulatory requirement.’

Students currently pay £150 to sit the aptitude test in the UK and £170 abroad.

The BSB has proposed three options: retaining the BCAT in its current form, making the assessment more difficult to pass, or scrapping the test entirely. The consultation closes on 31 October and seeks the views of students and other stakeholders.

There are ongoing concerns in the profession that the bar is severely oversubscribed, with thousands of students completing the bar training course – which costs up to £14,000 – only to find no pupillages available.

According to Bar Council figures published in April, 3,301 candidates applied for just 246 positions via the pupillage gateway this year. (The figures do not include applications submitted outside the pupillage gateway). The situation has been made worse by Covid-19. 

Speaking to the Gazette in May, Bar Council chair Derek Sweeting QC said there are ‘far too many people doing bar courses and paying a great deal of money when the attrition rate is so high. I can’t think of many other instances where you would train with such a low prospect of success’.

Despite the low job prospects, the regulator has twice predicted an income boost from bar school fees as a result of more students taking the bar course. In its 2021-2022 budget, it predicts income of £1.35m from training.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)