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SQE fiasco will cost some candidates thousands

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(26 July 2022)

Foreign students could be left thousands of pounds out of pocket after an IT fiasco left at least 100 people unable to sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) this month – while one UK-based candidate has cancelled their pre-booked holiday abroad in case it clashes with the rescheduled date, the Gazette has been told.

Under the new route to qualifying as a solicitor, candidates must pass two sets of assessments – SQE1 and SQE2 – and complete two years of qualifying work experience.

SQE1 comprises two ‘functioning legal knowledge’ assessments.

At least 100 candidates were unable to sit the first paper, known as FLK1, at a test centre in Hammersmith last Thursday. Candidates waited more than five hours before being told by invigilators mid-afternoon that the exam was not going ahead. Candidates have told the Gazette that conditions on the day were far from ideal – the registration process was stressful and took longer than expected, rooms felt unventilated, people rushed to go to the toilet as they were repeatedly told the exam would be starting soon.

Worried that the ‘IT issue’ would not be resolved in time, exam provider Kaplan decided to cancel the second paper, known as FLK2, that was scheduled to take place at the Hammersmith test centre yesterday.

Candidates unable to sit either paper have yet to be told the rescheduled date. 

One candidate who could not sit the FLK1 paper last Thursday spent the following day revising for FLK2 before being notified that FLK2 would not take place at the Hammersmith test centre and that an alternative venue could not be sourced. The candidate, who has already lost three days’ annual leave due to the fiasco, has cancelled their pre-booked holiday abroad next month in case it clashes with the rescheduled dates.

The next scheduled SQE1 sitting is not until January 2023. The candidate explained that their career progression would be delayed if they waited until the new year to sit it. They have also already spent several months combining full-time work with studies to sit the exams this month.

Multiple candidates have told the Gazette that some candidates affected by the fiasco travelled from abroad. Those unable to sit the exam also include candidates in the UK who booked hotels to ensure they promptly arrived by 8.30am for a 9am start, as instructed.

One candidate said: ‘The two exams come at a cost of over £1,500. This is then due again for the second part of the SQE. The majority of candidates have also paid over £2,000 for the preparation course and materials. [Many] took unpaid leave or holiday from work.

‘We are all now left in a limbo, of having both exams cancelled, no replacement provided and the uncertainty of our whole careers being put on hold for 12 months, having all incurred considerable cost until this point. Are we now meant to continue until Kaplan, a multi-million pound charity, can spare a couple of thousand to set up and actually deliver two multiple choice exams, which are computer-generated and computer-marked?’

The candidate who cancelled their holiday said: ‘I just want a date. If a firm had done this, the [SRA] would have fined them heavily and monitored their future conduct.’

Asked if Kaplan’s contract with the Solicitors Regulation Authority contains penalty clauses, the SRA said: ‘The immediate priority is doing everything possible for affected candidates. It wouldn’t be appropriate to go into details of commercially confidential contractual arrangements.’

Kaplan has been approached for comment.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)