Building Legal Solutions
How I passed my SQE 1 exams
- AuthorMohammed Mangera
As part of the first cohort of candidates who embarked on the SQE 1 in November 2021, I thought it would be useful to share my experience and tips on how I passed the exams within the first quintile (i.e. top 20% of scores). I have set out below how I approached my revision and my strategy within the exams in hope to assist future candidates.
By way of background, I am a trainee solicitor at Feldon Dunsmore Solicitors, and was fortunate enough, to have my course and examinations paid for by my firm. I studied part-time online with the University of Law. The preparation course was useful for the bank of practice questions but beyond this, I do believe the materials itself can be self-taught.
How I approached revision
I started my revision no more than three months before the exam whilst I was working full time and it involved spending up to four hours every evening to become prepared.
I read the SQE specification to gain a better understanding from the source on the focus areas and then mapped out a plan on when I should be expected to finish each section.
There are around 16 topics/modules that are examinable under SQE 1 and so there is a substantial amount of material to learn. A few of these topics may have been covered at university and so these would need revisiting. I would suggest doing this by using manuals specifically written for the SQE 1 rather than old books and notes from university. The content covered within the SQE 1 manuals would be at the appropriate level of knowledge and detail required for the exams with the focus on practical application, rather than theory. It is important to remember that, save for a few exceptions, you do not need to know details of cases and their names.
Having read all the manuals and taken notes, I split each module into around 7 sub-topics and created mind maps for each. I then revisited this when I did practice questions and to revise the individual topics. Making good notes for the SQE 1 will also assist in your preparation for the SQE 2.
Multiple Choice Questions
As I studied law at university where exams and coursework were based on essays, the style of multiple-choice questions felt a bit unfamiliar and simplistic – how can complex areas of law be simplified into one-line course of action? This was the biggest struggle I found with the exams. They were based on a best choice answer, meaning that a number of the answers were correct, but you would have to choose the best answer based on the fact pattern. However, I always felt I needed further information.
So very unsurprisingly the best way to get beyond this is to practice. Practice as many questions as you can to gain a better feeling for the style of the questions and how best to approach them. Helpfully, the SRA has released a sample list of questions, which are apparently indicative of the difficulty of the actual exam questions. However, unhelpfully, there are only 90 questions, which is only a quarter of the exam! Therefore, if you are able to, enrolling onto a course for these practice questions would be useful and I found, was the most important tool within the course to my personal success. However, noting how expensive these courses can be, for those that self-study, I would imagine a comprehensive set of books based on SQE exams should include some sample questions and there have been many examples of people who passed whilst self-studying.
The SQE 1 examination involves answering 360 multiple choice questions that are split into two sessions of FLK1 and FLK2 (Functioning Legal Knowledge). Each session tests different areas of law and you must pass each session separately to pass the exam as a whole - see the SRA’s link here for further information.
The exam is a strenuous activity as each FLK session lasts over 5 hours – you have a break of 45 minutes mid-way through once you reach 90 questions. It was difficult to remain focused at times, especially in the second session as I was still recovering from the first. Practicing the questions before the exams under similar timed conditions would assist in your preparation here and help you to identify how best to stay focused. For example, I found taking a couple of minutes break every hour or so by looking away from the screen was useful during the exam to refocus myself. The exam might feel time pressured but these few minutes on the balance probably saved me more time over the course of the exams and kept me focused on the questions – especially the more challenging ones.
I found people in my examination centre had different feelings with timing – some found it too pressured, whilst others had finished with around 30 minutes left on the clock. What is more important, is to have a strategy to complete the questions within the time limit. Some techniques that I found useful include;
- Prior to starting the exam, put down on your notepad at what point in time you expect to reach a particular milestone (i.e. every 30 questions or as appropriate);
- You have approximately 2 minutes for each question and so as much as possible, you should try to answer within this time. Although, of course some questions may take longer, and others may be much quicker, so this should not be a rigid rule;
- Any question you are completely lost on or find too challenging to answer within a maximum of 4-5 minutes, perhaps guess and revisit this at the end. All the questions are marked equally and there is no negative marking, so it may not be worth antagonising over questions that take a disproportionate amount of time to answer at that time, when it may likely come down to a best guess answer in any case – a few people did this with tax questions for example; and
- Leave sufficient time at the end to review any questions you flagged.
Strategy to answer questions in exams
Prior to starting the exams, I drew a rough and quick table with 7 columns. The heading of the columns was “Question No.”, “A” - “E” and “Notes”.
As I went through each question, I would mark down on the grid with an “X” for whichever answer I was sure was incorrect and “?” for any question that could potentially be correct. I would put down a circle for what I believed was the correct answer.
I found this useful for two reasons;
- Helped me to eliminate the answers by visually seeing it and having something to reference to when thinking through the potential answers;
- If I had to revisit a question that I flagged at the end, it served as a reminder of which answers I had previously eliminated saving valuable time.
I would only flag questions which I was very unsure about after having gone through the process of elimination. I did not want to flag too many due to the time constraints – the more questions you flag, the more time you need at the end to review.
When revisiting any question at the end, I would only change my answer from what I previously put where I could give a considered reason as to why the revised answer is more likely to be correct. Apparently, statistically it has been found that in these situations your first answer is more likely to be correct than your second and so you should trust your instinct on this.
Stay tuned for my blog on SQE 2.
Best of luck!