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Article by Anna Mueller
This guide outlines five tips when preparing to sit the SQE1 assessment. Now, whether you will be taking a preparation course or studying it on your own, the below outlined advice applies to you either way.
Black Letter Law Knowledge Is Key
Black letter law is the fundamental building block everything else will be based on. A large portion of the actual SQE1 assessment as well as the practice manuals will require you to be familiar with the seven black letter law areas – Constitutional Law, the English Legal System, Tort Law, Contract Law, Criminal Law, Trust Law and Land Law.
For those that studied an LLB – your studies will certainly help you to be better prepared for the SQE and practice modules, but it may not be enough. The top tip here is to work through SBAQs subject by subject and compare the questions to notes from your undergraduate. This will highlight any gaps and simultaneously allows you to revise already acquired knowledge.
For those that did not study an LLB – grasping the fundamental elements of black letter law may be more challenging to you. Consider investing in SQE preparation bundles (such as the SQE Law Essentials), because it will provide you with a guide for what could come up in the assessment. Furthermore, you may also wish to consider combining SBAQs with your black letter law studies. Different from those having done an LLB, studying black letter law in combination with SBAQs will provide you not only with examples explaining legal principles, but it will also allow you to get a head start in approaching SBAQs.
The Practice Manuals are the second and more practical element to the SQE1 assessment. They relate to the daily work of a future solicitor and build upon your black letter law knowledge. Although this may not be the case for every element but having a working understanding of key legal principles will be needed to grasp the concepts.
The top tip here – whether you’ve studied an LLB or not – is to take it step by step. Manuals offered by a course provider will follow a certain structure and connect back to specific black letter law areas as part of your revision. Where you are on your own you will want to establish your own structure so that you can follow a similar study plan (again, consider investing in SQE Study Manuals).
Single Best Answer Questions [SBAQs]
Correctly answering SBAQs is a skill in itself. When doing a preparation course, you will be told that there are different ways to approach a question. However, whether you want to read the scenario first and then the question or the other way around is up to you. Given the limited time you have for each question [1 minute and 42 seconds] you will want to choose the best approach for yourself as early as possible.
The tricky part of answering the SBAQs can be split into two aspects: the first one is to understand the question itself and the facts you are given. Some of the questions may be straight forward, others will require you to make sure you read through the facts carefully to find the relevant piece of information. The second one is to carefully analyse the answers; SBAQs are rarely straight forward. Instead, answers often may only be differentiated by indicators such as ‘may’, ‘must’, ‘always’, or ‘never’. It is important that you pay attention to these words – ideally, highlight them in your notes about the practice modules (or black letter law, where applicable) as it will be a great time saver down the road.
Study together with fellow students
Don’t be afraid to study with others. There is nothing more beneficial than attempting SBAQs as a team of two or in small groups. Whether you try to imitate the exam conditions or slowly work your way through areas you struggle with – having somebody else doing it with you will be of great help. Neither of you is more likely to be familiar with SBAQs so there is no need to feel anxious or inferior in the beginning. Instead, take your time for the first couple of sessions to get yourself familiar with how to approach an SBAQ and how to recognise relevant indicators either in the questions or the facts themselves. And for those and every other session make sure to speak up and ask any questions that may come to your mind (where you study with a course provider keep a list of questions you can take to your classes – and where you are studying on your own keep a list of questions to research on the internet or reach out to someone that could provide guidance).
Furthermore, studying together does not only allow you to experience the different approaches people may take towards the SBAQs but it also requires you to potentially defend your answer. Having to explain your reasoning for a particular answer can also highlight any troubles you may have in understanding legal principles or whether you may have misread the question or facts in general. Moreover, when having to explain why you chose a particular answer you simultaneously strengthen your confidence in your ability to answer a question by yourself which will prove beneficial for the real assessment.
! Studying alone: if you’re somebody who feels less confident studying with others (or you prepare on your own) have a look at the study plan section below. Your goal will be the same as for those studying together: familiarise yourself with approaching SBAQs and answering them with reason. As you will not be having somebody else giving their opinion, consider explaining your reasoning out loud before checking the answer.
Study Plan & Taking Breaks
You are likely to be on a tight schedule when studying for the assessment. Thus, while it is understandable that you will want to cover as many practice SBAQs as possible while simultaneously doing revision on black letter law and practice guides, taking breaks is necessary. SBAQs are very easily misread and where you do the same ones repeatedly it becomes rather convenient to rely on muscle memory alone. Therefore, having the right study plan at hand is crucial as to not burn-out early on.
Speaking from experience, the best way to approach study sessions is to focus on one particular area of law and to not go beyond. However, revision of black letter law, practice guides and answering SBAQs can go hand in hand but they do not have to. Decide beforehand what you want to focus on, where you do well and on the SBAQs you have set yourself to answer during that study session – leave it at that. It is easy to say to yourself ‘Oh, I did well on these SBAQs, let me do some more from a different topic’ only for you to feel discouraged where you may fail subsequently. Being unmotivated to attempt SBAQs is one of your biggest enemies in preparing for the assessment and you will want to do your best to ensure that you try and make studying for them as fun as possible. That being said: start earlier, rather than later. Cramming hundreds of SBAQs into a few days/weeks before the assessment will do more harm than allowing you to actively revise the topics.
Again, the above tips are only a recommendation by those having sat the SQE1 before. Feel free to stick to your own study and/or revision method where preferred.
Best of luck for everyone preparing for the SQE1 assessment in January 2023!