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My law career: how BARBRI helped me pass SQE1 and SQE2

21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Maddie was among the first cohort of lawyers who passed SQE1 and SQE2 after studying with BARBRI. She explains what it was like to study for professional exams fresh out of uni, while starting a new job, moving house and managing friends’ and family’s expectations.

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I finished my degree in 2020 during Covid and then I started studying for the SQE1 in January 2021. I also started a new job that year, working Monday to Friday, nine to five. I chose to study with BARBRI from January to November over a 40-week course, the longest period available.

How did you find studying and working?

You can fit in your studies when you have the time – during your lunch break, midweek because you know you’re going to take the weekend off, or at the weekend. Doing the Flexible 40-week course meant I had the least amount of studying to do each week as technically the course requirement is about 1.2 hours of study per day, so you could do three hours one day and nothing the next day.

The beginning of my studies coincided with a full lockdown so I had a lot of time on my hands – it was a good introduction. It wasn’t as easy to fit studying in once things started to open up. I moved to London halfway through my studies and was able to have something like a social life that summer. The lectures are about 20-30 minutes long, or you can complete one of the question sets, which are relatively short, in a similar amount of time, which makes studying very doable here and there. I used to do a bigger block of reading at the weekend when I had more time. Studying in this flexible way means the course fits into your life as opposed to you having to fit your life into it.

Will the short or long course suit me better?

Ten months of study is a commitment you have to be sure you’re prepared to make. By contrast, my SQE2 programme was set over a 12-week course – which was the only option BARBRI was offering at the time. They offer both a 10- and a 20-week course for the SQE2 now. Though it was more intense than the 40-week programme, in the back of my mind I kept thinking, This is just for three months . It meant a couple of social sacrifices here and there but it didn’t feel bad.

I can’t advise which length of course you should do, though. It’s definitely a case of swings and roundabouts – fewer weekly study commitments for SQE 1, but over a 40-week period of time; more for SQE2 but in a shorter period. Either way you can’t escape the commitment involved.

Any advice about staying on track?

One of my learning coaches gave me a really good piece of advice right at the beginning, which was, ‘Tell people in your life now what is going to be happening because although it is relatively gentle in the beginning that study commitment is going to ramp up, specifically towards the exam.’ She encouraged me to set boundaries with friends and family, so they were primed for the odd occasions I had to cancel or duck out of. They knew why I was doing it and were understanding. The same learning coach encouraged me to treat my social life with the rigidity of a work commitment, which meant putting events into my calendar in blocks of time, and then, when that time was up, saying, ‘Okay, I’ve had two hours for brunch; now I have to go home and do some study.’

I did manage to see all the important people in my life, just on a reduced level. When I was gearing up for the exams though, I was saying, ‘Leave me alone for the next two weeks until I get through the exams!’ But they helped me celebrate my successes, so all was good in the end.

What were the learning materials, tutors and coaches like?

BARBRI courses are entirely designed to be studied online, so not only do they manage any limitations they actually exploit the benefits of online learning.

You get assigned a learning coach at the beginning of the course – mine was a barrister with whom I spoke a fair bit at the beginning of the course because I had never studied law at any level before and doubted myself. I wondered if I needed to supplement the course material, but she encouraged me to trust the process and she was right. I established a good relationship with her and didn’t need much support over the middle of the course because you get into the groove and a routine. She gave me lots of reassurance before the exam, when I needed to speak to her more.

All the learning coaches and the tutors are qualified solicitors or barristers, plus they’ve had some kind of postgrad teaching experience as well. I found them very knowledgeable and reassuring. One of my SQE2 tutors had done her Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time while working full-time so comparing notes and hearing her experiences were reassuring. I found my coaches and tutors good to talk to because of their combined law and legal education experience. When you are feeling worried and they say, ‘You will be fine,’ you believe them.

Tell us about the workshops

I found the skills workshops on how to answer multiple choice questions (MCQs), how to revise well for an exam and how to plan invaluable. BARBRI puts on a really good session on MCQ methodology, drawn from all the decades of their US BAR course experience. They taught me exactly the skills I needed, because the exam is 180 MCQs a day over two days, broken down into four 90-question sessions each two-and-a-half hours long. It feels intense and quick, but some of the questions are long, all the questions have five answers, and many look the same except for one word. I really felt prepared for that exam through BARBRI.

The online workshops give you a chance to interact with other students and BARBRI runs drop-in strategy sessions in office hours when you can chat with anyone also online. We were encouraged to chat with each other, even though there weren’t any specific study groups in SQE 1.

There was more peer-to-peer interaction for my SQE2 studies because we were put into tutor groups and had three tutor group calls. It gave the feeling of all being in it together even though you are all working independently. An anonymous peer review system allowed you to submit your work for someone else to mark and give you feedback, if you wanted to participate.

Overall, would you recommend the course to family and friends?

Yes. I think the way the course is run and set up is incredible. I hope BARBRI breaks into other areas of education, not just legal but generally, because I genuinely think it’s a revolutionary way to learn.

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