BSB research throws doubt on bar aptitude test

Aspiring barristers have questioned the suitability of the bar aptitude test in assessing a student’s ability to successfully undertake the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), according to research by the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

The BSB standards-monitoring reports 2010-11, which looked at every UK institution that provides the BPTC, revealed that students from the majority of institutions that ran the bar aptitude test pilots between September 2009 and July 2011 believe the test is not fit for purpose.

The news arrives despite recent research by the BSB proposing the bar aptitude test will increase the BPTC success rate by lowering the proportion of students on the course with a propensity to fail (21 December 2011).

BPP Law School’s (BPP) Leeds report stated: “Students failed to see the correlation between what was asked in the test and aptitude on the course.”

Meanwhile the report from BPP London stated: “Whilst students supported the principle behind it, they did not believe that the test they had sat was fit for purpose as they could not see in its present form how it could determine suitability to pass the course.”

Would-be barristers from Nottingham Law School also agreed the test was not fit for purpose, with the report stating that “students felt that sometimes there were two answers” to the questions posed.

Similarly, students from Cardiff Law School felt it was difficult to pick one answer in some cases, as “law students are taught to argue both sides of an argument”.

Elsewhere, University of West of England’s aspiring barristers were described as being “not enthusiastic about the test as a means of determining aptitude for the course”. The test was also found to be subjective and the phrasing of some of the questions unhelpful. The latter points were also mentioned in Northumbria Law School’s report.

However the report from the College of Law Birmingham stated that students believe the aptitude test pilot to be a  “clever, well constructed and objective test”.

In spite of these results the majority of reports indicated that the students did understand the need for some sort of aptitude test for the BPTC.  However, some felt that the structure of the National Admissions Test of Law (LNAT) was more suitable because it was essay-based.

The BSB is now inviting responses to the consultation report, which imposed analytical and critical reasoning and fluency in English language, a recommended pass rate threshold and an unlimited number of resits.