The Bar Standards Board Sets Paper That Contained Questions Which Featured On Mock Taken By One BPTC Provider 15

As many of you may know, I am training to be a barrister, which just like every other profession means you are required to take plenty of exams. The body which is responsible for regulating (note the word regulating) is the Bar Standards Board, or BSB for short.

They are the body which audits the activity of providers of the barrister course (Bar Professional Training Course, or BPTC for short), regulates the activity and ethics of barristers and dictates the requirements of what trainee barristers need to learn.

The BSB is responsible for setting three exam papers, Criminal Litigation, Civil Litigation and Professional Ethics, whereas the examination of other subjects are set by each of the course providers. As such the BSB is responsible for timetabling of those exams and setting the requirements.

Baring in mind that both the Criminal Litigation & Civil Litigation examinations are considered the most important written examinations, the BSB have this year decided to have them almost back to back, with only one day between them. Following on from my post on whether exams should be used as a test of memory or not, the BSB has ruled that these exams should be closed book. In other words students are not allowed to use Archbold, The White Book or the BSB Code (considered as the practitioners texts) in exams, something which is does not make sense to many a student, lecturer or practising barrister.

The three centrally assessed examinations, are divided into two parts; Section A contains Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ’s), 20 for Professional Ethics, and 40 for each Litigation exam. Section B contains Short Answer Questions (SAQ’s), 3 for Professional Ethics, and 5 for each Litigation exam.

As the BSB is not an education provider, it requests each of the providers to submit questions to it that can be used to write future papers. Here lies the problem.

The Professional Ethics paper which was sat on the 18th March 2013 by thousands of students at each of the providers at 14:00 contained at least one short answer question which had been submitted to the BSB, that had been contained on a BPP Professional Ethics Mock.

These questions were not altered in any way what so ever, and verbatim to the questions the BPP students had answered. In line with revision materials, BPP had also released the marking scheme for their mock paper, meaning that students of BPP had the marking scheme for at least one of the SAQ’s

The news broke on twitter as one BPTC student voiced his/her concerns. Quickly the news spread.

The news broke on twitter as one BPTC student voiced his/her concerns. Quickly the news spread.

Whilst I don’t think that BPP have done anything wrong on this case as they have appeared to have complied with the BSB, the BSB have. The method for writing the paper is fatally flawed, as by using a set of questions which are used by mocks ultimately means that some students will have seen the question (and in some cases the marking scheme) and others will not have done. Even if for each exam an identical number of questions are used from each provider, the problem remains. There is no guarantee that the marks for each question or difficulty will be equal.

If that wasn’t bad enough one of the MCQ’s did not have a correct answer available, and it was impossible to answer correctly.

BSB Ethics Exam 2013, Where MCQ didn't have a correct answer.

Students on Facebook share their concern over MCQ that didn’t have a correct answer available.

Whilst we don’t have access to the exam paper that we had sat (as we are not permitted to remove the papers from the exam room, presumably so the questions can be reused for mocks – don’t ask) so the wording may not be 100% accurate, the question and answers given are pretty much what was being asked. The relevant section of the Code Of Conduct which CPD relates is below:

BSB Code Of Conduct - Showing CPD Requirements

BSB Code Of Conduct – Showing CPD Requirements

As can be seen, non of the answers available were correct. We suspect that answer D was the answer it should have been, but there was a typo, with four years/three years. Typo or no typo, there was still no correct answer.

We BPTC students still have two centrally set assessments to take after the Easter holidays, I for one have very little faith that the same wont happen again.

Whilst I dont believe BPP have breached the rules, we are still waiting for the BSB statement.

Whilst I dont believe BPP have breached the rules, we are still waiting for the BSB statement.

Unsurprisingly at university we were keen to discuss what we thought the BSB would do, we came up with the following options available. However no matter what the action taken, there are going to be unpleasant consequences.

The first option available is to cancel all questions which were compromised. However if the one SAQ question was cancelled (at 10 marks), and currently the number of compromised MCQ’s were cancelled (at 1 mark each), you quickly have a paper which has a questions which don’t test the requirements on the syllabus, and the weighting of each question increasing considerably.

The second option is to force students at BPP to re-sit the exam. Personally I don’t feel it to be the fault of the students, and regardless, the point of having a centralised exam is to ensure the consistency of complexity, something which would not be achieved if they were required to re-sit.

Finally force every BPTC student to re-sit the exam. This would be the most unpopular decision as it would mean that everyone would have to re-revise for the re-sit. The taking of the paper would no doubt inconvenience many who had booked holiday. However most importantly would mean that no one would be able to be called to the Bar in the summer, as papers most likely, would not be able to be written, distributed, taken, and marked in time, therefore inconveniencing people who had pupillages or wanting to start their legal career.

In waiting for the BSB statement, many students took to twitter to voice their concerns:

BSB Ethics Exam 2013 - Student Tweet 1

BSB Ethics Exam 2013 - Student Tweet 2

BSB Ethics Exam 2013 - Student Tweet 3

BSB Ethics Exam 2013 - Student Tweet 4

No matter what happens, I am sure that I am not alone when I say my confidence in the body which sets the rules of how we are examined, has been significantly diminished.

  • BPTC Student

    I’m not fully aware of the rules relating to the submission of questions to the BSB but surely one of the requirements is that they must not submit a question they have previously used on any teaching materials or mocks? It’s not too much to ask of a provider to submit 10 new questions each year, and it’s certainly not to much to ask or expect that they could have simply changed the name of the people in the questions or the objects i.e. chairs and tables, that were being being rented. I’m just so angry that chances are, absolutely nothing will be done about any of this and there is nothing they can do that will compensate me for the 20 minutes of my SAQ time that I wasted on two questions that had no right answer or had mixed up the words claimant and defendant and massively confused me 🙁

    I understand the sad face at the end of my post makes the entire thing carry less weight but I am sad haha.

    Otherwise, good blog post Jonathan 🙂

    x x x

    • BPTC Student,

      Thankyou for your comments, I think I know who you are so I shall give you a hug the next time I see you 😛

      I dont blame you being sad, the fact that we are STILL waiting for this BSB statement means that I dont think they are taking it seriously enough 🙁


  • Grace Semp

    Excellent article. I also read that there were students who had seen questions and answers to some of the MCQs. It’s ironic that this would happen on the ethics paper.

    Regardless of what action is taken, many students will feel let down, having spent thousands of pounds on the course and working hard for the last six months in preparation for these exams. It would be inconvenient and disruptive if all students had to retake the exam but unfair if only BPP students had to retake it. All we can do now is await the BSB statement to see what excuse they come up with!

    • jisaacs

      Cheers Grace. I couldn’t agree more, on an ethics paper as well! Some think this is just going to blow over, I think we both will make sure this is not the case 🙂

  • I don’t think students will be asked to resit the whole exams. Too hectic. I think to be fair, they should take an average of students’ marks for question 2 and do any upward scaling of marks if possible. As for the MCQ, I’m sure they will dismiss it and give a free mark to everyone. Which is what they did last year for 2-3 civil MCQ’s. cheers. nice article btw.

    • Hi I-am-Sheik,

      Thank you for your positive feedback 🙂

      I have heard that this sort of thing happened before last year (and I think the year before that, although I may be wrong), which makes it even more concerning that mistakes like this are still being made!


  • Cc

    I’m a BPP student currently on the BPTC and sat it on Monday and confirm that we have never received this MOCK paper that’s been released with the exact same SAQ. City Law School students were the ones who have somehow received this MOCK paper and had the unfair advantage.

  • Carl

    It’s in no way constructive to point to students of any institution having an ‘advantage.’

    What has happened has been a failure to ensure that the questions set in the Ethics exam were original and had not been used for any formative or summative assessments in the past. It’s still not clear where any fault lies, and although it could realistically only be with the BSB’s CEB or with BPP’s examiners (not its students, as would be obvious to anybody), it’s still very much an open question and speculating any further is pretty futile.

    But it’s surely obvious to anybody that picking on or name-calling students of any of the providers is unedifying and wrong-headed.

    • Hi Carl,

      Thankyou for your comments. I couldn’t agree more, there is no point at all blaming students at any provider for what has happened. They were just given materials as revision aides and used them not knowing what they were.

      I do disagree with what you say about some students having an advantage tho. If they had seen the paper and or answers (even if inadvertently), and not knowing what they were, the fact that they had been seen by people before the exam, does, in my opinion create an advantage.

      I guess we will wait to see what the BSB have to say.

  • what do you think is the best and more ideal way to deal with this situation?

    • I have been thinking about this, and to be honest, I don’t think there is a solution which does not have any negative affects.

      In the post I have detailed the options which I think are available to the BSB, non of which have a positive outcome. In all honesty I think they are hoping that this just goes away. Part of me think it will do, as people are already starting to forget it.

      What do you think the best way would be for the BSB to deal with it?

      • To be fair. I don’t think a resit would be the ideal solution because it’s way too hectic to revise everything again. I would discard this. Secondly, I don’t think they should discard the whole question as well, which would effectively mean that the SAQ part would be on 20 marks rather than the usual 30 marks. So, I would go for an upward scaling of marks. Take the average of marks for question 2 and do any upward scaling where reasonable. From what I was told, this is what they did for 1 civil SAQ last year. Or another solution would be to provide more allocation of marks on the mark scheme so that students who have different answers (but still good answers) can get 1-2 marks where possible in order to help them to pass.

        • The concern is still that those who had technically correct answers should have already be included in the mark scheme.

          As for discounting/upward marking, the danger is that you quickly have a paper where the overall mark is based on a paper that has very few valid questions.

          I dont suppose anyone has heard anything from the BSB yet? Its almost been a week!

          If this did happen last year, even more of a concern that those who set the papers centrally are even less competent that I thought, as they cant learn from past mistakes!

  • I’m a city student and got it from someone at BPP who had had the paper. I don’t expect people to admit seeing it but don’t say none of you did, it’s not credible. Also, apparently the BSB are going to do nothing. Not remove, not upscale, nothing. Now tell me that there has been no advantage or unfairness