Whenever I think of the phrase ‘fit-for-purpose’, I remember Rebecca Huxley-Binn’s advice ‘fit for whose purpose?’
So that’s how I’m going to approach this one. Running exams is an operational nightmare, and the mechanics of them always arouse emotions for all involved. The legal education providers would like ideally to award as many passes, commendations and distinctions as possible, and the students wish to do as well as they can. And the Solicitors Regulation Authority need evidence that trainees commencing training contracts have the necessary knowledge or know-how, behaviour and skills to succeed.
Ultimately how well a trainee performs is best assessed with a workplace assessment, and legal recruiters can take one of two approaches in selecting suitable candidates for training contracts. They can decide to seek out actively competences of a ‘good and proper trainee’, a pro-active approach, or they can select the least worst trainees, a reactive approach. The latter lends itself to a safe II.1 candidate, however bland he or she may be; and City firms, despite their gloatings about innovation, tend to be conservative with a large and/or small ‘c’. Bland is probably best in selecting trainees who are the safest and able to generate as many billable hours for the firm as possible. Intelligence is not required, and in fact may slow down productivity.
Assessment on the LPC has its primary goal safety of trainees and safety of their clients. The assessment procedures have to be consistent and reliable, and whatever method used, the learning objectives need to be matched to the assessment methods. That means in principle it doesn’t matter what mode of assessment is used, although I happen to feel that a piece of project work where a student can have access to real-life precedents in drafting makes more sense than an artificial scenario involving 10 marks in civil litigation, business or property. The College of Law has open book exams, as opposed to BPP where only permitted materials (mainly statutes) are allowed. The ethic of the exam serves two functions – as an exit from the course, and as an entry for completion of training to be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
I personally would like to see a time where electronic resources are allowed in the exam, but the advantage of the way in which exams are conducted presently is that students are most likely forced to look at material they otherwise would not bother looking at. Also, it depends on what you think the purpose of assessment actually is. Some people believe that assessment is a valid learning exercise itself, and the separation of assessment and learning is an artificial one. At best, it probably is at best a rough-and-ready tool, and should be, like with other components such as verbal reasoning test performance, used with caution by selectors. The best way students can prepare is through looking at the relative weightings of subjects in past papers, and making sure that they know everything reasonable well. After all, you wouldn’t wish to pay for a lawyer ‘who’d binned corporate insolvency’, would you?