The pass rates in the last OSCE administered in November 2017 plummeted to 63% and 51% respectively for the two batches as against the previous sittings where they were well above 70%. Statistics can be deceiving and hard to interpret but this could possibly mean that the exams have gotten tougher or that perhaps the marking is stricter. Whatever it is, the message is clear – do not take the assessments lightly.
2. MCT versus the OSCE
The OSCE tests you on a wider range of skills as against a test of merely answering multiple choice questions. That said, there are many who find the OSCE assessments easier than the MCT. I found myself on the other side of the spectrum. Although I scored higher on the OSCE than the MCT, I felt preparing for the OSCE was more challenging.
3. Subjects and the Order of Difficulty
The OSCE assessments will test you on (i) Litigation (Civil and Criminal), (ii) Property & Probate, and (iii) Business Law.
Watch out for Business Law which I found to be the most challenging of them all despite my being a corporate lawyer for the last 7 years. Funnily, Business Law, in my experience, was the easiest subject in the MCT. The tables are turned incredibly for the OSCE.
In the order of difficulty, Business Law is followed by Litigation. There is a lot to read in litigation and so you will have to study smart. I’ve covered my prep strategy in point 7 below.
In my opinion, Property Law is simpler in the OSCE than the MCT because it is mainly focussed on practical aspects of the practice such as sale and purchase transactions. Likewise, Probate is a smaller topic and you can take advantage of this to max your scores here.
4. Exam Format
The OSCE consists of two parts: Part I (Client Interview, Attendance Note/Case Analysis, and Advocacy) and Part II (Legal Research, Writing, and Drafting). That means six assessments for each of the three subjects totalling to eighteen assessments. Part I and Part II are each administered over three days, with a day allocated for each subject. As such, you will have to allocate six days of your work life for the OSCE which is quite unlike bar exams in other jurisdictions which are generally 1-2 day affairs.
5. Prep Time
To each, his own is the rule here. I started my preparations around July 2017 for the November 2017 assessments, although bear in mind that I was getting married in September (call me crazy) and therefore had to prep for a major life event as well! I had to somehow squeeze out time for studies during the day and, on an average, managed to dedicate about 2-3 hours daily with some marathon study sessions during weekends. There were days, of course, where I couldn’t devote any time at all. At the risk of coming across as anti-social, I used my lunch break in office to eat at my desk and read through the QLTS School summaries.
6. Prep School
I decided to study with the aid of a prep school just like I did for the MCT. While I was a bit confused between the BPP School and the QLTS School, I joined the masses and went for the QLTS School as I thought having a private tutor would be quite useful. As an aside, I believe the BPP School no longer offers an OSCE preparation course.
I have to say that there were missing gaps in the QLTS School’s course and, as a result, I ended up looking for an alternate resource to supplement my studies. I found a few videos of OSCE SMART (run by Dr Olga Pogrebennyk, who has previously passed the OSCE) on Youtube and signed up for her course. It worked very well for me because it enhanced my preparation and I am not sure if I would have made it without Olga’s tips! I’ve made a video review of OSCE SMART and you can watch it here. Note that OSCE SMART is not as snazzy as QLTS School’s videos and web interface, but if you are someone who looks at substance over style, then you may find OSCE SMART useful like I did.
For your reference, I’ve also made a quick overview of the two prep schools for your reference:
Ultimately, my verdict is: QLTS School is great, but may not prepare you well enough for the exams, which is a pity considering its price. You will most likely have to supplement it with other resources. I found OSCE SMART to be a cost-effective tool and both the schools together helped me cross the line. If you cannot afford QLTS School, you may consider going for OSCE SMART which may be enough to see you through. I think there were candidates who made it with just OSCE SMART and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (Cilex) past papers.
Disclaimer: Like any lawyer, I have to add a disclaimer that sometimes passing an exam may not really depend on how good a lawyer you are or which school you go to. It depends on how much time you have put into your preparation, the mocks you have practised, and the skills the assessors are looking for.
7. Study Plan
I did not strictly follow QLTS School’s study plan. This is not to say that it doesn’t work. It is an ideal plan, but a bit too linear. For instance, a subject for three weeks and then another for the next three weeks.
- Instead, I made my own prep strategy:I read the QLTS School summaries first, as I found the OUP books too vast to read through. To be fair, QLTS School also suggests the same approach. I alternated between two subjects in order to not get bored with one.
- At the same time, I commenced attempting mocks in order to get myself acquainted with what I was going to be tested on.
- Once I got an overview of the subjects, I viewed OSCE SMART’s video lectures on the subjects as I still did not get a grasp on the subjects. Watching these videos were a saviour because I did not have the energy to read a book at the end of a day’s work. Wherever there were gaps, I read the books.
- I continued attempting the mocks and practised with friends and acquaintances (both in-person and Skype) who were also taking the OSCE. Here, I found OSCE SMART’s mocks for Part I to be very useful and I ordered a few more for myself.
- During the last month, I tried combing through the past Cilex papers (with solutions) which can be found at this link: https://www.cilex.org.uk/study/information_for_students/exams/past_papers. Look for Level 6 and the case studies. This was useful and was suggested by Olga
- Finally, during the last couple of weeks, I read through the books to cement the information in my head. I only read the big Criminal Law book in my 8-hour flight to London, during which I covered 80% of the book! I don’t advise this for you though!
You will have to memorise various principles, tests, case laws etc. for the assessments. You can either make your own notes or supplement QLTS School’s summaries with additional information as you go along your preparation. As you practise the mocks and read through the model answers, you will understand what you have to memorise. OSCE SMART has a fact sheet on things to memorise for civil and criminal advocacy which I found helpful.
9. Mocks – practise, practise, practise!
Don’t get stuck reading the OUP books thinking that you can practise the mocks only once you’ve studied the subjects. The books are important but you need to get a good grasp of how to prepare for the exam. Get started on practising the mocks as soon as you can. This is where QLTS School is great because of the number of mocks to practice. All their mocks come with solutions and so you have everything in one place. Additionally, for a practical feel of the exam, check out OSCE SMART as you will learn some practical tips on optimising your time in the assessments!
10. Part I OSCE – Challenges and Tips
Client Interview is challenging as your performance in the exam also depends on the client before you. You need to make sure you get all the relevant information from the client and it is possible that you get a client who is quiet, hard to decipher, or garrulous and leads you astray. You have to take control of the interview! In addition, the client is a lay person and so you have to avoid legalese. To illustrate, a client did not understand my question and advice because of legal jargon, and I had to apologize! Also, remember that you do not have to provide legal advice to the client. The objective of the interview is to collect the necessary information and to provide preliminary legal advice. You can elaborate on the legal advice in the attendance note.
Additionally, I made an interview script with a few opening lines and ending lines, just in case I got tongue-tied in the actual interview!
Attendance Note/Case Analysis
Post the interview, there isn’t much time to write the attendance note. You not just have to cover the facts of the interview but also provide a legal analysis to the Partner.
A tip is to write down the information you require in your notes (the sheets for your notes will be provided to you) in the 10 minutes you have before meeting the client. During the interview, you can fill up the blanks as you elicit the information from the client. This could include information such as the name, address, number, know-your-client documents etc. Here again, OSCE SMART had some practical tips which helped me organise my attendance note and optimise my time. Use the 25 minutes you have for the attendance note to brush up your notes and to write the legal analysis since you are also going to be graded on the law – this is important! You need to get the passing mark for both skills and the law. There are many who do fairly well on the skills part but do not make it on the law scores.
As against the interview, advocacy is easier as you have to make a presentation before the assessor who does not ask you too many questions. And 45 minutes is quite sufficient to prepare for your oral presentation/advocacy.
11. Part II OSCE – Tips
In Part II, Legal research can be daunting as you have to research on multiple queries and prepare a short note in 1 hour. While the QLTS School’s videos on research were useful guidance as a starting point, its drawback is that it doesn’t tell you how to do the research in one hour. I resorted to OSCE SMART’s strategy which was helpful because it gives you some really effective tips. I also arranged my note into bullet points to make it easier to read – maybe that worked.
Understand the types of drafting questions for each subject that could come up such as oaths for administrators/executors for probate, corporate resolutions for Business Law, particulars of claim for civil advocacy etc. Read up on how to draft such documents and keep a tab on where to find such drafts on LexisNexis.
This is most likely going to be a letter giving advice to a client. You will have a little time to research on the databases and will spend most of the 30 minutes writing the advice. Mastering how to find information from the databases will put you in good stead.
12. Remember the Objective of the Assessments
Read the Marking & Moderation Policy on the Kaplan website. This is key as you are going to be graded on these criteria. Quoting one of the objectives of the assessments:
“A competent newly qualified solicitor will demonstrate a level of knowledge, professional skills and understanding of legal practice and the law that is likely to avoid a negligence claim. In simple cases s/he can identify a client’s problem and the main legal issues raised. S/he should be able to recognise and respond appropriately to common situations which raise issues of professional conduct. S/he will normally know his or her limits when ignorant; know to what sources to refer for information; and ask for help when the problem is too difficult to deal with.”
If you do not know or are not sure of something (particularly in the oral presentation), say that you will have to double check and can get back to to the client later in the day. This is in line with the objective of avoiding a negligence claim.
13. 18 Hoops to Jump
Do not fret if you think you have messed up one of the assessments. Collect yourself and give your best in the remaining ones. It isn’t over until the end!
Sort out your visa (if required), hotel stay, and clothes in advance. For Part I, you have to be formally dressed (it is better to wear black/navy blue and white for the advocacy). Try to stay close to the assessment centre as there are delays with the trains and you do not want to get stressed with the travel. I also took about 3-4 days off from work before the exams to get into the groove — time off from work to focus on the assessments would be great. And if it helps, book a morning flight to London so that you can spend the time reading a book rather than catching a snooze!
I’ve probably written too much and must stop. I hope you found the above useful. All the best for your assessments and do not forget to enjoy the ride!