13 May 2020

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today announced that the centralised assessments on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and for the Bar Transfer Test (BTT) which were postponed from April 2020 to August will be computer-based examinations. The BSB exams will be delivered using Pearson VUE’s OnVUE secure global online proctoring solution, which will enable students and transferring qualified lawyers to sit the exams remotely.

The regulator has also confirmed that anyone due to complete their BPTC or BTT this summer who has been offered a pupillage will be permitted to start that pupillage in the autumn whilst awaiting their BPTC or BTT results provided those offering that pupillage are content for them to do so.

The decisions follow the postponement of the April examinations because of the lockdown imposed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BSB has also announced that the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) will reopen for registrations before the start of June. This will also be available as a computer-based test that can be taken remotely.

The August centralised exams

The BSB - which sets, administers and marks the centralised BPTC examinations in Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics - has signed a contract  with Pearson VUE to deliver the August assessments via OnVUE, its online proctoring solution. OnVUE uses a combination of artificial intelligence and live monitoring to ensure the exam is robustly guarded, deploying sophisticated security features such as face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown and recordings.

Such robust security measures provide assurance to students (both past and present), the profession, and the public who will rely on the services provided by these future barristers, that the 2020 cohort of BPTC graduates will have been assessed to as high a standard as those in previous years as they will have taken the exams that they were intended to take in a secure environment. The revised arrangements are fully supported and endorsed by the BPTC providers.

The remote centralised exams will take place on the following dates:

  • 13 and 14 August - Professional Ethics
  • 17 and 18 August - Civil Litigation
  • 20 and 21 August - Criminal Litigation

Students will receive instructions for sitting the exams from their BPTC or BTT provider in due course, so it is very important for them to look out for communications from their provider. The exams can be sat remotely or, in certain cases, at an extensive network of Pearson VUE’s physical testing centres around the world (subject to local health and safety guidance and prevailing restrictions at the time of the exams). Providers will be in touch with students to determine what reasonable adjustments they may need.

Full BPTC and BTT results – including both the centralised and provider-set assessments - will be issued to students at the beginning of November. The BSB is to schedule a new BPTC and BTT exam sitting in December 2020 to enable students, where necessary, to resit any of the centralised assessments.

Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT)

The BSB has today also announced that those students intending to start their Bar training on one of the new authorised pathways starting in September will be able to sit the BCAT under the same remote proctored conditions described above. Some students have already taken the BCAT, but registrations were suspended when the test centres closed under lockdown.

The BSB expects that the BCAT will reopen for registrations before the start of June. The BCAT can then be taken via Pearson VUE’s OnVUE online proctoring platform, or at a Pearson VUE test centre where these are available. The BCAT remains an entry requirement for the vocational component of Bar training.

Progression to pupillage

Most of those due to start a pupillage this autumn have already passed their BPTC. However, typically around a third sit the BPTC in the year that they start pupillage.

Given the exceptional circumstances and the fact that they will not know their BPTC result when their pupillage is due to start, for these individuals this year, the BSB has waived the usual requirement that only those who have been confirmed as having successfully passed a BPTC may start the non-practising period of pupillage. The regulator encourages pupillage providers to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage pending the release of the BPTC results in early November and has provided guidance to them and to pupils on the factors to consider when taking that decision.

The requirement to complete their vocational training and be Called to the Bar will remain in order to commence the practising period of pupillage. Although the current lockdown may affect the number of pupillages which can be offered, the BSB hopes that as many as possible will remain available.

Speaking about today’s decisions, BSB Director-General, Mark Neale, said:

“Since the current health emergency began, we have been very conscious at the BSB of the need to support the career prospects of this year’s cohort of Bar students and prospective pupils, while maintaining high standards. Students and transferring qualified lawyers have had to face considerable uncertainty, which we very much regret, and I am delighted that we can now deliver centralised assessments remotely in August with Pearson VUE’s state-of-the-art online proctoring system.

Allowing students and transferring qualified lawyers to start the non-practising period of their pupillages in the autumn will also enable them to progress while maintaining the robustness of the assessment process. The BPTC and the BTT are gateways to a very respected profession, where high standards of competence are rightly expected, so it is right that standards of entry are maintained even in these most challenging circumstances.” 

More information for BPTC and BTT students is available here on our website.

More information about progression to pupillage is available here on our website.



Note to students added on 14 May:

Following the publication of this announcement on 13 May, we are receiving a high volume of queries from students. We understand that you are keen for more detail, but you will receive this in due course via your provider. We wanted to let you know as early as possible that there would definitely be an opportunity to take the exams in August. We now need to be able to get on with planning for these exams and with liaising with providers to understand any reasonable adjustments that you may need. The BSB is therefore unable to respond to individuals at this time but you may find the answer to your question in our FAQs which you can find here and which we will be regularly updating.


Notes to editors

About the Bar Standards Board

Our mission is to regulate barristers and specialised legal services businesses in England and Wales in the public interest. For more information about what we do visit: http://bit.ly/1gwui8t

Contact: For all media enquiries call: 020 7611 4691 or email [email protected].

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