As part of our reforms to Bar training, the assessment of Professional Ethics is split between the vocational component of training, and the pupillage/work-based learning stage. 

Authorised Education and Training Organisations delivering the vocational component of training, provide tuition in, and assessment of, Professional Ethics to a Foundation level as part of their Bar Training course.

The pupillage stage examination in Professional Ethics assesses specified learning outcomes at the standard expected of barristers on their first day of practice as defined in the Professional Statement. Pupils who commenced Bar Training from 2020 onwards or who completed the Bar Transfer Test (BTT) from August 2021 onwards are required to take this assessment.

The assessment of Professional Ethics during pupillage is an examination that is set and marked centrally by us. It is an open book examination comprised of twelve short-answer questions. We are not prescribing any programme of prior study by way of preparation for the examination but have developed a practice assessment that candidates can use for developmental purposes. You can download a syllabus for this assessment from this webpage.

download exam requirements

NB the Exam Requirements replace the Exam Rules document which was previously in this location as they have been updated and linked to the Exams Misconduct Policy.


download the misconduct policy
DOWNLOAD THE 2024 SYLLABUS
DOWNLOAD THE 2024 SYLLABUS (WITH TRACKED CHANGES)

For more information on the new approach to assessing Professional Ethics, please read the paper which we first published in April 2020.

Download the paper

For more information on the Ethics Assessment Guidance which sets out the learning outcomes, please read the below paper.

Download the paper

The full exam instructions can be found here: 

Download the Instructions

We have changed the way question stems are phrased on the Ethics Exam. Please read more details about this change in this document.

Note on Stem Change

To download the mark scheme for the practice test, click here:

Download Mark Scheme

To ensure the transparency of the WBL Professional Ethics examination, the Chair of the Centralised Examinations Board publishes a report for each Professional Ethics (taken during pupillage) examination cycle, detailing statistical data for each sit and interventions applied. The reports are one element of a range of qualitative and quantitative data that we use to oversee the provision of Bar training. The Chair’s reports are factual.

Professional Ethics Chair's Report

For information from the pupil supervisor webinar delivered on 13 January 2022, please refer to the presentation and speaker notes. This download may also be of interest to anyone who needs to take the exam.

Download presentation and notes

FAQs for pupils

Do I have to take the new exam?

Please click here to see who is required to take the Professional Ethics assessment during pupillage.

What is the purpose of the exam?

The purpose of the exam is to:

  • distinguish between pupils who are ready to receive their Full Practising Certificate (FPC) and those who are not yet ready.
  • safeguard the public by ensuring that those who are authorised to practise (by having received their FPC) have fulfilled the ethical requirements set out in the Professional Statement.
  • ensure a strong, ethical profession.

When are the exams?

There are three sittings each year, generally in early January, late April and late July.
For 2024, the dates are:

  • Tuesday 23 July at 2pm.

For 2025, the dates are:

  • Thursday 9 January at 2pm;
  • Tuesday 29 April at 2pm; and
  • Tuesday 22 July at 2pm.

What are the key dates for the July 2024 exam?

July 2024 exam

  • Applications for adjustments: Deadline Monday 03 June
  • Exam booking: Tuesday 11 June to Tuesday 25 June
  • Exam date: Tuesday 23 July at 2pm
  • Results available on MyBar: Monday 23 September

What are the key dates for the January 2025 exam?

January 2025 exam

  • Applications for adjustments: Deadline TBC
  • Exam booking: TBC
  • Exam date: Thursday 9 January at 2pm
  • Results available on MyBar: Thursday 6 March

What are the key dates for the April 2025 exam?

April 2025 exam

  • Applications for adjustments: Deadline TBC
  • Exam booking: TBC
  • Exam date: Tuesday 29 April at 2pm
  • Results available on MyBar: Tuesday 17 June

What are the key dates for the July 2025 exam?

July 2025 exam

  • Applications for adjustments: Deadline TBC
  • Exam booking: TBC
  • Exam date: Tuesday 22 July at 2pm
  • Results available on MyBar: Thursday 11 September

Must I take the exam during my first six?

There is no requirement for you to have taken or passed the exam during the non-practising period of your pupillage. However, you need to have completed three months of pupillage before undertaking the assessment. This is to ensure that you will have had the opportunity to discuss real life ethical scenarios with your pupil supervisor and other members of Chambers. If you are a transferring qualified lawyer (TQL) and have been granted a reduced pupillage, you do not need to complete three months of pupillage before undertaking the exam.

Do I have to pay for the exam?

There is no fee for your first or second attempt. After that, the fee for any resits will be £832. It will be for you to agree with your chambers or employer who pays for any subsequent resits. This should be set out in your written pupillage agreement.

What is the format of the new exam?

It is an open book exam comprising twelve short answer questions. All parts are equally weighted. Responses are required in the form of narrative prose (short answers). Questions consist of scenarios set within professional practice, each of which require you to engage with one or more issues, applying ethical principles in order to identify, critically analyse, and address the matters raised and to reach an appropriate resolution of those issues. In order to be successful, therefore, you must apply your knowledge of ethical principles, and using the provisions of the BSB Handbook, guidance and other syllabus materials, provide comprehensive analysis and sound reasoning in your answers.

The scenarios will cover a range of settings and areas of law (eg criminal practice and civil practice), but no specialist knowledge of these areas is required. The questions focus on ethical principles which can be equally applied to any field of legal practice.

The exam is three hours long. It is for you to decide how to apportion your time. You will have access to the BSB Handbook in electronic form during the exam.

Information regarding our decision to adopt this format of assessment is available on our website.

How does access to the BSB Handbook work during the exam?

All candidates will be able to access the online version of the BSB Handbook via an onscreen link during the exam. However, please note that candidates sitting in a test centre will not be able to use the Download PDF button to open the Handbook as a PDF.

You will be able to have the Handbook and the exam open side-by-side as long as your screen resolution is a minimum of 1920x1080 pixels. All screens in a test centre will meet the minimum screen resolution for the side-by-side view.

Candidates are permitted to copy and paste from the Handbook, and use shortcuts such as CTRL+F to search the Handbook (or by using the Handbook search function).

The Handbook is available as a PDF and a webpage. Which format will be available during the exam?

Candidates sitting in a test centre will be able to access the Handbook as a webpage through a direct link within the exam. Please note that candidates sitting in a test centre will not be able to open the Handbook as a PDF by clicking the link on the webpage, as PDFs will not be visible within Surpass Viewer. Please be aware that the webpage version of the Handbook has a search bar at the top.

Candidates sitting an online proctored exam at home will also be provided with a direct link to the webpage version of the Handbook, however they will also be able to open the Handbook as a PDF using the link on the webpage as their exam will not be delivered through Surpass Viewer.

If you require the Handbook in paper format, please apply for this as an adjustment.

What materials will be available during the exam?

The Ethics exam is open book, and you will have access to the BSB Handbook during the exam. You will not, however, have access to any other materials or webpages, and you may not call the Bar Council Ethical Enquiries line during the exam.

How do I book the exam?

Information on how to book the exam is available in the candidate guide.

The booking window opens online seven weeks before the exam date for those sitting for the first time. It closes five weeks before the exam.

Do I need to quote rules and rule numbers word for word in the exam?

Candidates are expected to accurately identify the Core Duties, rules and other materials which are applicable to the question scenario.

While it is helpful to quote rule numbers and other source material, markers are instructed to look for appropriate application of the relevant rules. You will also have access to the online Handbook during the exam, so there is no requirement to memorise rule numbers as such. 

You may find the assessment guidance and exam instructions useful for more detailed information.

I have opted for a remotely invigilated exam. Do I need to download the ProctorExam app on my phone?

No, provided you have successfully completed the system check and have a working webcam.

Will I have to sit the exam in person or online?

The exam will be delivered online; you may choose to sit a remotely proctored exam or in a test centre. We have a network of test centres throughout the UK (test centres may also be available overseas). More information is available in the candidate guide.

How do I prepare for the exam? Do I have to attend a course/access preparatory material?

You should familiarise yourself with the syllabus. We have also provided some guidance which sets out the learning outcomes as expressed in the Professional Statement, as well as a description of the assessment itself and the classification of answers, our standard setting process, and some of the procedures we will undertake during marking.

We have also provided sample short answer questions and a mark scheme (previously used on the BPTC). The style of the questions has not changed; however, we will mark the pupillage exam in a different way (the new mark scheme is available on our website). A practice assessment in Surpass is available and can be accessed via the left-hand menu on this page. We strongly recommend that you use the Surpass system to try a practice assessment as that way you can trial the computer-based exam experience. You should do this whether you have booked to take your exam in a test centre or online. The practice assessment is not marked and your responses will not be saved, but you will be able to copy and paste them (for example into a Word document) in order to evaluate your answers against the mark scheme. There is no limit to the number of attempts for the practice assessment.

We do not prescribe a preparatory course or play any part in the development of any preparatory materials that may be offered by others.

How can I find out who is providing preparatory material for the Ethics assessment?

Preparatory materials have been developed by The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA). The ICCA’s Pupillage Ethics Materials can be accessed using this link: https://www.icca.ac.uk/pupillage-ethics/.

The ICCA charges a small fee for access to the materials: £150 for pupils, £75 for ICCA alumni (you will have access to the materials for 12 months, irrespective of when you take the assessment).

The Northern Circuit is also providing ethics training for its pupils. You should contact the Circuit for details: https://www.northerncircuit.org.uk/.

What happens if I don’t pass first time? What happens if I don’t pass before the end of my pupillage?

There are three sittings each year so you will have further opportunities to resit the exam if you do not pass first time. You must pass the exam in order to be signed off from your pupillage. If you have not successfully passed the exam before the end of your pupillage, it will be for your chambers or employer to decide if they wish to fund an extension to your pupillage to enable you to do so. That should be set out in your written pupillage agreement.

I need reasonable adjustments. Who do I tell?

More information is available in the candidate guide and in our adjustments and other arrangements policy. You need to let us know what adjustments should be implemented to enable you to perform at your best during your exam. You will need to provide evidence detailing and to supporting the specific adjustments you require. This information will remain confidential.

It is very important that you tell us about your required adjustments as early as possible, as we will need to book your exams with your adjustments for you. Please tell us about your requirements at least 9 weeks before an exam (and submit your evidence at this point).

For the April 2024 exam, please tell us by Monday 04 March.

I cover my head for religious reasons and would like to have my identity checked in a separate room. Who do I tell?

If you need other arrangements which do not relate to a disability for your exam, please see the information available in the candidate guide and in our adjustments and other arrangements policy.

For example, if you cover your head for religious reasons, or wear a head covering which covers your face, you will be asked to lift it briefly in order to verify your identity. You may request that your identity be checked in a separate room if you are sitting an exam in a test centre, or may specify the gender of the person who checks your identity either at test centre or for online proctoring, when you identification and environment is checked.

Please tell us about your requirements at least 9 weeks before an exam.

For the April 2024 exam, please tell us by Monday 04 March.

I am breast-feeding and would like to have a separate room at a test centre. Who do I tell?

If you need other arrangements which do not relate to a disability for your exam, please see the information available in the candidate guide and in our adjustments and other arrangements policy.

If you are breast-feeding, you may request a separate room at a test centre.

Please tell us about your requirements at least 9 weeks before an exam.

For the April 2024 exam, please tell us by Monday 04 March.

I express my gender in a way which differs from that on my identity documents. I am worried about the identification checks. Who do I tell?

If you need other arrangements which do not relate to a disability for your exam, please see the information available in the candidate guide and in our adjustments and other arrangements policy.

If you express your gender in a way which differs from that stated/portrayed on your government-issued identity document, please let us know in advance so we can ensure that there will be no disruptions during the check-in and identification processes.

Please tell us about your requirements at least 9 weeks before an exam.

For the April 2024 exam, please tell us by Monday 04 March.

What if I am unable to sit the exam or have problems during the exam?

Circumstances beyond your control that affect your ability to sit or your performance during the exam can be taken into account as extenuating circumstances. This could include reasons such as illness, other personal circumstances or technical difficulties experienced during the exam. To find out more about extenuating circumstances and how to apply for them, please refer to our Extenuating Circumstances Policy.

What happens if I am late for my test centre exam?

If you arrive at the test centre up to 30 minutes after the examination start time, you can still enter the examination room, but the examination time missed by being late will not be added to the finish time of your examination. Please note, if you start late you should  not rely on the exam clock as it will count down the full examination time, but you will not get any extension for being late.

Who is involved in setting the papers, marking the exams and setting the pass standard?

The exam is set and marked by the BSB. You can read more about the role of our Centralised Examinations Board (CEB) here. All those involved in marking, writing questions and setting pass standards are legally qualified; some are practising barristers, some are academics. The BSB takes steps to ensure that there is variety in the pools of consultants. We scrutinise the CVs of all recruited markers, team leaders and standard setters. We conduct regular training and moderation. Wherever possible, markers are allocated to a question aligning with their area of practice.

Does the BSB write new questions for each paper?

Yes. However, we do hold a bank of questions and therefore do not publish past papers.

How many competent answers are required in order to pass the exam?

It is expected that competent candidates will have provided at least eight satisfactory answers out of 12, but there will be a review of all candidates on either side of this borderline which will involve a holistic view of the candidate’s entire script.

Where a candidate has three or more sub-part answers graded as ‘Unacceptable’ the candidate will be graded ‘Not Competent’, regardless of the grades awarded for answers to other sub-parts. Please note that providing no answer to a question will count as an 'Unacceptable' answer.

More information on the grading of the assessment can be found in the Chair’s Report for each exam session.

How will I get my results?

More information is available in the candidate guide.

Your result will typically be available eight weeks after taking the exam. Your result will be uploaded to your Bar Training Record on MyBar. Once you have passed the Ethics exam, you will need to authorise your pupil supervisor to view the result on MyBar.

If you have not passed the exam, we will provide feedback which is given with the intention to help you improve your performance. The feedback will be sent to you via email. We suggest that you share the feedback with your pupil supervisor so they can assist with any remediation.

Please refer to our feedback policy for more information.

Please note that, if we are to experience technical difficulties with the MyBar platform, you will receive your results via e-mail.

Is there an expected pass rate?

We do not prescribe to a set passing quota or passing rate. Each paper is set and follows standard pre-exam processes of quality assurance, and post-exam procedures of standard setting, moderation and statistical analysis, with intervention if justified, overseen by an independent psychometrician and an independent observer. Instead of having a passing quota, we use a competency based standard setting method which aims to ensure that all candidates who have attained the skills and knowledge set out in the professional statement pass the exam and candidates which have not yet reached this level of competency do not pass. The final passing rate is taken as valid, regardless of where it falls.

For the BPTC Ethics exam, the pass rate was typically around 70%. It is not possible to predict the pass rate for the pupillage-stage exam, however it is worth noting that:

  • All pupillage Ethics exam candidates will have passed the Bar Training Course and been selected for pupillage;
  • The pupillage Ethics exam is open-book; and
  • Candidates will have more time to complete the pupillage Ethics exam than for the BPTC Ethics exam.

Can I appeal the results?

Challenges against the academic judgement of examiners are not permitted.

Under our candidate review process, examination answers are not re-marked but you may request:

Please ensure you have read the Professional Ethics Regulations Governing Candidate Review before applying for either of the above.

How will my personal data be handled?

More information is available in the candidate guide.

FAQs for pupil supervisors and AETOs

Do all pupils need to take the exam?

Please click here to see who is required to take the Professional Ethics assessment during pupillage.

What do we need to do to help our pupils prepare for the exam?

We do not expect pupil supervisors to act as tutors, though we expect you to be active and engaged in supporting your pupils in sitting their Ethics exam. The duties imposed on pupil supervisors are set out in the Bar Qualification Manual which states that your role is to provide pupils with a suitable training programme which enables them to meet the competences in the Professional Statement to the threshold standard, in accordance with the Curriculum and Assessment Strategy. Teaching and assessment of Professional Ethics at foundation level will have taken place during the vocational component. Individuals who are of the calibre to obtain pupillage will already have demonstrated ability at that level and can reasonably be expected to be able to apply that foundation knowledge in the workplace. The context of an environment in which real life scenarios can be discussed with you and other members of Chambers or colleagues is the appropriate environment for a developing professional to demonstrate application of knowledge.

You may wish to think about whether you want to adjust your pupillage training plan to reflect the timing of the Ethics exam and, if you feel you want to build in anything different to help your pupils prepare, that will be for you to determine.

We must stress how important it is to ensure that pupils know what they need to do and when, like registering their pupillage and applying for a Provisional Practising Certificate. So, whilst it is their responsibility, please make sure you guide your pupils to read and understand the latest and most up to date information available on our website, so that they know how they can prepare for the exam, when to book, how to apply for adjustments, and how they will get their results.

Are pupil supervisors expected to be experts in how ethics applies to particular areas of practice?

No, the ethical issues pupils will encounter in the exam are non-specific enough so that any practising barrister would be expected to have an awareness of them.

Will pupil supervisor training cover preparing pupils for the Ethics exam?

We do not expect pupil supervisors to act as tutors, though we expect you to be active and engaged in supporting your pupils in sitting their Ethics exam. The BSB prescribes outcomes for pupil supervisor training, including becoming familiar with the Curriculum and Assessment Strategy and Professional Statement, and effectiveness as a pupil supervisor. As most pupil supervisor training is delivered by the Inns and Circuits, please speak to your Inns or Circuit if you would like them to adapt the course to cover anything specific.

Who is involved in setting the papers, marking the exams and setting the pass standard for our pupils?

The exam is set and marked by the BSB. You can read more about the role of our Centralised Examinations Board (CEB) here. All those involved in marking, writing questions and setting pass standards are legally qualified; some are practising barristers, some are academics. The BSB takes steps to ensure that there is variety in the pools of consultants. We scrutinise the CVs of all recruited markers, team leaders and standard setters. We conduct regular training and moderation. Wherever possible, markers are allocated to a question aligning with their area of practice.

Does the BSB write new questions for each paper?

Yes. However, we do hold a bank of questions and therefore do not publish past papers.

Is it essential for pupils to use exact words or phrases to get a mark?

No, because the mark scheme differs from that of the BPTC Ethics exam. Please see the example mark scheme.

How many competent answers are required in order for pupils to pass the exam?

It is expected that competent candidates will have provided at least eight satisfactory answers out of 12, but there will be a review of all candidates on either side of this borderline which will involve a holistic view of the candidate’s entire script as a whole.

What materials will be available to pupils during the exam?

The Ethics exam is open book, and pupils will have access to the BSB Handbook during the exam. They will not, however, have access to any other materials or webpages, and they may not call the Bar Council Ethical Enquiries line during the exam.

Must pupils take the exam during their first six?

There is no requirement for pupils to have taken or passed the exam during the non-practising period of pupillage. However, they need to have completed three months of pupillage before undertaking the assessment. This is to ensure that they will have had the opportunity to discuss real life ethical scenarios with you and other members of Chambers or colleagues.

What if it has been some time since a pupil graduated from Bar training?

This issue is not specific to Ethics; they will need to re-familiarise themselves with all relevant areas. Having an assessment during pupillage puts the point of assessment closer to the point of authorisation which is good pedagogic practice.

Our pupils are normally in Court as soon as they have their Provisional Practising Certificate. Do we have to give them time off to study for the exam if they have to take or retake the exam then?

We have not mandated a preparatory course for which time away from the pupillage training programme is required. Self-study materials are available from the Inns of Court College of Advocacy. It will be for pupils to decide if they wish to use these materials and for AETOs to agree with pupils when and how they prepare for the exam.

Do we have to pay for our pupil to sit the exam?

There is no fee for the first or second attempt. After that, the fee will be £832. It will be for you to agree with your pupil who pays for any subsequent resits. This should be set out in your written pupillage agreement.

How will the costs of running the exams be covered?

We went out to consultation on how to recover costs for the new Bar training rules in December 2018. The practising certificate fee is being used to fund the first two sits for each pupil. Any sits beyond this will need to be paid for. It is up to Chambers’/ the employer’s discretion to determine whether they will be funding these or passing on the cost to pupils.

How do I find out about my pupil’s result?

Your pupil’s result will typically be available eight weeks after taking the exam. Their result will be uploaded to their Bar Training Record on MyBar. They will need to give you access to their account to view their result on MyBar.

If your pupil has not passed, we will provide feedback which is given with the intention to improve their performance. The feedback will be given to your pupil via email. We would recommend that you ask your pupil to share this feedback with you, so you can assist with any remediation.

What happens if a pupil does not pass the Ethics assessment before completing their pupillage?

If your pupil has not successfully passed the exam before the end of their pupillage, it will be for you to decide if you will fund an extension to their pupillage to enable them to do so. That should be set out in your written pupillage agreement. If your pupil has their pupillage extended, they will need to inform the BSB Authorisations team ([email protected]). This is important to ensure that their Provisional Practising Certificate does not expire

Is there any concern about pupils representing clients during pupillage before they have passed the Ethics assessment?

No, as with all other elements of pupillage, they are still in training and under your supervision.

Will the BSB take any action over Chambers or employers whose pupils consistently fail?

If there are any indications that give rise to a concern, an Authorised Education and Training Organisation may be subject to review by the BSB’s Supervision team