FAQs for Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) Students

In light of government advice about the health emergency, we took the decision that the April sitting of the centralised BPTC and BTT examinations - ie the three subject areas of Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics that are currently set and marked by the BSB - would not go ahead as planned.

Computer based exams were delivered in August and the majority of students sat them then either via online proctoring or in a Pearson VUE test centre. However, many students were affected by technical or other difficulties and were either unable to access their exams or to complete them. Our Director General apologised to students affected, and, on 11 September, we announced that course providers will be offering new opportunities to sit the centralised BPTC assessments in Professional Ethics and Civil and Criminal Litigation in the traditional pen and paper format on the following dates:

  • Professional Ethics – Monday 5 October 2020 2pm – 4.30pm
  • Civil Litigation – Wednesday 7 October 2020 2pm – 5pm
  • Criminal Litigation – Monday 12 October 2020 2pm – 5pm

A total of 384 candidates have registered for the October sit of the Criminal Litigation exam, 435 for the Civil Litigation exam, and 299 for the Professional Ethics exam. (Some candidates will have registered for more than one exam.)

Our Chair, Baroness Blackstone, also wrote a personal letter of apology about the August exams and this is being distributed to those affected.

DOWNLOAD LETTER OF APOLOGY FROM BSB CHAIR BARONESS BLACKSTONE

The arrangements for sitting the October examinations will be subject to strict adherence to whatever local coronavirus restrictions are applicable at the time. BPTC providers contacted their students with further details and students had until Monday 21 September to register for the October sit. Further details about the October sitting are contained in our full 11 September announcement which is available here.

Please contact your course provider and not the BSB about your examination arrangements as we are not in a position to discuss these with individuals.

The definitive result for anyone taking centralised assessments in August and October will be whichever is the better performance from the August or October 2020 sit. Providers will release the Civil and Criminal Litigation results of the August 2020 sit on Monday 12 October and of the October 2020 sit on Friday 27 November 2020. They will release the Professional Ethics results of the August 2020 sit on Friday 6 November and of the October 2020 sit in the week commencing 18 January 2021 (Students should contact their Providers to confirm the precise date).

We have also scheduled a BPTC and BTT exam sitting in December 2020.

Since the current health emergency began, we have been very conscious of the need to support both the safety and career prospects of this year’s cohort of Bar students and prospective pupils.


How do I register to take the centralised exams in October?

The deadline for registering for the October sit has now passed. Students who did not register will now have to wait for the December sit. Details of how to register for December will be made available here in due course. Copies of the communication which you should have recieved from your provider about the October sit are available below:

DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE PROVIDER COMMUNICATION TO STUDENTS ON 11 SEPT DOWNLOAD 2020 EXAM FLOWCHART

Why didn’t you publish the results of the August exams before candidates decided whether to register for the October exams?

We understand that candidates might have preferred to know their August marks before deciding whether to register for one or more of the October exams but there are a number of quality assurance processes that must be followed before results can be formally confirmed and issued; it was not possible to issue them any earlier. It is also a widely accepted academic principle that a candidate who has passed an exam should not be able to resit that exam simply to improve their mark. 

If a candidate is concerned that their grade in August might not reflect their true ability, whether or not they believe that they may have passed, they should have opted to resit in October before their August sit results are known and the better of their August and October grades will then be regarded as definitive. The October exams were open to all candidates who have not exceeded the maximum number of permitted attempts and have been put on as a means of mitigating the issues that any candidates encountered with the August exams. We are therefore treating August and October as the same ‘sit’.

Once the results for the August exams are known to candidates, they will have an opportunity to resit an exam in December but only if they have failed that exam in August, and only if they have not registered for the October exams.

For more about this, please refer to the following correspondence between the BSB and the Bar Council:

- Letter from Nick Vineall QC on 12 September, Chair of the Bar Council Education & Training Committee 

- Reply from Mark Neale on 16 September.


Why did the BSB reject the alternative proposal from Bernard Richmond QC?

The Board were grateful to Bernard Richmond QC and his colleagues for their proposal, but decided that written exams in October would be a fairer option. You can read our response to Bernard Richmond QC here.


Will candidates still be able to be Called to the Bar this autumn?

Anyone who passes all assessments on the BPTC is eligible to be Called to the Bar by an Inn.

This means that provided they have also passed the non-centralised assessments on the BPTC, candidates who find out in early November that they have successfully passed all the August BSB exams will be eligible for Call this autumn providing their provider has been able to confirm to the Inns in time that they’ve passed all the elements of the BPTC with only the BSB exam results and the overall BPTC grade remaining provisional (for those who sat in August and October). Call is possible for those students because if they have a provisional pass from August, their mark cannot go down. (If anyone subsequently finds out that they performed better in October, the higher of their two marks will count toward their overall BPTC grade, but as Call only requires that the BPTC be “passed” this does not affect eligibility to be Called this autumn because results cannot go down from a “pass” to a “fail”.)

Candidates who have not passed the centralised assessments in August will not be able to be Called this autumn as neither the October sit nor the December re-sit marks will be available in time to allow this to happen. The next available Call dates are scheduled for March 2021 by when results from the October sit will be known. The dates when the December re-sit results will be made available to students and the Inns by the providers has yet to be confirmed.  

We are working closely with the Inns who are making contingency plans for Call ceremonies this autumn in light of the COVID restrictions likely to be in place in November. The BSB has issued a waiver enabling pupils to start the non-practising period of pupillage before being Called provided their pupillage provider is content for them to do so.


Are the Inns operating?

Yes, though their buildings are closed. See the Inns’ websites.


Can I still join an Inn?

Yes, the Inns are still processing admissions. See the Inns’ websites.


Will the Inns still be awarding scholarships?

Yes, the award of scholarships is unaffected though the selection process may be amended. Your Inn may allow awards made in 2020 to be deferred if course dates change.


What will happen about Qualifying Sessions?

The Inns have begun to deliver some of their Qualifying Sessions remotely. See the Inns’ websites for details of what is available.


I was supposed to start pupillage in autumn 2020. If I haven’t finished the BPTC will I still be able to start pupillage?

Given the exceptional circumstances and the fact that you will not know your BPTC or BTT result when your pupillage is due to start, we have waived the usual requirement that only those who have been confirmed as having successfully passed a BPTC or BTT may start the non-practising period of pupillage. We are encouraging pupillage providers to allow people to progress as planned to pupillage pending the release of the 2020 BPTC and BTT results and on 13 May, published guidance to them and on the factors to consider when taking that decision. You should contact the chambers/organisation that has offered you pupillage and discuss your circumstances with them so they can make a decision about your pupillage.

The requirement to complete vocational training and be Called to the Bar will remain in order to commence the practising period of pupillage. On 8 September, we published a report on the impact of Covid-19 on pupillage which you can read more about here.


Will there still be a five-year time limit for starting pupillage after completing the BPTC or will this be suspended?

The five-year time limit set out in the Curriculum and Assessment Strategy remains in force. Prospective pupils who will come to the end of their five-year period by the end of December 2020 and have been unable to obtain pupillage this year due to COVID-19 will be able to apply to the BSB for Dispensation from the time limit without paying an application fee. 


FAQs for Bar training students intending to commence new Bar training courses in autumn 2020


I haven’t been able to take the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) because registrations were suspended. How will I be able to take it by the time I’m due to start my Bar training course?

Those students intending to start their Bar training on one of the new authorised pathways starting in September are able to sit the BCAT under the same remote proctored conditions being used for the August BPTC and BTT centralised assessments. 

The BCAT reopened for registrations on 29 May. The BCAT can be taken via OnVUE, Pearson VUE’s online proctoring solution, or at a test centre where these are available. To register to take the BCAT, please visit: https://home.pearsonvue.com/bsb The BCAT remains an entry requirement for the vocational component of Bar training.


I registered for the BCAT before registrations were suspended but have been unable to take the test because of the lockdown. When will I be able to complete my test?

Please contact Pearson VUE to book or rebook your sitting of the BCAT. You will now be able to take your test either through OnVUE – the remote proctoring solution – or at a physical test centre where these are available. There will be no additional charges to rebook your sitting.


FAQs for Bar Transfer Test (BTT) candidates

What is happening with the deferred April sit for Bar Transfer Test candidates?

All Bar Transfer Test (BTT) candidates who were registered to take the Test in the April 2020 sit were eligible to take the exams in August 2020 and were eligible for the October sit described above for BPTC students and outlined in our announcement of 11 September. Further information was given to these candidates by BPP.


I am supposed to take the exams within a period of two years from the BSB’s decision letter that I got when I applied to transfer to the Bar of England and Wales. Will I get an extension as I haven’t been able to take the exams?

We will consider fee waiver requests on a case-by-case basis where an extension is needed directly because of issues relating to the Covid-19 situation. The period of authorisation should allow a candidate at least three, and possibly four, opportunities to take the Test.


How can current UK Law Degree and GDL students progress to the vocational component of Bar training (ie a Bar Training Course) before completing the academic component?

We have now issued an updated waiver application form and guidelines to permit current UK Law Degree and GDL students to progress to the vocational component of Bar training (i.e. a Bar Training Course) before completing the academic component.

This waiver will allow students to start a Bar Training Course when they have results outstanding in a maximum of two subjects on a UK Law Degree or GDL. The final results for any outstanding subjects must be known by 1 December of the year in which the student commences their Bar Training Course. There will be no fees payable for this application for students affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.

The application form and guidelines are available on the following page of the BSB website, under the section ‘For current and prospective students’ – it is the first application listed in this section.