Taking the QLTS OSCE Part 1 during the Coronavirus Pandemic (and 10 Practical Tips)

I took the QLTS OSCE in August 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. London wasn’t really locked down but everyone still had to follow all the covid restrictions – face masks, social distancing, hand sanitising, etc. I took Part 2 first, and, if you haven’t seen it yet, I wrote about what happened here. I had a few days’ rest between Part 2 and Part 1, and I was 1,000x more nervous when I took Part 1. Since I found it so helpful to hear other people’s experiences with this exam, I thought I’d share my own experience with you.

London cityscape with main buildings

Test Centre

Part 1 is in a different area in London. So, like in Part 2, double check where the test centre is in relation to where you’re coming from. I still took an Uber because I felt it was safer to do so than taking public transport.

Signing in and Exam Room

I was assigned to the 8am time slot. Despite this early time, I arrived quite early on all the days. They won’t let you in if you arrive early so we usually formed a line just outside the door. They let us in a few people at a time. As I walked in (with my mask on), I was asked to sanitise my hands, and I (with one or two other people) was guided to my room on the first floor.

We were assigned to the same room for all three days of the exam. Because of the pandemic, we were not allowed to leave the room at all. In the room, there’s a big desk and a chair where you can sit, facing the door. Next to the door, facing the desk, there are two chairs where the actors or examiners will be sitting. I’m sure it complied with the 2-metre distance rule.

There’s a small locker where you can leave your things, and the key to the locker is kept just outside the room. We were allowed to bring snacks (I brought a few biscuits in case I needed some energy as this was a really tiring exam), pens, and hand sanitiser. They’ll provide you extra pens if you need it. I also brought my migraine medicine and a hair pin.

TIP 1: Use the same pen you used to practice writing with. If, like me, you haven’t been writing paragraphs on paragraphs by hand in a long time, you’ll want to practice and get used to doing so again. Of course you can use different pens if you’re not fussed. But for me, I found that using the same pen (a pen that I liked, was used to, and was comfortable to use) made writing quickly (and quite furiously) a bit easier. I even brought refills with me. There isn’t a lot of time to get all the information written down so it’s really best to make sure you are as comfortable as you can be.

On the desk, we were given a calculator, bottled water, and earplugs because there was some construction nearby. I didn’t hear it so I didn’t have to use the earplugs. I was so nervous (especially on the first day) that all I could hear was my heart racing. We were also given a copy of the instructions for each test. Don’t panic, they send these to you a few days before the exam via email so you have time to go through it slowly.

Someone goes around to check your ID (I used my passport). I think on the first day, they took it and returned it after the all the tests. On the rest of the days, I was just asked to leave my passport on the desk. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details now, but I just want to assure you that you don’t need to worry because everyone is nice and will give you clear instructions one-on-one when you come in, and will answer all your questions.

Minimalist open closet with flower headband

Clothes

Normally, you’d be required to wear corporate attire because this is the part where you’ll be meeting clients or standing in front of a judge. But because of the pandemic, we weren’t required to do so. We were required to remain seated, even during the advocacy part, to make sure we were always socially distanced from the actor/examiner. I decided to go smart casual, just to get me in the mood for an actual interview or presentation. I wore black trousers and a casual blouse for 2 days, and a dress for the last day (mainly because I wanted to be ready to celebrate lol). I also brought a blazer with me in case it got cold.

Most of the other examinees were in proper corporate attire. I liked this one girl’s outfit because she was wearing slacks, a blazer, and stylish sneakers. I spoke to one of the people conducting the exams, and he said only one person so far had taken advantage of this new instruction.

TIP 2: Wear something comfortable. The nerves and stress I felt for Part 1 was 1,000x more than Part 2 because this was where I needed to think on my feet, I couldn’t research the answer, and I had to talk to an actual human being to give my answer. You wouldn’t want to have to deal with the discomfort of wearing uncomfortable clothes on top of all of that.

Bathroom breaks

As with Part 2, we were not allowed to use the bathroom in between exams. Instead, we were given an extra 10 minutes to write the Attendance Note and an extra 10 minutes to prepare for advocacy or oral presentation. As I learned from Part 2, I decided to use the extra 10 minutes on the exam instead of going to the bathroom. There will be people who will go to your room before the first exam starts to ask if you’d like to use the bathroom.

Minimalist desk with plant

Exam Proper

Before each exam, we were all given an envelope with all the information we needed for that exam. We weren’t allowed to open them until we were told to do so.

Right before the first exam, the examiners called all of us out of the room (we stood by the doorway) to give us the instructions for the first test. They announced the time and told us how long you have for that part. When they said we could begin, I walked back to my desk and the first thing I did was to write down the start and end times for the preparation and the interview or presentation/advocacy. There’s no stop watch or anything so you’ll need to rely on the big clock hanging in the room.

While we prepared for the interview or the advocacy/presentation, the doors are left open. 5 minutes before the time ends for preparing for the interview, and 10 minutes for the advocacy/presentation, they close the doors. When prep time is finished, the actor (for the interview) or the examiner (for the advocacy/presentation) will knock on the door and take their seats. Note that the 5- and 10-minute time marks are just an approximate. They’ll also say that in the instructions on your desk.

From the time you enter the building until you leave, you will be required to wear a mask. So even during the interview and advocacy/presentation, you will need to speak through your mask, even if the actor/examiner are 2 meters away from you.

TIP 3: Make sure to practice speaking with your mask on. Ask your friends if they can understand you clearly – that was one of my worries. You’ll need to speak a little louder and slower than normal, I think. If you find speaking through your mask uncomfortable, try using a different kind of mask. Kaplan will provide you with a mask if you need a different one.

The exams are all recorded. After the interview and advocacy/presentation, the actor/examiner will call out your candidate number, which will be on a board in the room so don’t worry about knowing what it is. It will also be on your ID (it will be on your desk when you get there so don’t worry about that either).

For my group, we did the advocacy/presentation first and then the interview. The days were structured like this —

Day 1: Business

Day 2: Probate and Property

Day 3: Civil and Criminal Litigation

Notebook with wood table and silver fountainpen

Advocacy/Presentation

I used the entire time to prepare for the advocacy and oral presentations. 45 minutes sounds like a lot of time, but, for me, I really used every minute I could to prepare. Even when I knew the answer and I was able to structure the presentation well enough, I used the extra minutes to practice the my beginning and end presentation to calm my nerves. I also went over my bullet points a few times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Of course after the exam, I realised I could have said more points, but that’s okay because I was sure that during the prep time, I did my best to think of everything I could given all the time I had.

TIP 4: Use all the time you are given (including the extra 10 minutes) to prepare for the advocacy/presentation. Write down the beginning and end of your speech first, then outline your points. If you have extra time, practise saying the beginning and end of your speech and/or go over your points to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

In the middle of one of my presentations, I belatedly added this one small fact towards the end. I noticed that the examiner made notes at the same time. That’s when I realised that I really should be mentioning all the facts I can.

TIP 5: Read over the set of facts a few times and write down all the facts under each point in your outline either in the background part or under each part of an argument, depending on your style. It doesn’t matter when you say it, as long as you do. One of the criteria for marking is that the facts are correct and comprehensive. In other words, you’ll get points for all the facts that you mention and you won’t get any deductions for saying facts that might appear to be extraneous (there probably won’t be any unnecessary facts anyway). So make sure to say all the facts you can! These are easy points that can add up.

Before the examiner walked out of the room, they asked us to put all our notes in the envelope and wait for further instructions. We were asked to stay in the room to wait for the other examinees to finish. As mentioned, we weren’t allowed to take bathroom breaks between exams.

When everyone was ready, the envelopes were all collected and we were given the envelope with the information for the next exam. Don’t open that envelope until they tell you to! They’ll be really clear about when you can open it so don’t worry.

We were all called out of the room again and were given the instructions for the interview and attendance note.

Interview and Attendance Note

For my first interview, I had a lot of time left over, but I realised after that I probably should have asked the actor a lot of other questions. I just couldn’t think of what to ask. I definitely covered all the basic points but I think I missed out on some information the actor could only provide if I asked.

TIP 6: Don’t rush the interview. There will be a lot of time. What’s more important than the awkward silence with a client is that you ask all the questions you’re supposed to. This is an exam, and you need to tick all the boxes you can. In my second and third interviews, I took the time to go over the things we had already covered with the actor, in case I missed any question or detail. So I would say something like, “if you don’t mind, could I just go over my notes with you again just to make sure I have everything?” They will of course say yes, and I would just go over my notes and confirm that the information I had was right. Another question I asked was, “is there another ____?” If you need a list of things (e.g. complaints about someone or something), they might just say one thing. You need to ask if there’s any more a few times to make sure you have all the information.

In the end, after the actor calls out your candidate number, he or she will leave the room. We had to wait for the other examinees to finish their interviews. While waiting, we were allowed to go over and make additional notes. But we weren’t allowed to write on the Attendance Note!

TIP 7: Use this time to organise your notes. The interview will probably not have been very linear. If you number the parts of your notes in order, you won’t have to waste time looking for what to write next as you prepare your Attendance Note. You can also outline your advice during this break because you probably won’t have written that down when you were talking to the actor.

The Attendance Note is handwritten and you’ll need to be able to write quickly and legibly to get all the information you need. I wrote quite big letters to make sure that even if my notes are a bit messy and rushed, the examiner will still be able to read it. I’ll write another post with practical tips for preparing for Part 1.

TIP 8: Use all the time you are given to write the Attendance Note. I wrote furiously from start to finish, and still felt I didn’t have enough time to write everything down. My hand was aching by the end of the day. I’ve read a few articles saying that you can write on the Attendance Note while you prepare for the interview, e.g. you can write the client’s name and other basic information. Don’t do it. You’re not allowed to write on the Attendance Note as you prepare for the interview, and a few people were told off for doing so.

When the time ends, you’ll be asked to place your notes and the Attendance Note back in the envelope. Someone will go around to collect it. When everything was finished, we lined up and were led back down and out the door.

TIP 9: Adjust and do better the next day. On my first interview, I knew I ended too early because the actor asked if there was anything else I needed from her. I didn’t know what else to say, so I said no. Instead of beating myself up the rest of the day (which I nearly did), I prepared better for the next interview. I prepared the questions I mentioned above, I looked for specific questions I could ask per issue that might come up, etc. I’ll write about this in more detail in another post. The point is to always learn and take the opportunity to improve for the next day.

This is not to say I did well in all the days. I didn’t know the answer to one of my presentations, and I said something legally incorrect. I spent some time worrying, and I even called a few friends to tell them about it. But remember this: you are allowed to make mistakes and you are not expected to be perfect. Just because you make a mistake or 10 doesn’t mean you’ll fail right away. If you look at the QLTS Marking Policy, you’ll see that you’ll be graded on a number of the criteria. If you do well in the rest of the parts, you’ll be fine! I know this because despite the mistakes I made (which I thought were huge), I did really well – I got an 83%, when the pass mark was 63%.

TIP 10: Take care of yourself. Part 1 was so tiring, I was done thinking about anything after that. Before, during, and after the exams, make sure you rest and eat well because you’ll need all the energy you can get. And don’t be hard on yourself. All you need to do is pass. Whether you get 90% or you’re right at the pass mark for your group, the result will be the same – you get to register as a qualified solicitor in England and Wales, which is the main and only goal for taking this exam.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or need advice, comment below or send me a message. I’d be more than happy to help. Good luck!