Tackling SJT Questions for Aspiring Barristers

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Understanding the Structure of SJT Questions

Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) are increasingly being used in the legal sector to evaluate candidates for pupillages and other early career roles. The questions in SJTs are designed to measure your ability to handle situations that you may encounter as a barrister. These questions usually present hypothetical, yet work-related situations, where the test-takers are required to identify the best and the worst course of actions from multiple-choice options. Understanding the structure and the intent behind SJT questions is crucial to scoring well. The Bar Standards Board recommends familiarising yourself with the various types of SJT questions as part of your preparation.

Decoding the Competencies Tested

Each SJT question is engineered to test specific competencies such as ethical reasoning, communication skills, and analytical thinking. Knowing which competencies are being evaluated in each question can provide valuable clues to the answer. Spend some time understanding these competencies and think about how they apply in the context of a barrister’s work.

Use past papers and practice tests (like the SJT questions available in our course) to identify patterns in how these competencies are examined. Doing this will allow you to be better prepared for the types of scenarios you will encounter in the SJT.

Create a matrix of the competencies and the kinds of questions that test them. This will serve as a quick-reference guide that you can revisit during your practice sessions to refocus your preparation strategy.

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Tackling Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas often feature in SJT questions aimed at legal practitioners. These questions are meant to gauge your understanding of professional conduct and ethics. They often involve challenging situations where you have to decide between two or more conflicting ethical principles.

When confronted with an ethical dilemma, use the SRA’s Principles as a guide to navigate the situation. Knowing these principles well can give you a framework to tackle ethical questions with more confidence.

Practice by setting up hypothetical ethical scenarios with a peer or mentor and discussing the possible courses of action. This is a highly effective way to deepen your understanding of legal ethics.

Improving Speed and Accuracy

One of the challenges you may face in SJTs is the need to balance speed with accuracy. The time pressure can be daunting, especially when faced with complex scenarios requiring nuanced understanding. However, working on your time management skills can significantly improve both your speed and the quality of your responses.

Simulate real exam conditions by taking timed practice tests. This will not only make you more comfortable working against the clock but also help you gauge the time you can afford to spend on each question. The Law Society offers mock SJTs which can be invaluable for this kind of practice.

After each practice session, review your answers critically. Identify where you took too much time and why. Often the delay is due to a lack of clarity on ethical guidelines or analytical procedures, areas you can improve with targeted study.

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Eliminating Common Pitfalls

SJT questions are constructed to include distractors: options that look right but are ultimately incorrect. Understanding common pitfalls can save you from making avoidable mistakes and increase your overall score.

Be wary of answers that seem too straightforward. Legal issues often involve complex thinking and multiple variables. An answer that seems ‘too easy’ is often a distractor.

Keep in mind the context and role you are in while answering an SJT question. For instance, some answers might be correct for a solicitor but not for a barrister due to the different professional responsibilities.

Final Preparations and Mindset

The right mindset is crucial for excelling in SJTs. Being anxious or too stressed can cloud judgement and lead to mistakes. While the importance of the test cannot be understated, it’s crucial to approach it with a level head.

Practise mindfulness or relaxation techniques to calm your nerves before the test. Having a clear mind can significantly improve performance.

Finally, make sure you read through the Bar Standards Board’s official guidelines on SJTs. This will provide you with a robust understanding of what the examiners are looking for, helping you to tailor your preparation accordingly.

SJTs are a multifaceted tool used to evaluate various competencies essential for a career at the Bar. Comprehensive preparation that involves understanding the structure, working on speed and accuracy, avoiding common pitfalls, and maintaining the right mindset can make a significant difference in your performance.

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