The first thing to know about the BPTC is that it is not particularly hard, but it does require a fair amount of hard work. The work itself is not conceptually difficult, but there is lots of it to get through. If you treat it like a 9-6 job, and throw in the occasional evening or weekend working, you will be fine.
Second, the key to passing is to ensure you do not fall behind. Trying to cram two weeks’ work into one week is tough, likely to diminish the quality of your work and can quickly escalate. Of course, there will be weeks where you do fall behind. Especially if you take time to do a mini, or some marshalling, or pro bono, or a difficult moot. If/when that happens, prepare to knuckle down to do some late nights in the library. And use your network, which brings me to the third piece of advice: build your network.
Get to know as many people as possible. Start the whatsapp group with your tutor group as soon as you can. Speak to people from different tutor groups. Speak to people from different providers. The Bar is famous for its camaraderie and the same goes for Bar School. You are all in it together and having a network of co-sufferers has some distinct advantages. You will have someone to send you the notes from the tutorial you missed, someone else whose tutor has explained bail better than your tutor and therefore has better notes and someone else who can give you another provider’s notes/past papers/practice questions. You will be able to do the same for them.
As you may be aware the BPTC is split into three centrally assessed modules (Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation and Professional Ethics) and nine modules set by your provider. You will enjoy some more than others. Set out below is my advice for each.
- Civil Litigation
Essentially this module is about understanding and then condensing the White Book (Civil Procedure) into something you can learn by rote for the exam. There are textbooks and study guides out there, but there is no substitute for reading the White Book itself and making your own notes. Make sure that each week you consolidate your reading and notes into something you can revise from at the end of the year (the same is true for Criminal Litigation). For the exam, make sure you know your ‘musts’ and ‘mays’ and understand the time limits for each stage. I found mapping out a timeline really helped my understanding of how it all works.
- Criminal Litigation
Again, as with Civil you are attempting to understand, distil and then commit to memory as much of Blackstone’s Criminal Practice as possible. Most providers have a pretty good Criminal Litigation manual, but once again there is no substitute for reading the practitioner text. Some of the concepts and procedures can be complex, so it can be useful to draw out flow charts for things like bail, youth courts, hearsay and bad character.
- Professional Ethics
The much maligned ethics module has tripped up many an aspiring barrister. In the spring 2017 sit the pass rate was 57.6%. The key thing is to do a little each week. Most providers do not have a weekly ethics tutorial and it can be easy to let it fall by the wayside. But doing a little each week, consolidating as you do with your litigation modules, will make the revision period easier. When it comes to exam, carpet bomb your answers with as many rules as are applicable. The mark scheme is very prescriptive and whilst your answer may technically be right, if you do not make the points set out in the mark scheme, you will not receive any marks.
For many students the three advocacy modules (applications, examination-in-chief and cross-examination) are the highlight of the course. Each week is a chance to practice your advocacy skills and get feedback from ex-practitioners. Read some books on advocacy: ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ by Iain Morley QC is short, sweet and useful. ‘The Art of the Advocate’ by Richard Du Cann is fantastic. Your performances will be filmed. Watch your videos back. Then listen to them without the picture. And if you can bear it, watch them without sound. You will be surprised how many nervous tells, fillers (ums and ahs), false starts, repetitions, hesitations and mistakes you will see, hear and then weed out.
- Opinion Writing and Drafting
I have lumped these two modules in together. It is essential to learn the right structures, research the relevant law before the exam and then steel yourself to writing as complete an answer as possible in four hours. Practice makes perfect, but you may find it difficult to write an opinion/pleading every week. If you cannot, at the very least write out a structure and practice writing one part of your opinion or pleading. In the exam: know the law, understand the remedies and watch out for limitation periods.
Resolutions of disputes out of court is a straightforward module and is often the first exam on the course. Know the advantages and disadvantages of the various forms of dispute resolution, understand how they work, apply them to the facts in the exam. You will be fine.
Conference is also fairly straightforward and teaching tends to fall near the end of the course. This module tests your ability to deliver advice to a client in a friendly and professional manner. Make sure you ask lots of questions, listen to the answers and tailor your advice accordingly. If you can do so whilst also coming across as a reasonably well adjusted, trust-worthy human being, then all the better.
You will need to choose your two optional modules. The options are assessed in different ways: some are oral advocacy, some written, some conference. Make sure you choose something in which you have an interest and where you think you can do well in the exam. Options are a great opportunity to score two Outstandings, so make sure you put yourself in the best possible position from the outset.
Get enough sleep, give yourself time off, exercise and eat right. The best thing about the BPTC is you spend an awful lot of time with you fellow students, the majority of whom will be bright, interesting, friendly people. Make sure you remember to have some fun.
Far less talented, less hard-working and less motivated people than you have passed the course. That said, more intelligent, more diligent and more driven people than you have failed it. Ultimately, passing the BPTC is about dedication, hard work and talent.