Bar Course Aptitude Test
Updated 23 June 2021
For anyone aspiring to be a practicing barrister, the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) is the first step towards their career goal.
This critical-thinking assessment measures some of the core skills required to succeed in the profession, namely, the ability to process and evaluate information with sound reason, logic and objectivity.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB) introduced the test in 2013 off the back of a report by the Bar Vocational Course Review Group.
This report found students who failed the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) did so predominantly due to a lack of critical-thinking ability. In addition, since the BPTC involves group work through role play, those struggling were also found to be restricting the progress of others.
As such, the Bar Course Aptitude Test is now a prerequisite for entry, tightening the admissions process and ensuring only those with the required skills gain acceptance to the BPTC.
What Does the BCAT Measure?
- Draw evidence-based conclusions by critically evaluating information
- Apply logic to separate fact from speculation or assumption
- Judge arguments from an objective point of view and consider a variety of perspectives
To successfully display these skills, you’ll also need to demonstrate a high level of written language comprehension.
R: Recognizing Assumptions
An assumption is something we take to be true without referring to any evidence by way of support.
A key skill for a practicing barrister, and for passing the BCAT, is recognizing when an assumption is made and questioning it from a variety of perspectives to separate factual evidence from an unsupported claim.
E: Evaluating Arguments
Objectivity is the key skill behind the successful evaluation of an argument. Emotional influence or a preference for an existing point of view can cloud your judgment.
To succeed on the BCAT, you’ll need to judge an argument’s strengths and weaknesses from an unbiased perspective, and with accurate analysis.
D: Drawing Conclusions
The last part of the RED model focuses on your ability to determine what logically follows based on all evidence provided — essentially, what is known as ‘sound judgment’. A key part of this is being flexible with your decision if emerging evidence supports an alternative conclusion.
Though the BCAT exam measures some of the most important skills for the practice of law, it does not assess them all.
For example, the test does not measure your skills in terms of persuasion, advocacy, negotiation or conflict resolution. Nor does it measure your ability to handle the pressures of the profession, like case turnover, long hours and emotional strain.
What Is the Test Format?
A very important point to note about the BCAT is that it is a timed assessment. You’ll have just 55 minutes to complete all 60 tasks, equating to less than one minute per question.
Although this time restraint can significantly add to the pressure, taking plenty of practice tests before sitting the BCAT will be a big help here. Not only will you become more familiar with the test structure and question types, but you’ll also learn to apply your critical-thinking skills at pace.
Section One – Drawing Inferences from Facts
In this section, each question revolves around a short passage of text. Beneath this passage will be a statement that may or may not be a valid inference based on the information provided.
You’ll need to determine the accuracy of the inference by evaluating the evidence in front of you, and choosing from the following options:
- Probably true
- Insufficient data
- Probably false
A group of 300 students enrolled in science-related degree programs were invited to attend a conference on biophysics. At the conference, 250 students chose to attend a lecture on advancements in computer modeling, whilst the remaining 50 attended a lecture on the study of ecosystems.
Proposed inference 1: All students in attendance were in their final year of study.
Answer: 'Insufficient data' – We cannot say either way, since nowhere in the statement does it mention how far along their course any of the students were.
Proposed inference 2: The majority of students showed a keen interest in computer modeling.
Answer: 'True' – We know 250 out of the 300 voluntarily opted to attend this lecture, so the inference logically follows.
Section Two – Recognizing Assumptions
Here you’ll be presented with a statement and an assumption that may or may not be contained within that statement.
You’ll need to critically analyze the two side by side to determine if the proposed assumption has or has not been made.
We need to save on travel costs, so we will book our train tickets in advance.
Proposed assumption 1: Advanced train tickets are cheaper than tickets bought on the day of travel.
Answer: 'Assumption made' – Although this is not explicitly stated, the statement is reliant on it being true.
Proposed assumption 2: Travel by train is the most cost-effective solution.
Answer: 'Assumption not made' – There is no reference to other modes of transport and associated costs. Therefore, there is no assumption made that the train is the cheapest option.
Section Three – Deductive Reasoning
In section three, the statement provided will contain a series of facts. The accompanying prompt will be a proposed conclusion.
You’ll need to decide whether that proposed conclusion logically follows on from the facts presented.
2020 saw the hottest August on record for 20 years, with average highs of 34 degrees.
Proposed conclusion 1: The average temperature for August 2020 was higher than that of August 2019.
Answer: 'Conclusion follows' – We know from the facts that it was the hottest August for 20 years, so the proposed conclusion logically follows.
Proposed conclusion 2: The maximum temperature reached in August 2020 was 34 degrees.
Answer: 'Conclusion does not follow' – We only have information on the average temperature, not daily temperatures. Therefore, we cannot conclude that 34 degrees was the highest reached.
Section Four – Logical Interpretation
Identifying logical conclusions is also the basis of section four, but this time, instead of evaluating facts, you’ll need to interpret the information given to determine the accuracy of each proposed conclusion.
Employees that hold an undergraduate degree earn on average 60% more than those who did not pursue higher education. Graduates from the country’s top ten universities earn on average 55% more than those with an undergraduate degree from another institution.
Proposed conclusion 1: Those with an undergraduate degree from one of the top ten universities have an average income over double that of those who did not pursue higher education.
Answer: 'Conclusion follows' – We can logically conclude this from the statistics given in the statement.
Proposed conclusion 2: Gaining an undergraduate degree leads to a higher salary.
Answer: 'Conclusion does not follow' – Based on the information provided, we cannot conclude this to be true without a doubt, as there is nothing in the statement that claims an undergraduate degree is the sole reason behind the higher income.
Section Five – Evaluation of Arguments
The final section revolves around the strengths and weaknesses of a series of arguments.
You’ll see a question prompt, followed by several arguments in response to the question. For each, you’ll need to decide whether it is a strong or weak argument.
Should all employers offer flexible working hours as part of an employee benefits package?
Proposed argument 1: Yes. Flexible working hours allow employees to manage their professional and personal commitments more effectively. This improved work-life balance leads to increased productivity.
Answer: 'Strong argument' – As it specifically addresses the question posed and supports its stance with justification. This is a very strong argument in favor of the proposal.
Proposed argument 2: Yes. A good employee benefits package will help attract top talent.
Answer: 'Weak argument' – This statement does not address the issue of flexible working hours. The sentiment may be true, but it is very generic and does not constitute a strong argument.
How Is the BCAT Scored?
On completion of your BCAT, you’ll immediately receive a score card detailing your performance.
Scores are awarded on a scale of 20 to 80, with the minimum pass mark required currently standing at 45. You’ll need to answer over half of the 60 questions correctly to pass the assessment.
You’ll be designated a score category relating to your mark:
- Fail = 20–44
- Pass (Marginal) = 45–49
- Pass = 50–60
- Pass (Strong) = 61–80
This information is for your eyes only. The BSB requires that you pass the BCAT to gain acceptance to the BPTC, but it does not require you to declare your exact score or score category.
That said, your score category provides a good indication of how you’re likely to perform on the BPTC.
According to BCAT test scoring information from the BSB, score categories strongly indicate the following:
- Fail – Students that achieve a score of 44 or below are likely to find core components of the BPTC beyond their ability. They typically demonstrate below-average critical-thinking skills and are therefore not well suited to life as a practicing barrister.
- Pass (Marginal) – Students in this category do demonstrate a level of critical-thinking ability but are less advanced than many of their peers. They’re likely to find the level of reasoning required a challenge and will need to work extremely hard to bring their skill level up to standard. Just under half of those in this score category fail the BPTC.
- Pass – Those in the pass category apply a very acceptable level of critical thinking and are generally capable of dealing with the complex analysis required throughout the BPTC. A large percentage of these students go on to achieve a ‘Very Competent’ grade on completion of the course.
- Pass (Strong) – Anyone scoring 61 or above on the BCAT meets or exceeds expectations in terms of critical thinking. These are the students most likely to excel on the BPTC, with most achieving either a ‘Very Competent’ or ‘Outstanding’ grade.
With the above information in mind, it’s well worth considering your score category before progressing with your application.
Do You Need to Pass the BCAT to Enroll on the BPTC?
In short, yes. The Bar Course Aptitude Test is now a prerequisite for entry to the BPTC, and anyone who fails the test will be required to resit.
Before enrollment, you’ll need to submit proof of your pass to your BPTC provider, so make sure you collect this documentation from the assessment center on the day of your test, as you’ll have to pay an additional fee for a replacement.
Sitting and Resitting the BCAT
As mentioned, you must pass your BCAT to enroll on the BPTC.
Each year, the BSB issues specific windows in which the test can be taken, typically running from January to March, with a second window later in the year.
The BSB updates its website with exact dates as they are announced.
It is advisable to schedule your test early, as slots often book up fast. Since you cannot enroll on the BPTC until you have passed your BCAT, you’ll also need to consider the possibility of a retake.
The BCAT can only be taken at an approved Pearson VUE test center.
To register, you must first obtain a BPTC application reference number, and then schedule and pay for your BCAT online through the Pearson VUE website.
The test costs £150 if taken within the UK or EU, and £170 if taken outside of these areas.
Test centers are located around the world, and you can find details of those closest to you through the locate a test center section on the Pearson VUE website.
In the event you need to resit the BCAT, you can do so twice within the calendar year of your original test (so a maximum of three attempts in any given year). Resits are subject to the same fees, and there must be a minimum of 48 hours between each assessment taken.
You can cancel or reschedule your test without incurring any extra charges, provided you do so at least 24 hours before your scheduled date. Any changes made after this will result in the loss of your test fee.
How Can I Prepare for the BCAT?
As with any form of psychometric assessment, the BCAT exam measures your innate skill rather than your knowledge, so it can be tricky to prepare for.
That said, there are steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of performing well:
Schedule Your Test Wisely
As mentioned previously, it’s important to book your BCAT early. This will ensure you get your desired slot, as well as allowing time to resit the exam before BPTC enrollment if required.
When choosing your test date, consider other commitments you may have, such as university coursework or exams.
Try to ensure these don’t overlap, as you’ll want a clear head that’s fully focused on the BCAT itself.
Take Plenty of Practice Tests
Good BCAT test preparation all comes down to practice. The more familiar you are with the types of questions you’ll face, the more confident you’ll be on test day.
When taking a BCAT sample test, try focusing on the following:
The content of each question – All the information you need to answer a question correctly will be provided in the prompt text. This will include key words and phrases relevant to the proposed conclusion, inference, argument or assumption, depending on the question type. If you can identify these early on, you’ll be able to respond much quicker.
Putting existing knowledge aside – As you work through a BCAT practice test, remember that what you know, or think you know, is irrelevant. Your task is to think objectively, so get used to ignoring your gut instinct and focus solely on what’s in front of you.
Time spent on each question – This is important. Remember that you only have 55 minutes to complete your BCAT, so practice working at a steady pace without compromising on the accuracy of your answers.
Read Complex Texts
Although you can’t revise for the BCAT as such, reading complex texts is the next best thing. This will help you digest information more effectively, both in terms of speed and understanding.
As you do so, focus on the fundamentals of sound reasoning and training your mind to approach information critically. As critical-thinking forms the basis of the BCAT exam, we’ve provided some tips for honing this skill below.
Tips for Improving Critical Thinking
Assess the validity of information by asking questions – What evidence have you been presented with? Does it stand up to factual scrutiny? It’s often too easy to take things at face value, but the more you question what’s perceived to be true, the more critical your thinking will become.
Identify and evaluate assumptions made – For every passage of text you read, note down the assumptions within it and those you assume to be behind it. Are they valid assumptions? How do they affect the presented argument? Would it hold true if the assumption had not been made? Rating them in this manner will improve your ability to accept or reject assumptions based on their credibility.
Look out for methods of persuasion – Ask yourself if the author is playing on your emotions to steer you towards a specific conclusion. What information have they included, and what have they left out? Does it hint at a hidden agenda? Evaluate the message objectively, and if something doesn’t fit, seek out supporting information.
Consider alternative sides of an argument – Looking at things from a variety of perspectives is key to critical thinking, especially when those perspectives don’t align with your own. Reading the same story in several different news publications is good practice here. Consider the different language used, the direction of the narrative, and how this impacts the conclusions that can be drawn.
Turn your thoughts into visuals – If you’re a visual learner, in particular, you may find it useful to map out your findings with pictures, diagrams or charts. Think of it as akin to a police investigation, where all parts of the puzzle are laid out visually. This helps you constructively organize your thoughts and make connections that weren’t otherwise apparent.
Constructively evaluate multiple conclusions – Based on all the evidence at your disposal, construct several conclusions that could be drawn, then assess their strengths and weaknesses. Who does the given conclusion favor, and what is its potential impact on others? Evaluate their credibility side by side whilst maintaining an impartial outlook.
As a requirement for enrollment to the BPTC, the Bar Course Aptitude Test is a major step towards your career in law. There may be a lot of pressure associated with it, but solid practice and preparation should stand you in good stead.
It’s also worth noting that the Watson-Glaser methodology behind the BCAT exam forms the basis of pre-employment assessments used by many law firms. By mastering this type of test now, you set yourself up for success in the future.