Judicial Appointments – Qualifying Tests

***** UPDATE November 2017 *****

Following the Recorder competition debacle, the JAC believe they have now fully resolved their technical issues. They will be using on-line qualifying tests to short-list candidates in some of their large selection exercises from early 2018.

****  My Mock On-line Multiple Choice Tests Available here  ****

The JAC accepts that short-listing via qualifying tests is sub-optimal, but given the number of applicants in some competitions, it has become their default position. Whether the pass mark is relatively low or high is immaterial; there is a very fine line between success and failure and many candidates, who would make great judges, don’t even make it to the selections days.  The qualifying tests are a brilliant way of identifying people who are good at doing qualifying tests but not necessarily the best judges.  I’ve argued before that a lottery would produce a similar pool of candidates as multiple-choice tests. However, these tests are here to stay and will continue to evolve – so how should you approach them?

Hurdle 1 Multiple-Choice Tests

The JAC seem to have dropped the straight legal knowledge element they had used in some earlier competitions. And it looks like they are settling on two strands to this first test: situational judgement and critical reasoning.  These questions are set by judges and are similar to these ones on the JAC website – Are You Ready?. The 2017 Recorder test will not examine criminal or family situations and will be generic so lawyers from all disciplines can apply. Future tests in other competitions may continue with jurisdictional scenarios or they could have a quota as in the last DDJ Crime competition.


The JAC ran a “system familiarisation exercise for Recorder applicants” – if you missed it, a PDF of the questions and answers can be found Recorder FEx


The critical analysis section is likely to be based on the transcript of a speech or judgement and will ask questions based on your interpretation and analysis of it. There tends to be an element of time pressure on these multiple-choice tests so keep a clock handy and manage your time carefully. This is marked automatically with the correct answers scoring 1 mark (but some questions can attract 2 marks for the preferred answer and 1 for an acceptable alternative)!

The JAC do not publish previous tests although I do have a copy of the 2014 DDJ Civil competition which will give you a feel for how they can look. Please just e-mail me ([email protected])  and I’ll send it and the answers to you.

I discussed the possibility of developing some mock qualifying tests with a number of judges and practitioners and was intending to develop crime, family and civil tests. However, in is unclear whether the JAC will use specific tests in the future, so I have developed a short non-jurisdictional on-line qualifying test along with a critical reasoning test.  Details about my Mock Qualifying On-Line Tests can be found here.

Hurdle 2 On-Line Narrative Scenario Test

Recently these tests have presented candidates with a scenario and then asked them to give a written ruling/decision within a strict word and time limit. These tests are marked by judges and like many exams will have a tight marking scheme. You can anticipate some potential answers/direction and prepare these in advance.  The challenge is to address all the key points, succinctly, within the time limit. Many candidates fall at this hurdle either because they make it more complicated than it is or struggle to adapt their style to the tight format required.  In this section they are looking to test your analysis, decision making and ability to communicate simply and clearly under time pressure.

e.g. Recorder 2017 Competition guidance: “ In the test you will be presented with a scenario concerning case management and procedural issues that may arise in any judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings to which English law applies. You will be required to provide a narrative response to 6 questions.”

Hurdle 3 – Telephone Screening Interview

As with the other two sections this element is evolving and increasingly being deployed in competitions for fee paid posts. It is being used to test candidates’ communication skills. Most recently it has required candidates to make a presentation on a topic and to answer some supplementary questions. Receiving no visual feedback can be very disconcerting and I think many candidates are drawn into repeating the points they have made and waffling.  Listen carefully to the questions and give concise, focussed answers. Peter Marquand offers some excellent advice on managing the screening interview in his JAC podcast here.

I have done dozens of mock telephone assessments with candidates and the feedback has been very positive including: “I am quite sure I would not have made it this far without your excellent advice.”  “I have managed to get through the Recorder telephone assessment and to the selection day stage.  This was undoubtedly thanks to the guidance you gave me in relation to preparation and presentation; I would have approached it very differently otherwise – so thank you!”

On 15/12/16 the JAC posted some excellent guidance for the DHCJ – telephone assessment.

I am delighted that the JAC are no longer asking all candidates to provide evidence of their competencies and nominate their referees/assessors at the beginning of the competition. However, those candidates fortunate enough to clear the first two hurdles may find my short video helpful.


As a competition progresses I will  aim to share some further guidance and help – keep an eye on my website, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. Any questions please just e-mail or call 0796 999 7335