You have probably heard the rumours. The August Paralegal Licensing Examination will be impossibly difficult. The exam will be ridiculously easy. The exam location keeps changing. The exam will take place over two days. The exam is full of “trick questions” written by mean-spirited lawyers.
Such rumours flourish before each session of the licensing exam, one of the last steps in the licensing process developed by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC). Rumours seem particularly rampant this year, as the exam has been updated to reflect substantive law competencies, in addition to ethics and practice management knowledge.
It may be tempting to count on social media for “inside advice” about the new exam, but candidates can rely on facts available from the Law Society and from their paralegal program co-ordinators. Experienced educators and mentors suggest that basing decisions on what someone else heard, or read on social media, will only add unnecessary anxiety.
The LSUC licensing exam page has plenty of facts available about the exam, including:
- The next two sessions are scheduled for Aug. 19 and Oct. 21, at the Toronto Congress Centre; the February exam is set to run Feb. 17, at a location to be determined
- Paralegal licensing exams ensure that candidates have demonstrated the required entry-level competencies, in order to provide services effectively and in the public interest
- Competencies to be tested are: Canadian Law – Jurisdiction and Fundamentals; Administrative Law; Civil Litigation; Criminal and Quasi-criminal Law; Professional Responsibility, Ethics and Practice Management
- The seven-hour exam includes 240 multiple-choice questions, based on case scenarios and stand-alone questions. Each question has one “best answer” — there are no “all of the above” or “none of the above” answers. You can find sample questions at the LSUC Licensing Process page
- An Advisory Group of legal practitioners from a cross-section of practice areas set the examination. The Advisory Group formally approves and sets the passing mark for the Paralegal Licensing Examination
- It is an “open book” exam, meaning candidates can bring study materials and their own notes into the testing area, but all materials brought in must be left behind
- Changes to the exam began in October 2012, when Convocation decided to add substantive law to assess entry-level paralegals. Consultations included experienced paralegals and test administration experts, to incorporate new competencies that address a variety of core substantive and procedural concepts. New questions started to be developed in early 2014
Rather than waste time following the rumour mill, candidates should focus on what they can control, PREP Network advises. Focus on studying and preparation to improve performance during the exam. PREP Network suggests that students avoid those conversations with others that “only serve to increase anxiety and create doubt.”
Another tip is knowing when to stop organizing, and get down to the business of understanding. Experts suggest finding a balance between organizing the materials and absorbing the information they contain. Study groups can help too. Write practise questions with like-minded students. Developing questions is an excellent way to review material, and focuses your mind on the way actual questions may be formatted. Try to come up with questions that call for critical thinking. See the Paralegal Scope quizzes and the Law Society page for examples.
An important tip: Read the licensing exam rules and protocols carefully. Your school may have had relaxed rules around cell phones, watches, talking and food during exams, but the LSUC exam is very serious. Each session, some unfortunate candidates are unable to write the exam because they ignored instructions. Knowing that you have followed each instruction, even if it seems silly or irrelevant, can add to one’s confidence the day of the exam. Avoiding last-minute surprises is important. A calm student can be thrown off their game by last-minute glitches.
Candidates have been known to show up without their Law Society Licensing Process photo ID card. Don’t be one of those. Above all, arrive early, so there is time to take care of any issues that may crop up. Aim to arrive 90 minutes before the scheduled start.
Finally, consider taking a preparation course. For some candidates, the practice tests, camaraderie and skilled advice from pros can give a confidence boost that makes a big difference.