Preparing for the Paralegal Licensing Exam is no small undertaking. The LSO provides you with hundreds of pages of information that you need to know for the exam, and a list of competencies they expect you to possess as a paralegal. Trying to learn and understand all of this information in six weeks is a daunting task, but if you employ these study tips, you’ll be ready for exam day.
1. Know how you will be tested
An effective first step in preparing for the exam is to consider what you will be tested on, and how. The sheer volume of materials paralegal candidates get from LSO can be anxiety inducing. Many students ask, “How can I possibly learn all of this in six weeks?” Luckily, the exam is open book, so you won’t have to actually memorize 1000 pages of material for exam day.
The LSO states that the Licensing Examination will test you in three ways:
Knowledge/Comprehension: the ability to recall facts, policies, procedures and standards;
Application: the ability to apply knowledge/comprehension in a straightforward applied situation (e.g. recognizing the appropriate procedure to employ when faced with a routine situation); and
Critical Thinking: the ability to apply knowledge/comprehension in complex applied situations, requiring analytical problem-solving in addition to knowledge/comprehension and application (e.g. selecting and prioritizing appropriate courses of action when faced with complex situations, or recognizing the relative importance of conflicting pieces of information and arriving at a conclusion requiring sound judgment).
Many students are accustomed to learning and being tested using rote memorization. Rote memorization is a technique that uses repetition to learn information. This type of studying is helpful on exams where you are asked to recall information that was given to you. Often this is seen in the form of straightforward multiple-choice questions, such as:
The Law Society is able to discipline a lawyer or paralegal that has acted contrary to the Law Society’s rules. Which of the following is NOT a disciplinary action the Law Society can take against a lawyer or paralegal?
A. Reprimanding the person verbally or in writing
B. Suspending their licence
C. Laying a charge against them
D. Revoking their license
The answer to this question would be “C.” The Law Society does not have the authority to lay a criminal charge against an individual.
Answering this question simply requires a test-taker to be able to memorize (or locate in their test materials) the list of disciplinary actions the Law Society can take, and then recognize which answer is not on the list of available disciplinary actions. These questions generally fall within the “Knowledge and Comprehension” category.
The second type of question you will be faced with is “Application.”
Application questions will present you with a set of facts where there is a clear issue that you will need to resolve by applying your knowledge of the materials. This type of question cannot be answered simply by rote memorization. Instead, it you need to recognize the issue being presented and select the answer option that offers the best course of action.
The third type of question is “Critical Thinking.”
These types of questions will be longer, or arise out of case-based questions. Critical thinking questions will require you to “issue spot” and then apply your knowledge to that issue. They will have many facts and issues arising throughout, and will often include “red herrings”—issues or facts that are irrelevant to the question but are included to throw you off and divert your attention from the important details. It will be your job to determine what is important and what can be ignored. Correctly identifying the important facts and issues will lead you to the correct answer choice.
2. Reading through the materials
Knowing how you will be tested will help you determine how to study. Since you know that the exam will test your knowledge of the material, your ability to apply that knowledge, and your ability to problem-solve using the material, you can tailor your studying to prepare for this.
Your first step should be to read through the materials completely to gain an understanding of what they cover; to become familiar with the layout, sections, and topics; and to understand the main points of each chapter. During this first read-through it is advisable not to highlight or tab the materials, since you won’t know what is important yet.
After reading through each section, you should make a summary of what was important. This will give you an idea of where to focus your attention on your second read-through.
On your second read-through, you should read the materials more closely, focusing on the sections that seem to be more important or where there is repetition. During this read-through, you may want to begin annotating the detailed table of contents provided by LSO or creating indices.
An index is a set of keywords linked to the corresponding page numbers that the keyword appears on. Since memorizing thousands of pages of material isn’t possible for most people, indices are a useful tool to help you quickly locate pages with information pertaining to a specific keyword.
Indices are generally made up of an individual index for each section of the materials. When you come upon a tricky question on the exam, you can use the corresponding index to look up the keyword you associate with that question. For the example question above, involving discipline, you would open your Professional Responsibility index, find a keyword like “disciplinary action,” look up the corresponding page number, and then refer to the list of possible disciplinary actions on that page to determine the correct answer.
For a more detailed explanation of indices, read Indexing 101: What are Indices and Why Do I Need Them? For guidance on how to create a useful index, read Common Indexing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. If you do not want to make an index, or don’t have time, you can use other strategies instead to demarcate the location of information in the materials. For example, you can use colour-coded highlighters, or multi-coloured tabs. You can also annotate the detailed table of contents that is already in your materials with additions and information you think will be helpful.
Regardless of the method you choose, during your second read-through you should not only aim to understand the material better, but also to familiarize yourself with where information is located within the materials. This will enable you to easily find the information you need, and minimize the amount of time you lose flipping frantically through pages on exam day.
The Law Society recommends reading through the material three times before the exam. If you are able to do this, then you should—the more you read through the materials, the better you will know and understand the content, and the more familiar you will be with where things are located. For many students, however, this is not feasible, and reading is not the only way to study. You should also leave time for both practice exams and self-testing on the required competencies.
3. Practice Exams
Taking a practice exam is the best way to prepare yourself for the experience of actually writing the exam. This exercise simulates test conditions and gives you an opportunity to practise using your indices/detailed table of contents to locate information. You’ll learn to pace yourself appropriately, so that you know approximately how long to spend on each question, and you’ll gain experience applying what you have learned to sample questions.
Many students also choose to practise with a time sheet. This exam tool tells you approximately what question you should be on and when. You can bring one into the exam with you to track your progress as you write.
It is important to remember that while this tool is meant to keep you on track, you do not need to follow it perfectly. The time sheet assumes that you will spend approximately 1 minute and 45 seconds on each question; however, not all questions are created equal. The time sheet should be used as a reference, with the understanding that some questions will take longer than others. You may also wish to create your own—one that allows you to go back and look at questions you skipped or flagged.
Practice tests are the best way to familiarize yourself with your indices and detailed table of contents. As you write the mock exam, look up keywords in your indices and detailed table of contents, just as you would on the actual exam. Not only will this help you increase your efficiency and speed, it will help you identify any mistakes that need correcting or updates that need to be made to your study aids.
Emond Exam Prep's Paralegal Practice Exam consists of 120 multiple-choice substantive questions covering the competencies that will be tested on the P1 exam. It also includes a timer that counts upwards from the moment you begin the exam, and allows you to save your progress to resume at a later time. After submitting the practice exam, you will receive an overall score, a breakdown of your performance across substantive areas, and the correct answers to each question, including an explanation as to why it is the correct answer.
4. Paralegal Review Course
When it comes to preparing for the Ontario P1 Paralegal Licensing Exam, one invaluable resource that aspiring paralegals should consider is the Paralegal Review Course. This intensive course is meticulously designed to equip candidates with the knowledge and strategies needed to excel on the exam. The course features substantive lectures that comprehensively cover the topics tested on the licensing exam, ensuring you have a firm grasp of the material. Additionally, it includes an exam preparation strategy component, which can be a game-changer in enhancing your test-taking skills. What sets this course apart is its annual live presentation via webinar over two days each summer, providing an interactive and engaging experience. However, for those with busy schedules, the recorded video course option is a convenient alternative, offering year-round access to the lectures.
5. Knowing the competencies
While it is important to read through the materials for the P1 exam, this method of studying is passive rather than active. It is possible to spend hours reading without retaining much information, which is why it is important to also integrate active studying techniques to stay engaged. One way to do this is to work through the list of required competencies and test yourself on them. You can find LSO's published list of required competencies for the P1 exam here.
Use the competencies list by going to a section, selecting one of the competencies, and then trying to recall what you know about it. You can do this by simply writing it down or typing it out, trying to teach it to someone else, or discussing it with a friend who is also taking the exam.
For example, on the list of competencies you could go to “C. Civil Litigation – Small Claims Court” and select #67: “Demonstrates an understanding of how to draft pleadings.” You would then list out the necessary elements of a pleading to see whether you have mastered this competency. If you come up with an answer, check your answer by using your indices or your detailed table of contents. Alternatively, if you realize you haven’t mastered the competency or you are missing some information, use these resources to find the information in your materials.
This is an active method of studying which will improve your familiarity with your materials, increase your ability to recall information, and give you an idea of how well you know the materials and what you need to go back and review again.
6. Create a study schedule
The above study strategies are very effective, however, they take a great deal of time to implement. The best way to stay on track is to create a study schedule. This should begin with prescribed reading for your first and second read-through, and then designated days for practice tests and competency tests, with corresponding review days. You should also try to schedule time for breaks and any outside commitments you will have during this time. This may seem excessive, but the more specific your schedule is, the more likely you will be to adhere to it.
This does not, however, mean you can’t be flexible. While you should aim to stick to your study schedule, it is likely that you won’t be able to follow it perfectly. You might read more quickly or slowly than you had anticipated, have an easier time with some sections than others, or have unexpected commitments that take you away from your studying. You should re-evaluate your schedule at the end of each week and adjust accordingly. Everyone’s study schedule will be different, so make sure yours works for you.
If you establish a realistic study schedule, and use each of these study methods, you will be well prepared for exam day.
Good luck, future paralegals!