NCA Grad Tips: Canadian Constitutional Law Exam Overview

Hello current and prospective NCA students! In today’s blog I’ll outline my experience with and tips for taking the Canadian Constitutional Law NCA exam which is a core exam for all NCA candidates. This means that even if you’ve already done Canadian Constitutional Law in previous studies—I personally took the subject during my LL.B studies in London— you will still need to complete this NCA to obtain your certificate.

As core exams are non-negotiable, you can start studying them even while you are waiting for your official NCA assessment. This is helpful for those of you who want to get a jump-start on the NCA process while waiting for your NCA applications to be processed.

 

Initial Thoughts

Canadian Constitutional law is the true foundation of Canadian law so NCA Tutor™ recommends completing this exam first or in your first NCA sitting. You will find constitutional issues laced throughout your other core exams and some elective exams such as Evidence and Family Law. This is certainly an exam worth spending time on. Having a firm grasp of the subject will help you in later exams.

 

Difficulty and Key Focuses

Personally, I found this exam quite easy but I did take the subject during my LL.B studies so this was mostly review for me. For those of you in a similar boat, do note that the NCA exam is less focused on historical development than your university course may have been and you should still re-study.

Overall the exam is focused on four main areas:  1) Sources of law and amending procedures, 2) the constituion’s relationship with Quebec, 3) Federalism and Judicial Review of federalism, 4) Rights and Freedoms including, general constitutional rights, charter rights, and aboriginal and treaty rights.

If you did your degree in the UK where constitution and administrative law are taught together, do note that in Canadian law these are considered separate topics.  While administrative topics are discussed in the textbook, they are there for your general understanding. Administrative matters such as standing and in-depth judicial review are reservedly tested under the Canadian Administrative Law NCA exam. You may mention these topics in passing on the Constitutional exam but they certainly won’t be the focus of any question.

 

Things to Look Out For

While there isn’t anything particularly tricky about this exam, don’t get bogged down in any of the theoretical information contained in the course syllabus—understand the main points and move on. I had prepared myself for theoretical essay questions and used none of that material in my exam; rather I was given problem questions looking for practical solutions to constitutional infringements. While every exam is different, you should ensure you have a firm grasp on the four key topics I noted above. Additionally, there are some specific technical or tricky part of those topics you should pay special attention to…

Firstly, understand how federal and provincial powers are divided (see Sections 91/92 of The Constitution Act) as this will help you understand some of the older, pre-Charter cases. Also understand how the Charter is applied in Canada. Remember that private individuals cannot bring Charter violation cases against each other as it only applies to government and quasi-governmental bodies; these distinctions aren’t always straightforward and are worth exploring in detail.

Naturally, you should also have a firm grasp on key Charter rights such as Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion, and Equality Rights, and Life/Liberty rights. Once you’ve fully understood one of the Charter freedoms (e.g. Freedom of Religion), you will likely find understanding Freedom of Expression much easier as the working theory underlying them is similar; however Equality protections operate on a much stricter and limited framework. Aboriginal rights are another good topic to have a handle on; this appeared as an element of a larger problem question on my exam but could also be a stand-alone.

Possibly the most important element you must grasp is how the government can limit or justify Charter infringements using Section 1 and the Oakes Test. The potential for limitation is something that should be explored in every Charter right violation question as you will be expected to address whether the government has any ability to justify offending legislation or actions.

Finally, ensure you understand what remedies are available when someone’s Charter rights have been infringed and are not justified. There are different remedies depending on the cause of action and two different sections of the constitution depending on whether the action was set-off by legislation or governmental action.

 

Resources

I personally used the NCA Tutor™ notes for my exam. Students often complain that the textbook is confusing and convoluted. If you are looking for a more digestible companion book, I personally recommend Sharpe & Roach’s “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Though not as extensive as the assigned book, and certainly not a replacement, it provides a very comprehensive overview of how Charter rights work in a story-telling format that I personally found easier to comprehend.

Finally, because remedies are so important, you can find my remedies one-page reference sheet here! It’s a great tool to bring to the exam and use to quickly discuss remedies in the conclusion of your problem questions.

 

Happy Studying!

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.11.51 AM.png
 

Tiffany is an LLM candidate at NYU Law. and a regular blogger for NCA Tutor™.

- Tiffany

NCA Grad Tips: Family Law (Ontario) Exam Tips & Notes

Hello to all of you enrolled in or considering the Family Law exam as an NCA elective. In today’s blog I’ll outline my experience with and tips for taking the Ontario Family Law NCA exam which will hopefully help you make decisions around your electives and/or preparation for the exam.

 

Initial Thoughts

Family law wasn’t my first choice of electives, or even my second for that matter; but it was one of the only electives I was eligible for in my last NCA exam sitting in May 2019. Not wanting to wait another three months to complete my NCA requirements, I decided to take family law despite my desire for another subject. While not an area of law I ever expect to practice in, I am glad I took it and now understand how Family Law is structured in Canada. 

 

Why Take This Exam?

If you have an interest in Family Law practice this exam is obviously for you. But even students with other practice interests may find the subject interesting and helpful. For those with a passion for property or estate/trust law, Family Law is a valuable elective since there is significant overlap when it comes to discussing marital property upon separation or divorce. However, if your interest is in criminal law and you are taking Family in hopes of exploring topics such as domestic violence and assault, you may find yourself a bit disappointed. While discussed in part of one module, criminal aspects are certainly not the focus of the NCA exam materials.

Of course, Family Law is also a component of the Ontario Bar so you will have to interact with the subject matter at some point. If you are so inclined, you can use this exam to give yourself a foundation for Bar prep.

 

Difficulty and Key Focuses

Generally, the exam is very procedural in the sense that its looking to ensure you understand the legal roadmaps for getting a divorce, separation, and/or support order. When I wrote the exam in May, it was 100% problem questions with little room for theoretical pontification.

I found the exam itself very reasonable. However, the amount of information one needs to master for this course is daunting and sometimes quite repetitive. Since the exam covers both the provincial and federal aspects of the law, it can be easy to get a bit lost in the finer details of the course and draw a clear line between what is federal and what is provincial.

On top of that, the assigned textbook is subpar in my opinion. It is badly organized, highly repetitive, and often confusing as it randomly ping-pongs between federal and provincial case law and rules without proper framing or warning to its reader. I found myself Googling quite a bit to ensure I had understood what I was reading and re-organizing my notes into a more logical flow by grouping topics by jurisdiction (federal vs. provincial) rather than having the information mixed as the text-book and syllabus presented it. 

 

Things to Look Out For

If you do decide to use the assigned textbook, note that a good chunk of the cases discussed in the main text are not decisions coming out of an Ontario or Federal court; while highly influential in Ontario and likely to be followed, these cases are not binding precedent in Ontario. However, often times, the footnote will provide citations for similarly decided cases in Ontario if the one referenced in the main text comes from another province.

More generally speaking, ensure you understand the differences between Federal and Provincial law and jurisdiction very clearly. Understand what types of family break-downs belong in federal court and which belong in provincial so you can easily identify which body of law you should apply to each problem question. In short, divorce is a federal matter while spousal separations can be handled by a provincial court.

Also understand how the courts will calculate the division of property, keeping in mind that the rules apply differently for property owned before the marriage and property acquired during the marriage. There are also tricky rules for more complex types of property like retirement funds and money left via wills. While not always tested, still study this area with care as it lends itself well to examination.

Lastly, be sure you understand the difference between interim support orders and permanent support orders and how spouses can request changes to orders in the event of new information or change of circumstances. In broad strokes, the courts will be more lenient with interim orders as they are made as stop-gap solutions with a temporary duration in mind.

Naturally, the whole course is fair game for the exam so you shouldn’t ignore anything I haven’t noted here. However, I certainly think these areas are ones that are potentially tricky and merit some extra time and care.

 

Resources

If you are looking for resources to help you study or write the exam, I have posted my full, colour-coded Family Law (Ontario) notes on the NCA Tutor™ website. These notes were made by myself during my cover-to-cover reading of the assigned textbook and used to pass my exam in May 2019; they’ve also been spot checked by NCA Tutor’s own Family Law instructor.

As a bonus, here’s a quick course-overview mind map I made during my studies to help me visualise all the moving parts between Federal and Provincial legislation…

Happy Studying!

- Tiffany

 

Tiffany is an LLM candidate at NYU Law. and a regular blogger for NCA Tutor™.

NCA releases a new policy manual effective as of September 1, 2019

The National Committee on Accreditation released a new policy manual that became effective on September 1, 2019. If you’re applying for a new assessment with the NCA, you will want to ensure that you have carefully read through this latest manual. The NCA has stated on their website that the purpose of the update is to help candidates better understand the assessment process and to make it easier to read.

Writing the NCA Exams Abroad: FAQs with an NCA grad

I’m very happy to announce that I’ve officially completed all seven of my NCA exams! It’s been a challenging and insightful past nine months as I worked through these qualification requirements alongside full-time work in the United Kingdom. I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my experience with writing the NCAs abroad, so I thought I’d share what I learned in the form of an FAQ…

 

Why did you decide to complete the NCAs abroad?

After completing my two-year LL.B in London, England, I wasn’t quite ready to come home to Canada. Additionally, I wasn’t finding many legal work opportunities for international law students in Canada until I’d completed the NCA exams. So, since I still felt like I had a lot of the city and surrounding Europe to explore, and had a full-time job in The City, I decided to capitalize on the opportunity to spend one more year abroad while writing the NCAs.

 

Why did you decide to self-study?

I did consider completing the NCAs via a Common Law LL.M program in Canada, but after some research I opted for a self-study method for a few reasons: 1) I had a full-time job in the UK that I liked and wanted to keep to help with expenses, and 2) I’d rather do an LL.M in a legal focus area of my choosing (i.e. IP, or corporate law) than in general Canadian Law. Additionally, having been home-schooled as a child, I’m quite use to self-studying and was confident I had the skill-set to teach myself and stay on track.

 

Lastly, NCA tutoring options abroad (or at least in the UK) are few and far between unless you receive help online. So, given my choice to do the exams in the UK, I was signing-up for the self-study route by default.

 

Where can I write the exams abroad?

In London, the University of London allows you to sit NCA exams on their campus; I’ve also heard that there are many other locations in England. To find out about examination locations available in your region or country, you should email exam@flsc.ca well before the exam registration deadline as they can advise on exam sitting locations near you.

International exam sites will hold NCAs on the same dates as those in Canada provided the exams do not fall on a national/bank holiday in the host country. So, plan carefully!

How do I register for an NCA exam abroad?

The registration process is exactly the same as if you were to write the exams in Canada; in fact you will need to select a Canadian exam location on the online registration portal and pay before you can elect to sit at an international site; this Canadian location will be your back-up in the event that the international exam location cannot seat you so select it carefully as there is a very, very, small chance you may have to write there.

Once registered online, email exam@flsc.ca before the exam registration deadline and inform them that you would like to write at an alternate, international location. They will inform the international host location and, once registration closes, update the online portal to show your new exam location. Note that all of this has to be done before the NCA registration deadline so you should start the process early.

Are there practical challenges to completing the NCAs abroad?

There are a few challenges when you decide to write the NCAs outside of Canada, but they can be overcome with a little bit of planning and networking.

-          Additional Costs - the international host institution may charge a small fee to sit each exam at their location in addition to the NCA exam fee. You should find out about such costs and budget accordingly.

-          Sourcing Study Materials - often it is impossible or extremely expensive to obtain physical copies of NCA recommended text books outside of Canada. That said, many of the publishers also offer e-book versions which can be purchased and downloaded online. These options don’t allow for printing, however, and you cannot take them with you into the exams so you will need to make very good notes.

There are plenty of other ways to obtain the information you need via one of the multitude of learning resources available to you online! I used the NCA Tutor™ notes for many of my exams with great success as well as University of Alberta professor, Peter Sankoff’s brilliant Criminal Law and Evidence Law videos. Lastly, The Federation of Law Societies publishes resources like course syllabi and practice exams to help you study.

-          Loneliness - studying for the NCA exams can be quite isolating regardless of where you decide to write them. However, when you are abroad, it can be easy to feel like you are the only person in the world going through this process. To overcome this, I highly suggest joining one of the many NCA Student Facebook groups or finding a virtual study partner to keep you on track. I was lucky enough to have several ex-law classmates going through the NCA process at the same time and even though we weren’t all in the same country, or even in the same timezone, we would hold online study-sessions to discuss issues and share materials. 

 

Are there any benefits of completing the NCAs abroad?

For all the challenges, there are many benefits to doing the exams abroad as well. Many of them will depend on your personal situation and goals (e.g. I wanted to continue working and traveling). So weigh the minor challenges against your personal situation to make your decision wisely.

One universal truth, however, is that international exam sites are often much smaller than the giant exam halls in Canada’s largest cities. Unlike my Torontonian counterparts, I did not have to go through security at the exam hall or sit my exams with hundreds of other students. My largest sitting at UCL had just four other NCA exam takers in the hall with me. This makes for a more relaxed exam environment that is perfect for those with exam anxiety.

 

Would you recommend writing the NCAs abroad?

Again, your decision to complete the NCAs outside of Canada will depend so much on your personal situation and goals that the answer to this question can’t be universal. However, for me, it was certainly the right choice as writing the exams abroad allowed me to take steps towards my overall goal of qualifying in Canada while also fulfilling some other bucket-lists experiences, travel, and financial goals.

  

Best of luck to you as you embark on this NCA journey!

-T

 

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.11.51 AM.png
 

Myths about UK Law Schools: The NCA Process is Too Easy

Myths about UK Law Schools: The NCA Process is Too Easy

The National Committee on Accreditation Exams are any internationally trained student’s first step to qualifying in Canada and, upon successful completion, grant candidates the right to article and write the Bar exam in their province. For the most part, 3-year LL.B UK students will be assigned the five core exams with 2-year LL.Bs needing seven exams—the five core Canadian Law subjects plus two electives. The overarching idea is that the NCA exams fill any gaps in Canadian Legal knowledge that UK LL.Bs may lack and that 2-year LL.Bs “make-up” the third year of law school by taking the equivalent of a full-year course load.

All NCA exams are open-book, pass-fail, with 50% constituting a pass. As there is no formal classroom time required by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC), students are at liberty to choose to either self-study or pursue professional tutoring. For these reasons, the NCAs are often considered “too easy” and an ineffective way to gate-keep the Canadian legal profession.

While I certainly won’t defend the NCA process as perfect, I don’t think the main problem with the NCAs is their difficulty, or alleged lack thereof. Having compared notes with Common Law LL.M candidates at top Canadian Law Schools, the exams and materials required for NCA qualification are equivalent. Additionally, the passing grade required is not wildly different than minimum passing grades that Canadian Schools like U of Ottawa require from their JD candidates who have the added assistance of teaching faculty.

The NCAs are not, however, designed to be a mini-Bar and are certainly not as demanding or expansive as the Ontario Bar exam materials simply by their nature of being single-subject; in this very limited comparative sense the NCAs are “easy”. Still, each NCA module is accompanied by a vast amount of material designed to test students’ ability to cope with information overload. As memorizing all the materials is simply not possible, NCA students must learn how to organize vast amounts of information and locate key facts under time-constraints—skills that are also useful for Bar exams. NCA Students with foresight will capitalize on this opportunity to develop their open-book study and examination techniques for their impending Bar Exams—especially since most UK law schools exams are closed-book and require a different approach and skillset.

 

Things Could Be Better Though…

Disappointingly, according to a program review of the NCA programme conducted in 2017, the Ontario Bar exam first-attempt passing rates for NCA candidates who are Canadian born and educated abroad is a mere 64%; the prospects are even lower for those immigrating from other countries, sitting at 53%. Comparatively,  Canadian Law School candidates boast an 87% passing rate.

While this has raised some questions about the NCA subject matter being inadequate, my conversations with institutions that help students prepare for NCA exams like Osgoode and NCA Tutor™ itself, point to a different thesis: students who self-study may struggle more than those who receive professional instruction. Indeed, both Osgoode and NCA Tutor™ indicate that their international students generally do quite well on the Ontario Bar exam after graduating their programs.

This makes sense, given that after years and years of guided study from Highschool to University to Law School, students find themselves unprepared to self-teach complex legal topics. And, for those who have studied law abroad, self-teaching the foundations of Canadian law when it is, in most cases, their first ever interaction with Canadian Law, is a tall task indeed.

There is also the added factor that many NCA candidates are mature students with full-time jobs and family commitments which lead them to complete the NCAs over extended periods or even take a break between completing the NCAs and writing the Bar exam. Contrastingly, Canadian Law Students often complete Bar assessments hot off the law-school press or alongside articling and may benefit slightly from the freshness of their law school training and/or practical legal experience.

 

How do we make it better?

There are various opinions around how to improve the NCA programme. In my humble opinion, the goals of the NCA exams would be far better served by a mandatory, intensive bar-prep course. While perhaps not as flexible as the individual subject exam format we enjoy now, a taught prep-course that takes place over a set period of time will provide necessary structure and an opportunity for students to engage with Canadian legal experts. It would also provide students more value for their money. An NCA student assigned 7 exams spends around $3000 over the course of the assessment and exam sittings—not including text books and study supply expenses. This cost is far above the average in-class Bar prep course in Ontario and offers far less by way of guidance and instructor expertise.

Not only would putting every NCA student through the same set of bar-required materials add needed consistency to the NCA assessment process and outcome, but would also raise the legal community’s confidence in internationally trained candidates’ credibility and training. Since the 2017 NCA programme review, we have known that the current arrangement is not meeting the needs of students simply due to the vast variances in student backgrounds and needs (e.g. language barriers, previous training, etc.). Two years later, it’s time to address these issues and overhaul the system for the benefit of students and the legal market which will inevitably benefit from the inclusion of strong Canadian lawyers with international experience.

 

- T

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.11.51 AM.png
 

 

The Myths About UK Law Schools: Lower Grading & Passing Requirements

The Myths About UK Law Schools: Lower Grading & Passing Requirements

In my last post, I set out to tackle some of the myths in the Canadian legal community that foreign legal education is substandard compared to its Canadian counterpart; I started with the idea that it is easier to get into a UK Law School than a Canadian one. Today I’d like to address the second most common, and perhaps most damaging, myth that passing law school in the UK is much easier than it is in Canada.

Before I dive in, it’s fair to note that I have never attended a Canadian Law school so my point of comparison is based on second-hand information I’ve gathered from close friends, colleagues, and legal recruiters. I did, however, receive my LL.B from an English Law School and have a full working knowledge of how difficult it is to achieve and maintain high marks in the UK system. While I graduated in the top 12% of my class while simultaneously working and volunteering, it was certainly one of the hardest (but most fulfilling) two-years of my academic career so far. To help explain why, I’ll start by putting UK grades into context before analyzing the differences in assessment methods.

 

Putting Context Around Grading in the UK

As mentioned in my last post, LL.B programs are generally considered undergraduate degrees in the United Kingdom. This means, grades are step-marked and categorized as follows:

 -          First Class: 70% and above

-          Upper Second Class:  60% - 69%

-          Lower Second Class: 50% - 59% 

-          Third Class: 40% - 49%

Even with the equivalencies provided above, these grades mean very little without their surrounding UK education system context. During my first term at City, University of London, I quickly learned that if I wanted to achieve a first class mark in the UK, I’d have to put in the same effort it took to get an 80% - 85% during my graduate studies in Canada; after polling my network, this effort-correlation seemed to align with what my Canadian law school counterparts experienced as well.

With this in mind, the “low” passing mark of 40% in the UK seems less drastic given that it equates to the effort of around a 50% - 55% in Canada. Additionally, the FLSC requires that students receive at least a Lower-Second Class mark in order for a UK course to be counted during one’s NCA assessment—equating to achieving a 60% - 65% in a Canadian Law school.

So, if we re-write the UK Grading chart in a Canadian Context, it would look like the below:

-          First Class = A in Canada  (80/85% and above)

-          Upper Second Class = B+ in Canada (70/75% - 80/85%)

-          Lower Second Class = B- in Canada (60/65% - 70/75%)

-          Third Class = C in Canada (50/55% - 60/65%)

Notably, the letter-marks assigned above are representative of the official marks-equivalency chart that City provided on my official transcript and is accepted by those Canadian legal recruiters who are familiar with the UK’s grading system.

Consistency & Fairness

Finally, it’s also worth noting that grade allotment is highly controlled in the UK. All examinations are blind-marked in an effort to guard against biases and inconsistencies. Additionally, universities employ internal and external grade moderation systems where non-teaching faculty and external markers review sample exams and class averages to ensure grade consistency and fairness. Finally, second markers have the authority to adjust as necessary to correct any inconsistencies. This also means that any grade posted on a UK graduate’s transcript is representative of his/her performance as comparable to his/her peers.

 

Differences in Assessment Method

To put my grade-versus-effort-required calculation into context, we should also look at the differences in assessment methods between the UK and Canada. In the UK, closed-book hand-written examinations are often the only assessment method in upper years where the standards for upper second (B+) and first class (A) grades are set very high.

These exams are notoriously hard not only because they are closed book, but also because the level of detail and information volume expected is closer to that of an open-book exam. During examinations, students are expected to provide detailed responses that include direct quotes from judges and academics and in-depth case knowledge under challenging time constraints.

This is nearly the polar opposite of Canadian Law Schools’ open-book, generally typed, examination method. Of course, both methods have their own challenges and are perfectly legitimate examination methods. But understanding this stark contrast in evaluation helps further put Canada and the UK’s differing passing thresholds into context.

 

Grades Matter -- No Matter Where You Studied

Law students everywhere are quite aware that grades matter to prospect employers. Whether a prospective summer or articling student went to school in the UK or in Canada, firms request transcripts and consider GPAs as a key part of their evaluation process.

For students returning (or coming) to Canada with foreign degrees, take some time to ensure your transcript includes a grades equivalency chart to help prospective employers put your education and performance into perspective.

-T

 

List of NCA Tutor™ Blog Posts

Tackling Myths about UK Legal Education

The Myths About UK Law Schools: Lower Admission Standards

There has long been a myth in the Canadian legal community that foreign legal education is substandard compared to its Canadian counterpart. Particularly, poorly researched articles that lack logic such as this one have posited that it is dangerously “too easy” to transfer a UK law degree back to Canada, arguing that admitting foreign law graduates into Canadian practice puts the integrity of the Canadian legal market at risk.

Anyone who has received a UK law degree and completed the NCA examination process certainly knows that qualifying in Canada is not “easy”. It is a time-consuming, expensive process that takes dedication and determination. Yet, having overcome this hurdle, internationally trained law graduates (ITLGs) face the difficult job of finding an articling position in a legal market where some recruiters believe that they are not as smart, capable, or qualified as their Canadian competition.

But why does this myth perpetuate? I would argue that a lack of understanding about the UK’s legal education system has given the idea that Canadian law schools are superior a much stronger footing than is factually reasonable. Unfortunately, many have tried to look at UK law schools under a Canadian lens rather than a comparative one that weighs the pros and cons. We need to correct this in order to fully appreciate the strengths and qualities that ITLGs bring to the Canadian market.

Over the next few weeks I will address three common myths about UK Law schools and ITLGs:

1) UK admission standards are far lower than Canadian admission standards

2) Passing law school in the UK is much easier than it is in Canada

3) The NCA exams are too easy

To get us started, I will tackle myth number one here…

 

Are admission standards in the UK too low, or just different?

The aforementioned article points to the UK’s lack of an LSAT examination and the “lower” required entrance marks of 70-75% for high school courses as proof that getting into a UK law school is easier and therefore less valuable than gaining admission to a Canadian one. However, there are a few key differences between UK and Canadian Law schools that should be weighed before making such qualitative judgement.

Firstly, an LL.B in the UK is an undergraduate degree meaning that students can gain entry on high school marks alone (or the UK equivalent A-levels). Looking at the averaged high school minimum entry marks for a Canadian undergraduate program, the UK’s 70-75% is comparable to the entrance requirements for many Canadian undergraduate degree programs (see Macleans university rankings). Additionally, Canadian students with existing undergraduate degrees often opt for compressed or graduate-entry versions of the LL.B which are done in two years instead of three and often have higher admissions standards. For instance, at The City Law School, where I completed the 2-year LL.B, a 3.0 GPA is required which on the global GPA scale equates to 85% and is quite comparable to Canadian Law school entrance requirements.

Secondly, while there are no LSAT-type entrance tests, once admitted, the effort required to continue in an LL.B course is notoriously high. The most recent UK statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) indicate that the first-year drop-out rate in UK law schools sits at around 5.7%. Comparatively, the University of Toronto—often considered the hardest Canadian law school to gain admission to— appears to enjoy a nearly 100% graduation rate if one compares the university’s published class profiles against its published career statistics.

Arguably, these differences in graduation rates point to a different approach in weeding-out students. While Canadian Law schools disqualify students at the entrance stage with a standardized test that does not assess legal knowledge, but rather attempts to evaluate cognitive capability, the UK chooses to conduct selectiveness through examinations of the LL.B materials themselves.

I’ll not comment on which of these two approaches is better as the flaws of the LSAT and the UK’s ever-increasing university drop-out rates are both hotly-debated topics with pros and cons on both sides. Nor should one read that Canadian students can coast once admitted into law school; both ITLGs and Canadian students are acutely aware of the impact that poor grades can have on employability—a topic I will touch on in detail next time.

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.11.51 AM.png
 

Strategically Studying & Writing the NCA Exams

As you probably already know, the NCA exams are open-book, pass/fail exams where 50% is regarded as a pass. You will only be informed of whether you passed or failed, not why or by how much.

Candidates are eligible to bring any materials they like to the exam and have them highlighted and marked up as they please.

Studying for open-book exams is pretty different than traditional exams where students are not eligible to bring in any materials.

not sure.png

You can either make your own notes or purchase summaries from a reliable source (such as NCA Tutor). If you opt to purchase notes, know that these are just summaries, they are not a substitute to the required readings of the course syllabi.

I focused more on understanding the content and applying it by doing practice exams as provided by the NCA. Since the NCA only provides one practice exam for each course, I also tested myself by going through some exams from Canadian law schools which are available to the public such as the Peter A. Allard School of Law Exams. If you decide to test yourself too, I would suggest writing comprehensive answers and bringing those with you to the exam as you may be asked a similar question.

The notes served as a great tool for me during the exam while the textbook readings assisted in my own understanding of the content. I also did my own independent research to understand some concepts.

sexy.jpg

I would encourage candidates to understand the material and to know how to navigate through their study notes. You don’t want to be rummaging through materials looking for answers and end up learning something new during the exam…

Going to the exam a bit early may help you ease your nerves. That way you can also get registration out of the way and get yourself comfortable in the setting.

While writing the exams be mindful that you are on a time-crunch (3 hours). A good way to use your time efficiently during the exam is to give each question the amount of time that it is weighted. So, if a question is worth 33% of the marks on the exam, give it 60 minutes of your time.

During the exam try to identify issues and concepts as you’re reading the question. This saves you time as you’ve already premeditated what the question will likely be, you’ve also already ascertained the issues and concepts that are likely to be relevant to the prospective question.

Mapping out your answers briefly, even in bullet points may serve to be a useful strategy during exams. Since you have a limited amount of time, you don’t want to lose your train of thought so having that map to refer to while you’re mid-exam can be a great tool.

Everyone has their own approach to studying and writing exams, these are some tips that I found useful throughout the NCA process which I hope may serve to be useful to you too. All in all, prepare and practice as much as you can in the time that you have. Know how to navigate through your materials and be strategic about how to use your time during the exam. Lastly, remember that you’ve already finished law school, you can get through this process too!  

HirraG.jpg
 

Tips & Tricks - Bracing for the NCA

The Application Process

Apply to the NCA process as early as possible! It can take about 8-12 weeks for the NCA to get back to you about your assessment. The NCA’s turnaround rate depends on how many applications they get, so sometimes the NCA might be a lot faster in getting back to you, but when it’s peak season (and I’m guessing I applied then) it can take a bit longer. Regardless, the sooner you apply the better.

what if.jpg

If you are currently studying law abroad and intend to practice in Canada, it is possible to begin your application process within your last semester of law school. As soon as you get your final transcript you just need to send that additional document to the NCA.


Exam Registration Tips

Be mindful that the NCA has a specific time-range for when you can apply for exams. For example,  say you get your NCA application results in September, the next exam session is in October, but the window to apply for October exams was back in August, so you will have to wait till the next application window opens for the January session, which is likely about a week or so in November.

Note, if you fail an NCA exam you will have to wait a session before registering for that exam again. For example, say you wrote Professional Responsibility (PR) in January but you failed (hopefully this doesn’t happen), you’ll find out you failed around March/April (likely when the window to register for the April/May exams has closed). Therefore, you will have to wait to register to write the PR exam in the August session.


Expenses

The cost of the NCA varies depending on how many exams or courses you have to take or if you opt for the LL.M option.

Currently the 2018/2019 costs are as follows:

Application Fee: $450 + applicable taxes. Note - your application will not be processed until the stipulated application fee has been paid and all required supporting documents have been provided

Exam costs: Each exam costs = $340 + applicable taxes

 An LL.M program is about 10K in tuition for Canadian students and 38K for international students. Some universities have created a “Common Law” LL.M which costs about 25K just in tuition fees for Canadians, and about 38K for international students.

In the event that a student is obligated to take courses as opposed to exams, then one course can range from 2-10K if they decide to take the courses at Osgoode Hall. This price would also range depending on how many credits the course is worth and whether the candidate is a domestic or an international student.

Where to buy textbooks?

You can always purchase new copies of the required textbooks online from Amazon or Thomson Reuters or other reliable online sources. At the end of each NCA syllabi there is a list of publishers who you can contact to inquire about how to purchase their materials. Some of them have online stores. Alternatively, there are some great Facebook groups for NCA candidates where students can sell and purchase textbooks. Such as the “NCA Tutor” or “National Committee on Accreditation – FLSC” Facebook groups, where students also discuss NCA related matters.  

 

Is it possible to opt-out of an exam? Appeals

Some applicants have written to the NCA to be exempt from writing an exam.

Exempt.jpg

You cannot opt out of any of the 5 core NCA subjects (Administrative Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Professional Responsibility and Foundations of Canadian Law). The only way to be exempt from writing these exams with the NCA is to take these courses as credit courses in a Canadian law school.

However, you may be exempt from writing some of the optional courses if you’ve already successfully demonstrated competency in those subjects. For example, business organizations used to be a required subject until a recent change in an assessment policy. Many students automatically received business organizations on their assessment, but they took a similar course in their law degrees abroad. Say you took corporate law or company law. In such an instance you would have to write to the NCA and submit an explanation of how you have demonstrated the required NCA competence for said subject. This would normally involve submitting your course syllabus from your law school and explaining how the course covers topics similar to the NCA module. If your request is successful, you may be exempt from writing the subject.

This does not necessarily mean that you will be exempt from writing the stipulated number of exams that the NCA has assessed you to write. So, if you are assessed to write 7 exams and have shown the competence to successfully appeal writing business organizations, you may or may not still have to write 7 exams. The total number of exams may be based on a number of assessment factors. If the reason business organizations was added to your assessment criteria was because it was an obligatory subject and not because of any other deficiencies in your application, you may be able to reduce the number of exams from 7 to 6.

 Assessed to write an Optional Exam – Which one to choose?

When I was faced with an optional exam, initially I did not know how to decide which exam I should write. Some people told me to write the “easiest” exam, though what is “easy” is quite subjective. Some might recommend you should do what interests you the most. Maybe none of them really interest you or perhaps all of them interest you, so it’s a tough call! My own approach was to do what I thought was the most beneficial for myself in the long haul.  Thus, as I mentioned in my previous post, I based which exam I chose to write upon what I thought would assist me the most with the bar exam. I would encourage students to do the same as well, unless of course you have a particular interest in a subject matter, then take this opportunity to learn more about it!

HirraG.jpg
 

The Final Count-Down: Surviving NCA Week

It’s really easy to get caught-up in the flurry of exam week—reading during every spare minute, pulling all-nighters, and dreaming about exam answers during the few fleeting moments of REM you do decide to take.

This used to be me. I’d get to the end of an examination period in Law School feeling like I’d been hit head-on by a London Omnibus. When I did finally slow down, I’d immediately get sick.

So, when I started the NCA process I further revised my exam period routine. No matter how good your study work ethics are and no matter how prepared you may feel for an exam, it’s very easy to slip back into old stress habits during exam week.

In preparation for the week ahead, here are my top tips for staying cool as a cucumber and acing the NCAs drama-free. Self-Care is Key. Your brain (and your notes) are holding all the key information you need to pass these exams; and, surprise, your body holds your brain. So, why would you sabotage your most valuable assets by not sleeping or feeding yourself properly during exam week? While you may think working overtime into the wee-hours of the morning frantically reading case law or scribbling notes is all “part of the hustle”, the damage you do to your brain’s ability to function and be alert the next day and during the actual exam makes this an incredibly inefficient way to spend time during exam week. Additionally, your ability to actually learn and retain information when you are exhausted is quite depleted. Get sleep. Your brain will thank you with improved retention and logical reasoning capacity where it matters most -- in the exam hall.

Also, be sure to eat—well and often. A balanced diet and proteins help your brain function better. I always wake-up on the morning of an exam early enough to make a hearty breakfast. Usually, this includes egg and avocado toast with sides of bacon, maple syrup (I’m Canadian eh’), and fruit. Of course, coffee is key too! Finally, enjoy the hardest work being over and be sure to rest between exams. While light revision the evening before an exam is fine, don’t spend every minute between exams cramming. These are open book exams, remember. So as long as your binders are organized you’ll be fine! Enjoy a nap or some Netflix after a day of exam writing. The recharge will do you good.

Control Your Environment (and who’s in it). During exam week your focus should be on staying calm and healthy so you can perform at your best. Try to remove distractions and sources of stress from your routine for the week. This can include people, technology, and environmental stresses (i.e. a messy house for me).

For instance, perhaps your study group, which was super helpful while preparing for the NCAs, has since become more like an anxiety-swapping party than a productive group of students. It may be best to take a break from each other now and re-group after exams for a celebration.

On the technology front, I personally keep my phone on night mode for the whole week and only check it when I feel like it rather than when a notification pops up. Very likely, you have friends with lives outside the NCAs who don’t realize that their “hot goss” (to quote B99’s Raymond Holt) isn’t at the top of your priorities right now.

Whatever you decide to do, be nice and don’t unnecessarily ghost. Where appropriate, inform people close to you ahead of time that you will be taking a break from your life to write the NCAs -- you’ll be back in a week ready to rumble. They should understand.

Pack Your Bag the Night Before. In the morning or early afternoon before an exam, you may be battling nerves and potentially in a bit of a rush (real or not). Taking the simple step of putting your notes, text book, ID, and a whole bunch of pens into your bag out of your morning routine ensures you won’t have a nagging “did I forget something?” feeling on your way to the exam. A little organization can go a long way.

Be Early, But Not Too Early. The only thing worse than spending an inordinate amount of time outside an exam hall waiting for your exam to start, is rushing across the city in a panic that you are going to miss said exam because you overslept or transit did what transit does best.

So, avoid both. Leave your home early enough to ensure you aren’t rushing and arrive in the examination hall vicinity with plenty of time to spare. Find a quiet place near the exam hall location where you can do a little light review, listen to some happy tunes, or completely distract yourself with social media (whatever works for you).

Whatever you do, don’t spend three hours outside the exam room generating a ball of anxiety within yourself and in collaboration with the other exam takers doing the same thing around you. While I’m quite a social person generally, there were very few people I would engage in a conversation with just before an exam during law school. Most of the time, I kept my earbuds in and did my own thing.

I’m sending you lots of luck and good vibes for the week ahead. You’ve got this. Go forth and crush the NCAs!

-T

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 1.11.51 AM.png
 
 

Planning for the NCAs: Everything to Get You Started

If you are close to graduation, spring is the perfect time to start preparing for your NCA assessment and planning-out your exam schedule so you can sit your first exam(s) in October. NCA assessment can take up to 8 weeks—though in my personal experience, it is usually closer to 5 weeks. Regardless, in order to ensure there is no delay to your ability to write exams in October, you should apply for assessment sooner rather than later. Remember, you cannot begin articling until you have completed and passed all the NCA exams assigned to you.

What are the NCA Exams?

The National Committee on Accreditation Exams are your first step to qualifying in Canada. These are open-book, pass-fail exams (50% is pass) that grant you the right to article and write the Bar exam in your province. You are permitted to bring any non-electronic reference materials into the exam with you so highlight and tab-away your notes for quick and easy reference in the exam room!

Most 3-year LL.B UK students will be assigned the five core exams but 2-year LL.Bs will do seven exams--the five core subjects that everyone has to do plus two electives of your choice. Law graduates from other countries may be assigned more exams depending on their degree.

Requesting an NCA Assessment

Before you can register for any NCA exams, you will need to apply for an assessment to determine how many exams you need to write. To do this, you will need to register online, pay the $450 fee, and have official copies of all your college and university transcripts sent to the NCA (Undergraduate, Masters, & LL.B as applicable). To ensure your process is as speedy as possible, ask your current law school if they can automatically send a copy of your transcript to the NCA once they are released. You can register as early as you like but your assessment will not be started until all your required transcripts have been received by the NCA.

Planning your Exam Schedule

While you are waiting for your assessment, you should take some time to plan your exam schedule. Every NCA candidate will need to write the 5 core exams: Foundations of Canadian Law, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law, and Professional Responsibility. Knowing this, you can start to study for these over the summer so you are ready to go in October. Personally, I suggest that Foundations, Constitution, and Admin are done in one sitting as they are closely related; their overlapping content will make studying easier and more efficient. If you aren’t Canadian and/or didn’t do secondary education in Canada, I certainly recommend doing Foundations first, as it outlines the basics of the Canadian legal system and constitution quite nicely. (Please note that NCA Tutor™ recommends doing Foundations after Constitutional Law and Administrative Law)

If you have electives assigned to you as well, the subjects will be at your choosing. However if you did any NCA accredited courses during your LL.B then these electives will not be available to you. For instance, The City Law School’s Evidence and Canadian Corporate courses preclude NCA candidates from taking the Evidence, Business Organizations, and Commercial Law NCA exams.

While exam sittings are offered in January, May, August, and October of each year, not all elective subjects are offered in every NCA sitting. If you are set on doing a specific elective subject, be sure you plan your exam schedule accordingly using the NCA Schedules posted online.

Exam Locations

The NCA offers a variety of exam locations across Canada. However, if you are still living abroad, you can also request an accommodation to write your exam at an international NCA partner institutions (e.g. UCL in London). To find out about examination locations available in your country, email exam@flsc.ca well before the exam registration deadline. The international partner institution may charge a small fee to sit the exam at their location in addition to the NCA exam fee.

The Federation of Law Societies publishes more information on NCA assessments, as well as resources like course syllabi and practice exams to help you study! Of course, NCA Tutor™ runs exam prep courses and publishes super helpful notes for studying and reference in the exam. I personally used the NCA Tutor™ notes for my core exams with great success.

Happy Studying & Good Luck!

T

TS Photo.jpeg
 
 

Understanding the Canadian Accreditation Process for Internationally Trained Law Students & Lawyers - A Birds Eye View

Foreign law graduates and lawyers who decide to come to Canada to practice law must complete an accreditation process prior to commencing the lawyer licensing process. This is known as the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) process. Yes, that means you and I, as foreign trained law students and lawyers are required to go through not one, but two processes in order to be licensed lawyers in Canada.

The objective of the accreditation process is to ensure that internationally trained law students and lawyers have the legal knowledge and skills to commence the lawyer licensing process in Canada. Whether the NCA process actually does do that is a whole different discussion on its own.

Batman.jpg

I completed a two-year LL.B program from England and was assessed to write six mandatory courses and one optional exam. An “optional” exam in this context meant I had to decide which exam I would like to write from a range of four. It wasn’t “optional” in the sense that I had an option to write it or not (I wish!).  Thus, I was obligated to write a total of seven exams. Some candidates can be assessed to write five, ten, or even fourteen exams! It can vary and everyone is assessed on an individual basis.

The NCA does not explain why your assessment is what it is, at least when I was assessed I was not given such feedback.  

Both education and professional experiences are taken into consideration to determine what avenue a candidate must take to complete the accreditation process.

Education.png

Once an assessment has been made, candidates are either required to complete a number of exams or courses from a Canadian based law school within a stipulated time frame.

There are some LL.M programs that serve as an alternative route to meet the NCA requirements. The Canadian Common Law LL.M program offered at Osgoode Law School is an example of such an alternative route.

The six mandatory exams I was required to write were as follows:

1.      Canadian Professional Responsibility (commonly referred to as “PR”)

2.      Canadian Constitutional Law

3.      Canadian Administrative Law

4.      Foundations of Canadian Law

5.      Canadian Criminal Law

6.      Business Organizations (formally known as “Corporate Law”)

My seventh, “optional” (still can’t get over how deceiving that sounds) was family law. I had the opportunity to choose which exam I would like to write out of a choice of the following four subjects:

1.      Evidence

2.      Family Law

3.      Remedies

4.      Taxation

I chose to write family law, because from my research I learned that there is an entire family law section on the barrister exam (one of the two exams required for what is commonly known as “the bar exam”). I was trying to prepare myself as best as possible for the next challenge…

Brace.jpg

I worked two jobs to even be able to afford to write the exams, so I spread them out throughout the year. Not being accredited but being a law graduate put me limbo. I was not eligible to work in the legal industry as a summer student (or legal assistant) because I was “overqualified” (I really don’t know why employers use this sentiment, it’s like saying they’re afraid I’ll do the job too well?)  and I was underqualified to be taken on as an articling student. Some who find themselves in a similar situation might be able to work in a role that is adjacent or similar to law (if you’re lucky or if you’re not “overqualified”).

I was fortunate in the sense that I even got two jobs, one of which was very flexible and engaging, and both my bosses were very understanding and supportive of my situation. I wrote my last three exams in October even though I didn’t really feel prepared for all three, I was so fed up, I just wanted to be done. I did the best that I could in the time that I had, and I just went for it. I passed all three and received my NCA certificate in January 2019.

The isolating element and lack of guidance and transparency of the NCA process is what makes it challenging. The NCA won’t even tell you when exam results come out, you get a range of time (10-12 weeks) and sometimes it can exceed that stipulated time range. I was once writing exams having not received my exam results for the previous session. Talk about no pressure eh?

Eye.jpg

Having a support group is crucial. I don’t just mean having family and friends rooting for you, I mean having friends or joining an online group of people that are going through the same process. Most importantly you really have to motivate yourself and be committed.  

You have to get yourself in the mindset that you can get through this process. Some might say it’s a joke and super easy (some exams were in hindsight) but when you’re actually going through the process it can be very challenging, especially the exams which are all self-taught.

Dog.jpg

In hindsight, I think the NCA process taught me more about self-discipline, determination and being my own teacher than just Canadian law. These are invaluable skills both personally and professionally. The process is tough, not the actual material necessarily. In fact, a lot of Canadian law is influenced my British and American precedent so if you are trained in those jurisdictions you will see many similitudes (and probably get pretty annoyed about having to read the same theories and dicta again).

There is room for change in the system but that is not the objective of this piece. The objective of this piece is to give candidates an overarching view of what the NCA process entails, so they aren’t as shook as I was when I went through this process. Overall, conquering the NCA has a lot to do with patience…

Skeleton.jpg

As well as being self-disciplined, focused, goal oriented and well, courageous enough to just do it!  

  • Hirra G