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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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!