Student perspective on the NCA exams

21 December 2020

By Paola Beci Gjata

I graduated from law school in October of 2015. I was overjoyed to finally be done and move on to becoming a lawyer now. Wrong. I still had heaps of work to do.

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After moving back to Canada, I was already behind on time. I applied to the NCA in November 2015 thinking I would work full time while completing the exams.

Word of advice to myself now would be Apply to the NCA as soon as you possibly can.

Why you ask? Primarily because it takes approximately 3 to 4 months to receive a response on how many exams you need to sit in order to obtain your NCA Certificate.

My last official exams of law schools were in August of 2015; therefore, if I had applied to the NCA upon completion, I would have received a response upon my return to Toronto, and in turn I would have been able to register for the January 2016 session.

After applying in November 2015 for an assessment, I received my response in March 2016, and the earliest I could sit any exams was the August session. You might ask why not sit the next session, which was May, but unfortunately deadlines to enroll into the May session had already passed. I was working full time in the public sector at the time, so I signed up for two exams out of the six I was required to sit. My rationale—which I would advise anyone to follow—was to begin with the two exams which appealed most to me. Constitutional law was one of my highest marks in law school, and criminal defense law was one I always admired. So far so good.

With no advice from anyone, I tried to tackle these exams on my own merit, without a study group, without tutoring, just me, myself, and I. After all, I had just graduated with a Juris Doctor and a master’s degree. Oh, how wrong I was in this line of thought.

I spent the next few months trying to read all the materials listed on the syllabus. Looking back, I would strongly advise anyone to focus on specific areas of importance, and whatever you do, approach all questions using the IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion). I recall that most of the exams I sat allowed you to bring in materials, so the majority of the time I focused on tabbing my materials meticulously, so that during the sitting, I was able to know exactly where to find the answer(s) to any question.

I will be honest… thinking back on my emotions sitting those first exams, I had nothing but positive ones. I was confident, I had studied strategically, and I was ready to begin (and end) the NCA process ASAP. Anything to feel that “LSO licence” in my hands.

After I wrote in August 2016, I learned that I passed both exams on November 2nd. Great! Pat on my own back—I am so proud of myself, now I can enroll for the next exams in upcoming session as planned. Wrong! The NCA process does not allow for you to sign up for the next session at this time because the cutoff dates have already passed. January was the next session I could sit the next two exams.

The always-ambitious me, since I was successful in the first two, decided to sit three exams in January and write the last one in May. Even though I was working full time, I still managed to study and prepare for three exams, I had been working since I was a teenager while also attending school. Doing a number of things at the same time—and doing them all well—came very easy to me. Then tragedy struck… I was involved in a highly traumatic car accident in early November 2016.

If I were to write about how drastically my life changed from this moment forward, it would probably fill the pages of one of those really big books you see in ancient libraries, the ones that scare you at first sight. My dream of becoming licensed in 2017 slipped away from me as quickly as that airbag blew up.

After years of working with medical professionals, I have come to feel comfortable to share my story, so that it can motivate others. My word of advice here would be yes, have a plan, but also please prepare for anything that might happen which is a complete surprise along your journey—good or bad. Without going into too much detail, the next part of my journey included failing a couple of exams, which steered me off that solid plan I had made in August of 2016.

My advice after this point includes asking for help. I had no other choice but to withdraw from already scheduled exams, due to both physical and non-physical pain. I found support groups via social media platforms to connect with other students who studied abroad, and likeminded individuals who like me, were going through the NCA process. I attended tutoring sessions and asked for accommodation siting those exams, and when I failed, I asked why! I cannot stress enough the importance of this. It helps you understand how you can improve on the next session you sit.

My advice about sitting the NCA exams

Looking back, I wish I had sat all my exams at once. My advice to future NCA students is to take the months following your assessment to study for as many exams as possible and sit them at the earliest session you can. Time is valuable and I wish I had used mine efficiently. Along my journey, tragedy struck, so instead of my NCA process taking less than a year, it took from November 2015 to April 2018 to obtain my NCA Certificate. I often wonder how different the longevity of my career and the opportunities in public sector would have been otherwise.

Speaking of time, my next word of advice is that while you wait to hear on how many NCA exams you need to sit, please also look into the LSO (or your provincial) requirements. Datelines are very important and you can save yourself close to $200 or more in lodging your application. Unfortunately, without having an NCA Certificate, you cannot begin the LSO licensing process, but this does not mean that you cannot prepare. The LSO licensing process includes sitting both barrister and solicitor exams, and completing a period of articling. I feel very confident that I can write a book of advice on this process as well.

To end on a happy note, I am now a lawyer, working in condominium law—a niche area of real estate law. Along this extremely long and intertwined road, I have learned to have faith in my own journey, and my own unique path to practicing law.

I am always happy to answer any questions. Please reach out to me via email or via LinkedIn (Paola Beci Gjata).


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