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How do I Prepare for a Paralegal Certification Exam?

By K. Testa
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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There are several ways that someone can prepare for a paralegal certification exam. Many organizations and professional associations offer such exams, and each of them typically has its own requirements. After determining which one to take, a paralegal can check to see that he or she has fulfilled the prerequisites, which often include some combination of academic credentials and practical experience. Then he or she might want to develop a study plan for the test. Some methods of paralegal certification prep can include studying relevant books, or taking online classes and practice tests.

Generally, the first step in preparing for a paralegal certification exam is to decide which exam is appropriate, given the person’s professional background. For example, in the U.S., the National Federation of Paralegal Associations, Inc. (NFPA) administers the Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam (PACE). NFPA’s guidelines state that paralegals are eligible to take the PACE if they have met certain paralegal certification requirements. These usually include a degree or certificate from an accredited institution, as well as a certain amount of practical job experience. Sometimes extensive hands-on experience can substitute for academic credentials, so one should consult the specific guidelines of a given paralegal certification program.

Next, one might want to formulate a personal study plan for the paralegal certification exam. Many such tests vary in their format and content. Some contain a written essay component, while others consist only of multiple-choice questions. The exams typically cover certain legal practice areas, and might also try to assess a person’s general knowledge of administrative procedures. Test takers can prepare for exams based on the format of the test and the types of questions that they must answer.

Often, the professional organization or association administering the exam will have study aids available to test takers. Examples of such aids include study manuals, online courses, and practice tests. Some people might also form in-person or online study groups, with other paralegals who are taking the same exam. Taking advantage of these study aids and other available resources could prove beneficial to someone taking a paralegal certification exam.

Certain professional organizations in the United States offer different levels of paralegal certification. One example is the National Association of Legal Assistants, Inc. (NALA). The title of Certified Legal Assistant/Certified Paralegal (CLA/CP) can be earned by taking its exam. For paralegals that are already certified, the NALA also offers some specific courses that lead to an Advanced Paralegal Certification (APC).

In the U.S., paralegal certification is normally not considered mandatory in order to obtain a professional position. Yet certification is becoming more common in the field, as employers seek job candidates with specific qualifications. Successfully passing a paralegal certification exam is a way to demonstrate those qualifications, and can lead to more opportunities for professional advancement.

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