This post is dedicated to Lynne DeVenny, who is blogging about her preparation for the CP Exam at PracticalParalegalism.com, and all of the other brave paralegals taking on the challenge of certification.
Step 1 – Commit to a date
Once you decide to take the CP Exam, go to the NALA website and commit to a date. Take into consideration how much time you will need to prepare; what time of year is best for you; and what other commitments you have. I chose summer to take the exam because I have fewer commitments as a mom that time of year. I am not worrying about homework, projects, sports, carpools, lost lunchboxes, etc. The best thing about picking a date is that it gives you a deadline to work with and creates urgency for your study plan. As paralegals, we work well with deadlines; like them or not.
Step 2 – Make the financial investment
Put your money where your mouth is. Pay your exam fee as soon as you pick the date. The investment will strengthen your commitment. If you haven’t already, buy the following study materials:
- Certified Paralegal Study Guide and Mock Exam, Fourth Edition, authored by NALA members
- Certified Paralegal Exam Review Manual, Third Edition, authored by Virginia Koerselman.
- The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
- A Uniform System of Citation, Harvard Law Review Association
You can find these books at nala.org or amazon.com. You can choose hard copies or e-books. I bought hard copies and later resold the study guide and review manual on amazon for almost what I paid for them.
Step 3 – Choose your preferred study method
Think back to your college days, how do you study best? With a study buddy, a group, or alone? I chose to go it alone, but there are advantages to having a partner or group such as the accountability and encouragement. Your local paralegal association may have study groups. If not, start one by posting on LinkedIn groups, Twitter, or Facebook. NALA Campus offers online self-study programs which are accessible 24/7; live web-based programs; or live in-person courses.
Step 4 – Assess your strengths and weaknesses
This is a very important step. You need to know how much of your study time to focus on each section of the test. Take the mock exams in the study guide, including the areas you chose for the substantive law section. Grade the exams with a percentage of correct answers. Your strengths and weaknesses may be different in a standardized test format than they are in everyday practice.
Step 5 – Make a time line for test preparation
This is THE most important step. Look at how many weeks/months you have until your test date and divide the time according to your assessment of strengths and weaknesses. Next, calendar the time allotment you have created. I could have studied for the communications section indefinitely, but I had a date calendared when I had to stop and move on to the next section. I gave myself ten weeks of preparation time. Here is how I divided the time based on my personal assessment: Communications – 2 weeks; Ethics – 1 week; Legal Research – 2 weeks; Judgement and Analytical Ability – 1 week; Substantive – 3 weeks; Review – 1 week.
Step 6 – Sacrifice and stick to the plan
Yes, you are going to have to make sacrifices and the people close to you will too. There is no way around it. You are already busy, but the time has to come from somewhere. Keep this in mind: The sacrifices are short-term, but the benefits are long-term. Motivate yourself mentally by focusing on how you will feel when you accomplish your goal and earn the CP designation. I missed girls night out; I took short cuts in cooking and cleaning; I did not watch movies, TV or do any outside reading; I did not take on any new commitments; I made sacrifices. Here is the best part…it was all worth it.
Step 7 – Celebrate
When you finish the exam, celebrate! Do something to reward yourself and relax. When you receive your results celebrate some more. If you need to retake some sections, don’t get discouraged. Pat yourself on the back for the sections you passed and pick a new exam date for those you did not. If you have to retake, you will have the advantages of knowing what to expect and having less material to study.
When you pass the entire CP Exam get busy updating your business cards and professional profiles to include your hard-earned title of Certified Paralegal.
Photo by English 106