Study Plan for the Certified Paralegal Exam

This post is dedicated to Lynne DeVenny, who is blogging about her preparation for the CP Exam at,  and all of the other brave paralegals taking on the challenge of certification.

I hope this will encourage you and give you some ideas. I’m not saying this is THE way to prepare for the CLA/CP Exam, this is just how I did it.

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 ExamFourth 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 or  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



7 Responses to Study Plan for the Certified Paralegal Exam
  1. Practical Paralegalism
    October 23, 2011 | 6:06 pm

    Misty, I was sick that week, and somehow missed this, but thank you, thank you, thank you – for both the dedication and the inspiration!

  2. Misty Sheffield
    October 26, 2011 | 1:13 pm

    Lynne, You are very welcome! Let me know if I can help at all as you prepare for the exam.

  3. Linnea Johansson
    October 31, 2011 | 12:57 pm

    Hi ladies! I’m getting ready to re-take section 3 Ethics & Judgment for the NALS PP exam. I really need a “study buddy” and someone who can give me insight on how these tests are developed. The tests are situational and multiple choice. I’m not a corporate paralegal; I’ve always worked for sole practitioners or small firms. But, even the mock exam which set up a similar scenario to the one I’m in now threw me for a loop. What am I missing?
    Thank you so much.
    Linnea Johansson

  4. Misty Sheffield
    October 31, 2011 | 1:15 pm

    Hello Linnea, Welcome to the blog! I would suggest studying the NALS Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility On a multiple choice question, you can eliminate answers that have any hint of an ethics violation. I know this can be tricky, but keep trying!

  5. Ron Boles
    September 15, 2012 | 9:45 pm

    Misty, I thank you so much for the insights that you have divested in this particular website. I have some experience in Post Conviction Criminal Defense litigation, but I truly want to get certified in a way that could benefit me in the workforce-particularly at a firm that handles writs of Habeas Corpus both Federal and State. What kind of continued education via certificate will be most beneficial in regard of Wrongful Death and Criminal Appellate law?

    • Ron Boles
      September 15, 2012 | 9:46 pm

      Thank You

      • Misty Sheffield
        September 22, 2012 | 9:58 am

        Hi Ron,
        I would begin with a general certification. NALA offers advanced certifications that are more area specific. You can find a lot of information at

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Misty L. Sheffield is a freelance paralegal helping solos and small law firms in civil litigation. She has been assisting attorneys for over 12 years. Read More »