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Guide to Licensing Examinations

Revised April 2021

Introduction
Objective of the Licensing Examination
Registration for the Licensing Examinations
     Accommodations
     Medical Absence Form
Licensing Examination Development, Format, and Content
Licensing Examination Pass Mark, Scoring, and Results
Preparing for the Licensing Examinations
     Study Materials
    Preparation Tips
 

Introduction

This Guide provides important information about the barrister, solicitor, and paralegal licensing examinations (Licensing Examinations) administered by the Law Society of Ontario (Law Society). All candidates should thoroughly review this Guide, as well as the Rules and Protocol applicable to Licensing Examinations in preparation for writing the Licensing Examinations. 

While every attempt has been made to provide up-to-date information, the Law Society may change or revise policies and procedures that affect the Licensing Examinations. Candidates should regularly check the Licensing Examinations webpages and their online accounts for the most current information about the Licensing Examinations. 

As part of their examination preparation, all candidates are expected to review their study materials and any other material updates posted in their online account on the study material access page. No updates to the study materials will be posted less than two business days before a Licensing Examination “test window.”


Objective of the Licensing Examinations

Licensure is the official recognition by the Law Society that a candidate has met all the qualifications specified by the Law Society and is, therefore, approved to practise law as a lawyer in Ontario or provide legal services as a paralegal in Ontario, as applicable. All lawyer candidates registered in the Licensing Process are required to successfully complete both the Barrister Licensing Examination and the Solicitor Licensing Examination in order to be eligible to become licensed to practise law in Ontario. All paralegal candidates registered in the Licensing Process are required to successfully complete the Paralegal Licensing Examination in order to be eligible to become licensed to provide legal services in Ontario.

The Licensing Examinations are designed to assess whether a given candidate for licensure demonstrates the minimum level of competence required of an entry-level lawyer or paralegal, as applicable. The barrister Licensing Examination assesses barrister competencies for entry-level practice, the solicitor Licensing Examination assesses solicitor competencies for entry-level practice, and the paralegal Licensing Examination assesses paralegal competencies for entry-level practice.

Each of the Licensing Examinations is self-study: candidates are provided with the study materials that support all competencies on the Licensing Examinations.  

The Licensing Examinations test competencies required for entry-level practice. They focus on those competencies that have the most direct impact on the protection of the public and on effective and ethical practice.  


Registration for the Licensing Examinations

Licensing Examinations are typically offered in one or more “test windows” during the summer, fall, and winter. The summer, fall, and winter periods are each considered a “sitting.” Candidates who are registered in the Lawyer Licensing Process may write their Licensing Examinations during the same sitting (e.g., both in the fall) or different sittings (e.g., one in the fall and one in the summer). 

Lawyer candidates are not required to have commenced or completed their experiential training in order to register for a Licensing Examination.

In order to be registered for the Licensing Examination sitting they have selected, candidates must ensure that they have completed all requirements, filed all required documentation, and paid the prescribed Licensing Examination registration fees by the posted deadlines. 

Candidates must also ensure that they meet the scheduling deadlines and requirements set out on the Law Society’s website or provided to candidates through their online Law Society account or by the Law Society’s online Licensing Examination service provider. 

Candidates who have been approved for an accommodation will have additional information sent to them directly by the Law Society’s Examination Administration staff or the online Licensing Examination service provider.

Candidates who have registered for a sitting of a Licensing Examination and subsequently decide not to attempt that sitting may defer their attempt to a subsequent sitting, subject to the applicable deadlines and, where applicable, payment of the applicable fees. Candidates who wish to request a deferral must file a Request for Registration or Deferment Form on or before the applicable deadline.

Where a candidate has registered for a sitting of a Licensing Examination and does not attend, and has not followed the procedure for deferral, the candidate will not be entitled to any refund of the Licensing Examination fee paid for that sitting and will receive an official result of “Unexcused Absence” for that Licensing Examination (unless the candidate has been granted an “excused absence”).

Candidates who have registered for a sitting of a Licensing Examination and subsequently wish to change the choice of language for that sitting must file a Request for Registration or Deferment Form on or before the applicable deadline.

Candidates have three attempts to successfully complete each Licensing Examination within their licensing term (for details on the definition of a licensing term, see the Licensing Process Policies). Thus, if a candidate has failed a Licensing Examination and still has attempts remaining within the candidate’s licensing term, the candidate will be eligible to attempt that Licensing Examination again.

Accommodation

The Law Society provides accommodation for the Licensing Examinations to candidates based on grounds listed in the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19. Candidates seeking accommodation must review the Law Society’s Policy and Procedures for Accommodations (for lawyer candidates or for paralegal candidates). All requests for accommodation must be made in accordance with the applicable procedure and deadlines established by the Law Society. For more information regarding accommodations, candidates should review the Accommodations page (for lawyers or for paralegals) contact the Examination Administration staff at examinationaccommodation@lso.ca

Medical Absence Form

In some cases, candidates become unable to attend a sitting of a Licensing Examination due to serious illness or injury after the deadline for deferral has passed. Such candidates should contact the Licensing and Accreditation department as soon as possible to explain their circumstances.

Such candidates may request an “excused absence” by submitting a Medical Absence Form to the Licensing and Accreditation department on or before the applicable deadline. If the request is approved, then once the candidate submits a completed Request for Registration or Deferment Form, the candidate’s registration will be deferred to a subsequent sitting of the Licensing Examination.


Licensing Examination Development, Format, and Content

Development

The Law Society’s processes for the development, administration, scoring, and reporting of the Licensing Examinations are consistent with established best practices for professional licensure.

The Law Society engages experts across the legal profession to establish the entry-level competencies that are assessed in each Licensing Examination. A competency is defined as a “knowledge, skill, ability, attitude, or judgment required for entry-level practice.” These competencies have undergone a rigorous development and validation process. Candidates are strongly encouraged to thoroughly review the Entry-Level Barrister Competencies, the Entry-Level Solicitor Competencies, or the Entry-Level Paralegal Competencies, as appropriate, in preparation for the Licensing Examinations.

Once established, these entry-level competencies form the basis for the test specifications for each Licensing Examination. These test specifications are a primary component of the blueprint document that is developed for each Licensing Examination. A blueprint document is used to ensure that the items being assessed on each Licensing Examination are both content-valid and representative of legal practice. It also ensures that the same categories of competencies are being assessed, to the same standard of competence, even though items being assessed change from one sitting of a Licensing Examination to another. This provides consistency among various sittings of each Licensing Examination and enhances reliability, validity, fairness, and defensibility. The competencies and the blueprint parameters are reviewed on a regular basis, in accordance with established best practices for professional licensing examinations.

Practitioners representing all relevant practice areas develop Licensing Examination questions (referred to as “items”) under the guidance of psychometricians with expertise in professional licensing test development and validation. These items are derived from information in the study materials prepared by the Law Society for that licensing year and are reflective of the established competencies for the given Licensing Examination.

All Licensing Examination items undergo a rigorous review and validation process. A Barrister Advisory Group, Solicitor Advisory Group, and Paralegal Advisory Group, each composed of exemplary practitioners from a cross-section of practice areas and firm sizes in Ontario, set their respective Licensing Examinations according to the blueprint parameters. Setting a Licensing Examination involves approving the items that will be assessed.

A small number of new items are piloted on each Licensing Examination as “experimental items.” These experimental items are not counted towards a candidate’s score and therefore do not contribute to a pass/fail result. The majority of Licensing Examination items are “operational items” on which the candidate’s score is based. To achieve the piloting objectives, and consistent with best practices for professional licensing examinations, there are no indications in the Licensing Examination to identify a given item as either an experimental item or an operational item. The administration of non-scored experimental items is an essential step in developing future Licensing Examinations.

Format and Content

General Information

The Licensing Examinations are administered in an open-book format. Candidates are permitted to bring print materials (including study materials, notes, and textbooks) prepared for the purpose of assisting them in the writing of a Licensing Examination into the Testing Area.

All items on each Licensing Examination are in a multiple-choice format. Candidates must choose the best answer from four possible options provided. Each item has only one best answer, and candidates will receive credit only when they have selected the best answer. Online Licensing Examinations are designed to prevent candidates from accidentally selecting multiple answers.

The items on each Licensing Examination assess the following three levels of cognitive ability:

  • Knowledge/Comprehension: the ability to recall facts, policies, procedures, and standards (e.g., citing the appropriate Rule in the Rules of Professional Conduct or Paralegal Rules of Conduct, as applicable);
  • Application: the ability to apply knowledge/comprehension in a straightforward applied situation (e.g., recognizing the appropriate procedure to employ when faced with a routine situation); and
  • Critical Thinking: the ability to apply knowledge/comprehension in complex applied situations, requiring analytical problem-solving in addition to knowledge/comprehension and application (e.g., selecting and prioritizing appropriate courses of action when faced with complex situations, or recognizing the relative importance of conflicting pieces of information and arriving at a conclusion requiring sound judgment).


Each Licensing Examination will include items in both independent multiple-choice and case-based multiple-choice format. Independent multiple-choice items are independent of each other. Case-based multiple-choice items are preceded by a case scenario that will also apply to other items; however, each item within the series of items preceded by that case scenario is derived directly from that case scenario and is independent of all the others. In other words, determining the correct answer to item #3 in a series of case-based items is not dependent on answering either of items #1 or #2 correctly.

There are no “all of the above” or “none of the above” multiple-choice options in Licensing Examination items.

For each sitting of each Licensing Examination, multiple different versions of the Licensing Examination may be developed and set. Each candidate who is registered for that sitting is randomly assigned a version of that Licensing Examination. Each version of the Licensing Examination complies with the blueprint parameters.

Each Licensing Examination is 4 hours in length and comprises 160 multiple-choice items. Each Licensing Examination comprises two parts, each of which is 2 hours in length and comprises 80 multiple-choice items. Part 1 must be written first. It is followed by a break of up to 30 minutes. After that break, candidates must access and commence Part 2. During Part 1, candidates write only Part 1 of the Licensing Examination, and during Part 2, candidates write only Part 2 of the Licensing Examination. Candidates do not have access to Part 2 of the Licensing Examination during Part 1, nor do they have access to Part 1 of the Licensing Examination during Part 2. The Licensing Examination may be broken into sections within each part, and candidates should ensure that they answer all items in each section in each part.

Candidates must select the correct answer using the online licensing examination software. Candidates should periodically check to ensure that they are answering all questions and should use all available functionality in the software to ensure that they have answered all questions prior to submitting their Licensing Examination.

Because the Licensing Examination is online, candidates must ensure that they meet posted technical requirements set out in the Rules and Protocol.


Licensing Examination Pass Mark, Scoring, and Results 

Pass Mark

The Licensing Examinations are marked on a pass/fail basis. Scores equal to or higher than the established passing mark receive a “Pass” result. Scores lower than the passing mark receive a “Fail” result. 

The Advisory Group sets and approves the passing mark for each Licensing Examination. The passing mark is the same for each different version of the same Licensing Examination. The passing mark represents a single overall score for the Licensing Examination; candidates are not required to individually pass separate sections or areas of law on a Licensing Examination.

The passing mark represents the expected performance of a minimally-competent entry-level lawyer or paralegal, as applicable. To ensure consistency across each sitting of the Licensing Examinations, the Advisory Groups apply this same standard to the particular set of items on each Licensing Examination. The setting of a passing mark is based on the judgment of these informed subject-matter experts and is determined through rigorous consultation and dialogue.

This approach to setting the passing mark helps to ensure that the same performance standard is applied consistently for each Licensing Examination, so that only those candidates who meet or exceed this standard will pass the Licensing Examination. Only an individual candidate’s performance compared to this standard determines whether that candidate passes the Licensing Examination. The Law Society does not use a bell curve, and there is no pre-determined rate for the proportion of candidates who will pass a Licensing Examination.

Scoring

The scoring process for the Licensing Examinations conforms to established best practices for professional licensing examinations.

A candidate’s score is based on the number of correct answers chosen. There are no penalties for failing to choose an answer or for choosing an incorrect answer.

For online Licensing Examinations, candidates input their responses directly into the online licensing examination software. A quality control verification process is also employed. As a result, candidates may not request any further review or appeal of their Licensing Examination once results have been reported.

In keeping with established best practices for professional licensing examinations, the Law Society does not release the passing score for each Licensing Examination, nor does it release candidates’ individual scores. The only result that is published to candidates is the “Pass” or “Fail” result.

Examination Results  

Within six to eight weeks after each sitting of the Licensing Examinations, or such other period as may be disclosed by the Law Society, candidates will receive a message in their confidential online account providing their result(s) on a “Pass” or “Fail” basis. Candidates will also receive an email notification of this message and so should ensure that the email address listed in their online account remains accurate.

The Law Society provides all candidates who receive a “Fail” result on a Licensing Examination with a Licensing Examination Profile, which is a detailed performance profile depicting the candidate’s performance across different categories. Candidates who receive a Licensing Examination Profile are encouraged to carefully review their performance in order to assist them in focusing their study efforts for a future attempt at the Licensing Examination.

Candidates should review the Licensing Process Policies for more information on Licensing Examinations.


Preparing for the Licensing Examinations

Study Materials

The Law Society develops study materials that support all examined competencies on each Licensing Examination. The Licensing Examinations are developed with reference to these Law Society-provided study materials, and no external material or information is required. However, candidates are permitted to bring other external hard copy materials into the testing area at the sitting of a Licensing Examination if they feel it will assist them.

Candidates who have registered and paid for Licensing Examination study materials are provided with access to the Law Society study materials prior to the sitting of a Licensing Examination. It is essential that candidates review the Law Society study materials carefully in preparation for the Licensing Examinations. Candidates should carefully review the portions of the Rules and Protocol that address what materials may be brought into the testing area.

The study materials are updated once each year, in preparation for each new licensing year (which begins in May for lawyer candidates and June for paralegal candidates). Licensing Examinations in a given licensing year are developed with reference to the study materials specific to that licensing year. Candidates are required to purchase the version of the study materials that is specific to the licensing year in which they register for a sitting of the Licensing Examination.

Preparation Tips

Performing successfully on the Licensing Examinations requires a strong understanding of the study materials, a positive attitude, and sufficient advanced planning and organization. It takes time to adequately prepare for a Licensing Examination. There are no shortcuts. While the tips and best practices below can help you prepare, there is no replacement for taking the time to build a solid base of knowledge, and the best approach is likely the one that gives you the most confidence to feel prepared at the start of a Licensing Examination.

Scheduling your Preparation Time 

You should develop a systematic approach to studying each topic on a Licensing Examination. This can be accomplished by effectively organizing your preparation time. You might consider the following strategies:

  • Begin preparing early:  studying in short, manageable increments spaced out over time is likely more beneficial than cramming all the material into closely spaced, lengthy, or last-minute study sessions.
  • Maintain a regular study schedule: set aside a specific period of the day in which to study and stick to that time as you would any other commitment. Your study schedule should reflect what works best for you.
  • Set specific goals during your study time: for example, outline the number of chapters or pages you intend to review.
  • Take breaks between study sessions and, when dealing with more difficult or complicated materials, take more frequent breaks.
  • Start each day’s study session by reviewing the materials you studied the previous day: reviewing previously learned materials without a long delay should help you maintain, reinforce, and integrate knowledge.


Effective Reading and Note-Taking

Careful, active, and systematic reading can assist you to retain knowledge. You may find it effective to read through each portion of material at least three times, each with a different purpose. You may wish to consider the following strategies:

  • In your first reading of a chapter, aim to develop a general understanding and overview of its content. This will help you to understand the content before focusing on the details. At this stage, try to avoid highlighting your materials and taking notes, as you are likely to highlight or write down more information than is necessary or helpful if you have not yet carefully reviewed the major concepts.
  • The purpose of a second reading should be to draw out important concepts from the chapter. During this second review, it may be useful to read each section or chapter in its entirety and only then take notes or highlight main points. Consider actively testing yourself on concepts while you are reading rather than simply reading passively. Consider developing summaries and charts of key information at this stage.
  • The third reading of a chapter should be for review purposes. Consider whether there is information you have not retained, whether you need to create another summary or chart, or whether you are having challenges seeing how the chapters and concepts work together. 


Organizing your Print Materials for Open-Book Examinations

The Licensing Examinations are in an open-book format. At the sitting of a Licensing Examination, you are permitted to bring both your own study materials (including, e.g., charts, summaries, indices, dictionaries) and the Law Society study materials into the testing area.

There is a common misconception that open-book examinations require less study and preparation time than closed-book examinations. Candidates who have not devoted adequate time to preparation will likely waste valuable time searching through their materials during the Licensing Examinations, leaving them with less time to think about and adequately answer items. 

It is especially important in open-book examinations to organize your print materials so that you are able to quickly access relevant information. Prior to the Licensing Examinations, you should attempt to make any print materials you intend to bring into the testing area (including the Law Society study materials) as “user-friendly” to yourself as possible. There are many ways to do this. You may wish to consider creating some or all of the following:

  • a tabbing or colour-coding system to delineate certain subject areas and key topics;
  • short, manageable summaries on selected topics;
  • index cards or a table of contents to list key topics and their corresponding page references in your print materials and notes; and
  • a list of relevant formulae or calculations for quick retrieval.


Some candidates prefer tabbing, indexing, or highlighting their materials at the outset of their preparation, in order to help absorb the study materials. Others prefer to leave these preparations to closer to the end, in order to round out their study process and review important concepts. 


Optimizing your Performance in the Multiple-Choice Format

All items on each Licensing Examination are in a multiple-choice format. Candidates must choose the best answer from four possible options provided. Each item has only one best answer, and candidates will receive credit only when they have selected the best answer. You should consider the following strategies to optimize your performance:

  • Carefully read the Rules and Protocol and all instructions and information on the Law Society website well in advance.
  • Ensure that you have prepared sufficiently so that you only need to leave the testing area during the permitted break period.
  • Ensure that you are aware of how the online licensing examination software works.
  • Read each item and all options carefully before selecting an answer.
  • Pay attention to relationships between parties, dates, or financial information.
  • Be careful not to make assumptions that are not supported by the facts set out in an item.
  • Try to provide an answer for every item, even if your answer involves an element of guesswork. There are no penalties for choosing an incorrect answer.
  • If you do not know the answer to an item, consider bookmarking that item to return to it later. In some cases, a later item will spark your memory about the answer to a previous one.
  • Ensure that you have familiarized yourself with the online tools, such as the reviewing tool, to ensure that you do not accidentally miss questions.
  • Use any extra time to review your Licensing Examination and ensure that you have answered all items.

Two of the most popular techniques for answering multiple-choice items are the “answer search” method and the “elimination” method. The answer search method involves reading the stem of an item and trying to answer it without consulting the four options listed below it, then choosing the option that most closely matches your answer. The elimination method involves reading each option first and immediately eliminating the options you believe to be incorrect, then reading the stem of the item along with each of the remaining options and choosing the best one available.

Controlling Anxiety

It is reasonable to expect that you will feel some anxiety prior to and during a Licensing Examination. Part of controlling anxiety involves being prepared for what lies ahead. You should consider the following strategies for controlling examination-related anxiety:

  • Prior to the Licensing Examination sitting, prepare yourself emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Know your materials thoroughly and organize them to eliminate unnecessary searching during the Licensing Examination. Ensure that you are getting good nutrition and try to minimize the use of stimulants that can increase stress levels. Make best efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including adequate amounts of rest, exercise, relaxation, and social interaction. Think positively.
  • Several weeks prior to the Licensing Examination sitting, double-check the technical requirements, ensure that you have prepared in advance to prevent or mitigate unexpected technical glitches, check your start time, and practise with the online sample examination. Carefully review the Rules and Protocol applicable to Licensing Examinations to ensure that you understand the conduct that is expected of candidates.
  • On the day you are writing the Licensing Examination, take steps that will enable you to achieve a relaxed state of concentration, such as dressing comfortably, eating properly, and allowing yourself time to get into a good frame of mind.
  • During the Licensing Examination, if you start to feel overwhelmed, consider using some of the following techniques: (1) taking slow, deep breaths to relax; (2) shifting your focus away from the anxiety and towards the next task; and (3) maintaining a positive attitude.


It is likely that no candidate will immediately know the correct answer to every item. If you encounter an item that you did not anticipate, try to use your reasoning ability to carefully analyze the question and identify the most logical answer in light of your knowledge of the subject and the content of the study materials. Try not to become preoccupied with any one difficult item.

Terms or Concepts Explained