How the Exam is Developed, Section Descriptions, Passing Scores

How the Certified Paralegal Exam is Developed

The Certifying Board provides oversight for the development and ongoing maintenance of the examination.  The Certifying Board, NALA certification program staff, and trained subject matter experts, work in partnership with a qualified psychometric consultant to ensure the examination is developed and maintained in a manner consistent with generally accepted psychometric, educational testing practices, and national accreditation standards for certification programs.

The Certifying Board selects diverse groups of qualified subject matter experts (SMEs) to participate in exam development activities throughout the exam development and maintenance process. Activities that involve subject matter expert participation include creating job analysis surveys, creating test content outlines, writing and reviewing exam items, and establishing the passing point for exams. Ad-hoc committees and/or working groups of subject matter experts composed of Certifying Board members, paralegals, attorneys, educators, and other outside experts may be assembled for these tasks.

Job analysis studies are conducted approximately every six years to identify and validate the knowledge and skills which will be measured by the examination sections. The results of the job analysis studies serve as the basis for the exam specifications. These exam specifications, with weights for each content area, are approved by the Certifying Board.

Qualified subject matter experts write and review items for the exam.  Subject matter expert item writers and reviewers complete mandatory training provided by the certification program on item writing/review for certification examinations. Items are subject to multiple levels of review and analysis before being used as graded items on the exam.

The Certifying Board oversees a continual process of item writing, review and evaluation to ensure that exam content remains up-to-date, accurate, and consistent with the content outline.

Updates to Exam Specifications

The previous model for the Certified Paralegal Examination consisted of a five part examination on the subjects of Communications, Ethics, Judgment & Analytical Ability, Legal Research, and Substantive Law. The Substantive Law section consisted of a test on the American Legal System plus four additional tests based on specialty practice areas. Examinees could select the four areas from a list of nine practice areas.

In April of 2013, NALA Certifying Board announced new specifications for the Certified Paralegal examination beginning with the September 2013 testing window. These modifications are based on a careful and detailed analysis of the findings of the 2012 Job Analysis study conducted by the Board in consultation with PSI Psychometric Consulting Services.

The new examination specifications call for adjustments to the number of points per subjects within all sections of the examination. No new subjects were introduced in any examination area.

The most significant modification to the examination is the elimination of several practice area tests under the Substantive Law section. It was demonstrated by the job analysis study that, on a nationwide basis, few paralegals utilize the knowledge and skills tested by these practice area examination sections on a regular and routine basis in the workplace.

In addition, the option to select questions from certain specialty practice areas will no longer be available to examinees.  All examinees will take the same Substantive Law section of the examination, as is the case with all other sections of the Certified Paralegal examination.

Effective with the September 2013 testing and subsequent testing sessions, the Substantive Law section consists of questions on the following subjects:

  • Communications
  • Ethics
  • Legal Research
  • Judgment & Analytical Ability
  • Substantive Law
    • American Legal System
    • Civil Litigation
    • Contracts
    • Business Organizations

Click here for a detailed list of currect exam specifications.

Examination Points and Passing Scores - September 2013

Once admitted to the Certified Paralegal credentialing program, examinees must sucessfully complete a 5-part examination. The five parts and their passing rates are:

Examination Name

January 2015

Passing %
May 2015
Passing %
​September 2015
Communications 55% 60% 51%
Ethics 65% 58% 60%
Judgment and Analytical Ability 57% 36% 67%
Legal Research 69% 70% 69%
Substantive Law 54% 60% 54%

Procedures are in place to ensure that scores are comparable across all versions of the examination sections. While a passing score on one version of an examination section may differ from the passing score on a different version of the same examination section, the standard established by the Certifying Board is the same for each test version.

Click here for an explanation of how passing scores are determined and the passing scores for each examination section.