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NCA Exam: Question Types & Answer Strategy Decoded

I was recently speaking to a litigator who was unable to clear his constitutional law NCA Exam by a small margin.

He was disappointed after this failure. This was the first NCA Exam that he had attempted, and he had no clue what had gone wrong. 

There were 4 more NCA Exams to write before he could qualify the NCA. 

The NCA administration had prescribed him the usual bunch of 5 subjects: Foundations of Canadian Law, Administrative Law, Canadian Constitutional Law, Professional Responsibility & Canadian Criminal Law.

Where did I go wrong? 

Will I be able to move to Canada as per my plan? 

Am I good enough to do this? 

Since his confidence was severely shaken, he had put his plan to attempt the exam for subsequent subjects on hold. 

I offered to assist. 

The first step is a diagnosis of what went wrong. 

The second would be to prepare a plan.

The third would be to execute the plan, measure progress and improve. 

Let’s go back to step 1: diagnosis.  

I asked him a few questions.

How did you prepare for the exam? 

He had undertaken self-study for 3 months, approx. 2-3 hrs/day. 

Now, this is usually sufficient if you follow a systematic plan.

How many mocks had he practised for the subject?


What was his objective when he was studying? 

He answered that his goal was to absorb all the information contained on the subject. 

He was studying some textbooks for the subject, going through the bare act online and also conducted some research on the internet. 

Had he gone through some previous editions of the paper?

Only once, before starting preparation. 

Did he practise writing any answers? How many answers had he written?

Barely 3-4, right before the exam. 

Why not before?

He was not able to imagine what kind of questions would be asked as he did not have familiarity with past years’ papers, the Canadian legal system or deep understanding of the NCA syllabus.

His seniors had no clue. 

Has he obtained feedback on his answers? 

No. There was no one in his network who had qualified the NCA Exam or knew how to do it.   

That’s when I understood what had gone wrong: 

  1. He had no idea about the types of questions in the NCA Exam during preparation, so he was not preparing as per the paper format, often going astray  
  2. He did not follow a systematic method to write answers to each type of question, and had not practised writing answers. This is the secret to scoring well.
  3. In all probability, I guessed that he might have been unable to recall all the information that he had studied properly during the exam, as he did not practise answer-writing. He confirmed my suggestion. 

That is when I took him through the different types of questions.

I also explained the technique to write answers for each type of question. 

As I shared these insights, he slowly felt a huge relief. He finally understood what had gone wrong. 

He also realised that the questions were very easy to answer, easier than college exams, provided that he had prepared and practised writing answers.  

He knew what to do before the next attempt. 

His confidence and determination was back. 

Do you want to know more about the types of questions? 

Here are the 5 important types of questions from the perspective of the NCA Exam. 

There are 5 types of law exam questions: short answer, essay questions, fact based questions, and MCQ (newly introduced in 2024, makes obtaining pass marks even easier!).

Type 1 – MCQ Questions (newly introduced in constitutional law & foundations of Canadian law, but may feature in other NCA subject exams as well)

These are the ones which require most practice, feedback and corrections. Memorisation and self-studying from books is not effective here.  

Here are a few sample questions: 

The division of powers for the federal government is outlined in which section of the Constitution Act, 1867? 

  1. Section 91 
  2. Section 95 
  3. Section 93  
  4. Section 94

Answer- B

Which section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right to equality without discrimination? 

  1. Section 7 
  2. Section 8 
  3. Section 15 
  4. Section 16

Answer- C

Here is an MCQ type question from Foundations of Canadian Law: 

In which case did the Ontario Court of Appeal render a decision related to civil disputes involving commercial properties?

  1. Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines, [2017] 1 SCR 1099
  2. Grimard v. Canada [2009] FCA 47
  3. 8573123 Canada Inc. v. Keele Sheppard Plaza Inc. 2021 ONCA 371
  4. Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817

Answer: C

Isn’t it super easy? All you need to do is prepare from the correct material and practice attempting mocks.

Each MCQ carries 2 marks, and all MCQs together have 10-15% weightage. 

If you just get the MCQs right, it makes it much easier for you to pass the exam! 

The NCA exam is also open book, so you are always free to refer to printed materials if you have doubts! 

Of course, no online searches or reference to materials on your computer are allowed. 

You will be caught and disqualified if you do this as the exam is proctored.

Type 2 – Direct short answer questions typically require a few sentences by way of responses and assess recall of information. These questions can be asked for 5 marks. 

Example: What do we mean by the term Mens Rea? [Criminal Law]

Example: What are the obligations imposed by section 52(1) for the recognition of the supremacy of the Constitution? 

Sample Answer: Section 52(1) recognizes the primacy of the Constitution (Ontario Attorney General v. G., 2020 SCC 38 at paragraph 89). It imposes an obligation on bodies empowered to determine questions of law to do so in a manner consistent with the Constitution and to invalidate or treat as invalid a law to the extent of its inconsistency with the Constitution.

As you can see, these are typical college exam type questions.   

However, unlike Indian college exams where a 5 mark answer would need you to write a very long answer, in the NCA Exam you must write to the point. Writing more than what is necessary does not fetch you additional marks. 

100-150 words will be sufficient for answering such a question effectively. 

If you just prepare properly and practice typing the answer on a computer (in the NCA Exam answers are typed and not handwritten) and get feedback to improve, you will answer such questions successfully. 

Type 3: Short answer questions which require you to assess the accuracy of certain statements as true, false or somewhere in between 

You can categorise them as partly true, partly false, misleading, incomplete etc. and write your justification in a few sentences/ short paragraphs.  

Here are a few examples of such statements which appear in the NCA’s official sample question paper:

  1. Hospitals are bound to comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (5 MARKS) 
  1. The Prime Minister is Canada’s head of state. (5 Marks) 
  1. The “notwithstanding clause” in s.33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enables legislatures to pass laws that will operate even though they conflict with other provisions of the Canadian constitution. (5 Marks) 

Your characterization of the statements as true, false etc. is less important than supporting your characterization with compelling reasoning.

However, your responses must be straightforward and substantiated with relevant case law, constitutional provisions and readings listed in the course syllabus wherever possible.

Let us see how to answer one such question. 

Imagine that you get the following question: 

The Province of Alberta has the power to make laws with regards to setting the acceptable currency in the province. 

Here is a sample answer to this question:

(Answer) False, the province of Alberta does not have the power to make laws with regards to setting the acceptable currency in the province. 

(Reason) This power is bestowed only upon the Federal Government under Section 91 (14) of the Constitution Act, 1867 which allows it to pass laws with regards to setting the acceptable currency and coinage across Canada. 

Indicative time limit for short answer questions, which are either asked for 5 marks or 10 marks, is as follows: 

5 marks – Approx. 7 minutes; 

10 marks – Approx. 15 minutes

Compared to Indian exams where time constraints are common, there is sufficient time to type the answers if you are prepared. 

Type 4: Essay questions test a candidate’s familiarity with and an ability to critically discuss various issues of legal policy. Essay questions carry 15 or 20 marks per question.

Here is an example from Canadian Constitutional Law: 

Differentiate between the Federal and Provincial power of the Government in terms of legislating and enforcing criminal law. How do you think the doctrine of pith and substance is relevant in assessing the true purpose of valid criminal legislation? Explain using the evolving jurisprudence in this field from Reference re Validity of Section 5 (a) Dairy Industry Act, [1949] SCR 1 to Reference re Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, 2020 SCC 17.   

Do you notice that the concepts are very similar to the Indian constitution?

Some of you may be familiar with the separation of powers and the doctrine of pith and substance – it was taught in law school. 

This doctrine is invoked to determine an overlap between the powers of the state and central government.

Some of you may even have worked on these matters as a junior litigator.    

As you might have noticed, these questions are pretty much like your college exam questions. 

Even the concepts are similar! but they are on a different country’s syllabus. So you need to prepare and practice from the right materials. 

Type 5: Fact based questions test a candidate’s ability to identify legal issues in a statement of facts, to present a reasoned analysis of the issues and to arrive at a well-supported solution. 

Good news is that all NCA Exams are open book, so you do not need to focus on memorising information, unlike Indian exams.

IRAC method is used to answer these questions – issue, rule analysis and conclusion. Many Indian lawyers are familiar with this format. I am going to share a sample question and answer with you at the end of the email.  

Imagine that you get this question in the NCA Exam in constitutional law.

A political party in Québec got elected and formed a government. Now they decided to go for a public referendum to decide secession of Québec from Canada. Is this decision legally valid?

This is a question from a decided case. 

Here’s how to answer this question:

Issue. First step is to identify the issues while writing the answer.

Here is the issue: Can Québec secede from Canada based on a public referendum organised by the ruling party?

Rule. Then we will identify the rules applicable. Rules are very important. Here you identify what are the legal rules you will consider. You don’t have to give the answer there.

Here are the rules involved:

Let us refer to Sections 5 and 6 of the Canadian Constitution. 

Now apply your understanding of constitutional law – would this provision need to be amended for Quebec to secede? 


If yes, then you need to identify whether these provisions can be amended under the Canadian Constitution. 

Here is the procedure for amendment. 

After going through the above portions of the constitution, we realise that a formal amendment to the Constitution would be necessary which was not done.   

We also need to refer to Paras 83, 84 and 85 of a decided case on this point, which confirms that the decision by referendum is not sufficient to secede and provides a very cogent reason. 

Secession impacts relationships with other provinces and the federal government as well, whose resolution was not obtained as per the constitution.  

Analysis. Then you have to do the analysis where you apply the facts and the rules involved to the issue at hand. 

Here is the analysis:

The ruling party of Quebec has merely conducted a referendum on this question. The outcome of the referendum is insufficient to lead to secession. 

For Quebec to secede, valid procedure of amendment under the Constitution will need to be followed.

There is absence of consent from the Senate and House of Commons and legislative assemblies of other provinces at the moment.

It must be noted that the Constitution does not prescribe the referendum as a mechanism for secession. 

However, the referendum indicates political will of the people of Quebec to secede at best, which will require further negotiation with the other provincial governments and the federal government and amendment of the constitution for the secession to be effective. 

This position is supported by the case of Reference re Secession of Quebec (discussed above). 

Quite simple. 

The last is the Conclusion. Conclusion is the one line or two line answer.

Here is the conclusion: 

Thus, Quebec cannot secede based on a referendum conducted by the ruling party as it is not permitted under the Canadian Constitution.  

If you have familiarity with the syllabus, know which materials to refer to and type a cogently formulated answer (usually takes some practice), then it is pretty easy. 

Imagine how good you could become if you practised a few answers every week in all subjects.  

Remember, memorisation of the information or building familiarity with materials is not the end goal. The end goal is to practise the IRAC method for relevant topics of all the subjects in the syllabus. 

Our students practise 8-10 weekly assignments, 2 practice exams, 1 live exam and 2 exams for building confidence before they attempt the exam – this is why our students who attempt the mocks have a 100% pass rate. 

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