Strategies for Success: Preparing for the Architecture Registration Exam

One of the most challenging hurdles in an architect’s career is the Architecture Registration Exam® (ARE®), an important step in obtaining a professional license. Passing this difficult, multi-part exam requires many hours of self-guided study and preparation. The latest version of the ARE®, which is administered by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), is ARE® 5.0. The good news is that this exam incorporates new test technology and involves only six sections, rather than the seven sections required by ARE® 4.0. At 3.5 to 5 hours per exam section, the ARE® requires less time to complete than previous versions, plus no vignettes! However, an initial assessment of more than 4,000 candidates who took the test between November 2016 and June 2017 has revealed that the success rate for each section ranges from 47 percent to 56 percent. Clearly, the ARE® continues to be as challenging as ever.

Over the past year, I’ve faced the highs and lows of the ARE®. Like nearly every candidate, I struggled with the need to balance adequate time for study and preparation with a demanding work week and other requirements. After some initial stumbles, and having talked with many other architects who offered their guidance and ideas, I developed a multi-faceted plan for exam preparation. The plan paid off: over the summer of 2017, I took all six ARE® tests within three months and passed all of them.

A Purposeful Schedule to Stick to and Complete the Tests

The first step is simply to pay the $210 test fee and sign up. It can be difficult to take the leap, given the financial commitment, stresses of busy work weeks, and other conflicts. But signing up gives you the motivation to get started and commit to a plan for preparation. Do you want to spend five years of your life studying for and taking exams? I didn’t either! Make your New Year’s Resolution today to push hard and pass all exams by the end of 2018.

The sections covered by ARE® 5.0, which can be taken in any order, are organized around the progression of a typical architectural project. Each section contains between 80 to 120 questions. (Taking the ARE® 4.0 is still an option; NCARB will continue to offer that version until June 30, 2018. Some candidates may opt to complete a mix of both versions.) I found that it was important to schedule the tests purposefully, based on overlapping material. Scheduling certain sections close together meant that I wouldn’t have to study some material twice. Here is the ARE® 5.0 test order I selected, choosing exam dates approximately two weeks apart:

  1. Practice Management (PcM)
    PcM and PjM overlap in study material
  2. Project Management (PjM)
    PjM and CE overlap in study material
  3. Construction & Evaluation (CE)
  4. Programming & Analysis (PA)
  5. Project Development & Documentation (PDD)
    PDD and PPD overlap in study material
  6. Project Planning & Design (PPD)

Tap into Resources among Friends and Family to Help You Prioritize Your Work

Many resources are available to help ARE® candidates. Talk to other architects for words of wisdom. Find a support group. Tell your friends and family – let them know you are prioritizing these tests for a short season, as they may be able to actively support you to get the study time you need. Join the ARE® 5.0 Community, which offers study groups, test tips, and expert help. Read NCARB’s ARE® 5.0 Handbook. I used the PPI ARE 5.0 Review Bundle by David Kent Ballast for the study manual, practice problems, practice tests, and tips. I also found Black Spectacles to be an excellent resource for preparation videos that break down the study sections into manageable and easy-to-understand concepts. It’s also helpful to take NCARB’s demo test (log in to your NCARB account), which requires approximately 45 to 60 minutes. This allows you to become familiar with the new interface question style.

Lessons Learned in Taking the Tests

In addition to studying, watching videos, and completing practice problems and tests, it’s important to remember a few other tips for successful test-taking. My advice includes the following:

  • Use the process of elimination: keep in mind that each question is worth only one point. With that in mind, I went through all of the questions quickly, and skipped or tagged the ones that required a lot of math or that I was uncertain of. I answered the questions I felt confident about, then went back to the more challenging questions.
  • Get enough sleep: It’s very important to be well-rested! With tests taking up to five hours each, you need to stay focused. For this reason, I scheduled my tests at noon or later in the afternoon, taking the day of work off so there were no distractions. Schedule the test when you are likely to feel most alert.
  • Stay calm: The biggest factor that can work against you is fear. Stay calm and confident. Remind yourself that you don’t have to know everything and that you know more than you think you do. The worst case is that you’ll have to retest, but at least you’ve broken the ice and gained experience. Good luck!
  • Brooke Martin
    Brooke Martin
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