After countless late nights designing in studio, facing the critics, laying out (and re-laying out) your portfolio, finally convincing someone to hire you, and working 50+ hour weeks... you’re still not an architect. Welcome to the examination portion of your professional journey, folks.
Beginning a multi-division examination with pass rates in the 50-60% range is a seriously daunting task. That’s without even mentioning the overwhelming amount of study materials and opinions floating around in cyberspace. Never fear, ArchDaily is here to help you navigate the tools and techniques available to you when cracking open the books and (hopefully) passing your first exam.
Timing: It’s Personal
While some think it’s best to start the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) immediately after graduation while still in “study mode,” others believe you need experience to pass. Ultimately, it’s personal. If you don’t want to study, you won't. There will always be an excuse not to take the tests, so find what motivates you. Maybe it’s the pay raise, the job security, the respect—maybe it’s simply peer pressure. Whatever your motivation, set your goal and make it happen. For me, there’s nothing more motivating to study than just scheduling a test and shelling out that $210 (soon to be $235) in advance.
NCARB Isn’t Keeping Any Secrets
If you want to know about a building, who is the best person to ask? The architect! With this logic, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) should be your number one resource for all things ARE, as they are the “architects” of the exam. Their latest version of the test, ARE 5.0, includes 6 divisions:
- Practice Management
- Project Management
- Programming & Analysis
- Project Planning & Design
- Project Development & Documentation
- Construction & Evaluation
To find out more about each, you can go to the NCARB Website where they provide guidelines, test specifications, a handbook, video series, helpful blog posts, and even an ARE 5.0 Community with online discussions related to the exams. In their handbook, NCARB lists the specific materials they used to create the exam questions. However, reading each and every one of these recommended resources would be an inefficient way to study. And that’s where test prep publishers come in.
No Study Guide Is Perfect
Every test candidate, and test prep publisher, is different. There’s no “magic pill” for passing the AREs. Michael Riscica, author of Young Architect, and inventor of ARE Boot Camp, offers his ultimate list of study materials. Riscica’s advice?
To effectively prepare for the ARE, you really need to use multiple publishers and cross-train with study materials, that way all the gaps in your knowledge get filled in.
Stop Studying Like a Student and Start Studying Like an Architect
These tests are not about memorization and regurgitation, they are about learning how to deal with complex problems that will arise in the profession. Just as you need to be prepared for a wide variety of issues as a professional, you need to prepare for any question or case study to arise on the tests. Figure out your learning style. Some people are able to sit down, read a book, and absorb all of the information. Others may need to fail a practice exam (or two) in order to understand how the material will be put into a question. Or maybe you need a study group to discuss topics with out loud.
You’re Not Alone
Every year, thousands of designers take the ARE. Some of them are your coworkers and old classmates. Ask around for advice and share resources. AIA Kansas City provided me with study materials, mentorship and camaraderies through their ARE Success Team program. Visit your local AIA chapter to see what resources they have available.
Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Did you see those pass rates? It’s normal to fail. Failing an exam gives you feedback on how to pass it next time. The sign of true failure is giving up. On his website, Riscica discusses what he learned from his own failures and the common reasons people don’t finish the process.
At the end of the day, licensed architects are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the public. We all benefit from architects passing a series of difficult tasks before taking on that kind of responsibility. Studying for the AREs helps you realize the weight of what it really means to be an architect and how much more there is to learn about the profession beyond what was taught at a graduate level. Pass or fail, by studying for these 6 divisions you will be one step closer to understanding the world of professional architecture.