Perhaps the most arduous part of every aspiring architect’s career is the built-up doom and gloom that surrounds the process of mentally preparing, and actually taking, the Architect Registration Exam- also known as the ARE. What ideally should be more of a process that tests real-world application and knowledge about the practice itself, has slowly evolved into a mentally exhausting challenge of sourcing highly specific information just to survive each exam. The only thing harder than studying for the exams themselves, is navigating the increasingly saturated array of online practice tests, advice forums, one-off study guides, and rogue tips that seem to shroud the six-part quest for licensure in more mystery than provide any sort of clarity or guidance.
Fortunately, the woes of needing to know exactly what lives on each ARE have been solved for and compiled into one easy-to-read book. Desk Crits, written by Tess McNamara and Sam Zeif, two Yale School of Architecture graduates who are currently licensed and practicing at Atelier Ten and Herzog & de Meuron, respectively, have created the ultimate one-stop ARE study guide. After experiencing the rigor of their own ARE journey, and impressively completing all six exams in six months, they decided to share what they had learned with those in the process of earning their license too.
“After we took all of the exams as quickly as possible, we had a moment to reflect and realized how horrible the whole process was,” said McNamara. “What's so hard is that the resources out there are generic, so we really focused on what was the most helpful for us as we took the exams together.” What started out as compiling their own notes and emailing them to close friends, turned into the realization that maybe they had created the jackpot of study resources that could be used to help budding architects around the world who are feeling intimidated by the licensure process.
The format of the book is casual and feels like a condensed breath of fresh air compared to what else exists by way of study guides and resources. Broken into three parts, the color-coded guide contains a high-level introduction and test-taking tips & tricks, a series of outlines, and a final section that takes a deeper dive into all of the topics needed to know for the exam with 27 study sheets. From electrical systems, firm financials, wall assemblies, and ADA guidelines, the book compiles everything you need to know in one place, and eliminates the conjecture of similar guides on the topic. McNamara and Zeif both agreed that on their personal study journeys, they found that some of the information out there was too dense, specifically the popular Ballast ARE Review Manual. In terms of what mimicked the exam question difficulty and format itself, they recommended utilizing the Black Spectacles practice tests.
For them, not only was putting the book together a fun way to cathartically reflect on the process, but the reward comes from hearing first-hand experiences of people passing their exams after utilizing the book as a resource. Zeif added, “Our goal is that fewer people should suffer through these exams. The ARE 5.0 is a whole new beast, so don’t be discouraged and put it into perspective. Take it at your own pace, don’t stress, keep up the momentum, and just get it over with.”
Desk Crits is available for order, here.