For most emerging professionals, passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) is the final step to earning a license. Unfortunately, thousands have had to delay their career goals amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since March of this year, fewer than 1,500 licensure candidates have completed the ARE—a 45% drop compared to the same time-frame in 2019. But starting December 14, candidates will have the flexibility to take the ARE online, at Prometric centers as they do today, or a combination of both options.
Jared N. Zurn, AIA, NCARB, CAE is the Vice President, Examination at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. He joined the Council in 2008 as assistant director, ARE development, and has been involved with all aspects of the examination including development, operations, security, and implementation of ARE 5.0. Zurn is an advocate for transparency into the examination with a focus on refining the efficiency of the process while maintaining high standards and measurement quality.
Zurn explains that as NCARB’s Vice President of Examination, he has had "the privilege of overseeing the development, security, and delivery of the ARE. This involves working with the architect volunteers who write and review exam questions, as well as the vendors and psychometricians who evaluate and monitor the test’s validity. Over the past several months, we have all worked diligently to update the exam so it can be securely offered online—24 hours a day, 365 days a year, around the world. While the ARE’s content and division structure won’t change, the exam’s format and experience will be updated for both online and in-person tests. Plus, each division will be shorter and include 15-20 fewer questions."
Explaining his background, Zurn notes that, "Before joining NCARB’s team, I owned a sole proprietorship and taught architectural technology at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. As an architect, I also took the ARE and understand firsthand how stressful changes to the exam’s format can be. Plus, in my current role at NCARB, I have taken the ARE more times than I can count. So, to help you prepare for the next evolution of the exam, here are 10 must-read tips for anyone taking ARE 5.0." The following article outlines Zurn's thoughts and tips for taking ARE 5.0.
1. Take NCARB’s new three-hour demo exam
The ARE 5.0 Demo Exam now features 75 sample questions and case studies across all six divisions. Before your appointment, practice concentrating on 75 questions over a three-hour period, just like you will during your appointment. Pace yourself, carefully consider the conditions presented in each scenario, and try not to overthink your responses. You can also experience the exam’s updated navigation, whiteboard tool, reference materials, and flexible break function.
2. Develop a personalized break strategy
Each division will include 30 to 45 minutes of break time, which can be used for one long break or multiple short breaks. However, previously viewed questions will now be locked after you return from a break, so you’ll need to develop a personalized testing strategy. While some candidates may be able to focus for three hours straight, I cannot. I like to test for about 45 minutes before taking a break, so I usually complete roughly 25 questions before I need to reset. As a general rule of thumb, start preparing for a break as soon as you start to lose focus. I wouldn’t suggest you try to “power through” if you are losing focus, as it will be detrimental to your performance.
Before taking a break, you’ll have the option to review all previously viewed or marked questions (see tip 3 for more details). Remember, unanswered questions will be counted as incorrect—so take a few minutes to make your best guess. When you return from your break, use your renewed energy to focus on the rest of the exam.
3. Learn how to use the “Mark for Review” feature
There are generally three ways to approach a question. 1) If you engage with a question, answer it, and are comfortable with your response—move on. 2) If you answer a question but want to review your response later, click the “Mark for Review” button. 3) If you don’t want to answer a question immediately, leave it blank and click “Mark for Review.”
When you click the “Break” button, you’ll be taken to a summary screen where you’ll see the status of each question. If you effectively used the “Mark for Review” feature, you’ll be able to quickly navigate to all your previously marked items. You can practice using the tool as part of the ARE 5.0 Demo Exam. Again, take a few minutes, try your best to answer each question, and then enjoy your break.
4. Practice using the digital whiteboard tool
Once online proctoring launches, physical scratch paper will be replaced with a digital whiteboard, which you can practice using in the demo exam. With the whiteboard, candidates can take notes, create shapes, and outline solutions. Remember, you are only being assessed on your answers, so don’t worry about creating “attractive” sketches.
Throughout the development process, NCARB evaluated alternatives to scratch paper, but ultimately decided that a clean desk policy and a digital whiteboard is the best, and most secure, path forward. Especially because it would be nearly impossible to ensure candidates testing at home properly discard their scratch paper, and the exam tools available must be the same for all candidates to ensure fairness. Additionally, our volunteers reviewed all exam questions to ensure they can be answered with the time and tools available.
5. Report any technical issues to Prometric and NCARB
Candidates encounter a technical issue during less than 5% of exams, according to a recent audit by NCARB. Of those, the vast majority do not impact a candidate’s ability to complete their exam. Ideally, this would be zero, but the reality is we cannot eliminate all potential technical problems. We’re constantly working with our vendors to update the exam’s software and will continue to do so. It’s important to distinguish between technical issues and “normal” load times for web-based resources (like references and case study documents). Load times for questions and resources are factored into the testing duration of each division, so you don’t need to worry about these types of delays.
If you experience a technical issue during your exam, please inform the Prometric test administrator immediately. You can do this at a test center by raising your hand, or via online proctoring over chat or your audio connection. After your appointment, contact NCARB in writing as soon as possible so the issue can be investigated. Once the ARE is available via online proctoring, tech support will be readily available through Prometric. Online proctors will be able to assist with troubleshooting—if a candidate’s internet connection drops or their computer crashes, they will be able re-launch the exam if they can reconnect with Prometric within 30 minutes. Candidates who experience longer online exam interruptions will be rescheduled for a later date.
6. Watch NCARB’s test prep and Q&A video series
It’s important to note that the launch of online proctoring will not impact the exam’s content. The information candidates are being tested on will remain the same, although the navigation and tools will change. NCARB recently published a new suite of test prep videos, which include tips on navigating the updated format and key test taking strategies. You can also browse our Q&A series, where we answer about 200 unique customer questions.
7. Download the updated ARE 5.0 Guidelines
Whether you’re new to the ARE or are preparing for your last division, we recommend reviewing the updated ARE 5.0 Guidelines. Effective December 2020, the latest version includes everything you need to know about scheduling exam appointments, requesting accommodations for documented disabilities or temporary medical conditions, requirements for both online and in-person testing, and much more.
8. If testing online, review the technical and environment requirements
- A well-lit, private room, free from distractions and clutter (no adults, children, or pets can be present)
- High-speed internet connection
- Live audio and visual feed
- An external webcam to facilitate a “cable-by-cable” assessment of your computer setup (we’re offering one $50 prepaid card to all candidates who schedule their first online appointment)
- A laptop or desktop that meets current system requirements
- Ability to download Prometric’s secure testing platform onto your computer
- A large screen size (at least 19 inches) is highly recommended, since a small screen may slow down your testing experience—but keep in mind that docking stations and dual monitors are not allowed by Prometric
9. Remember the exam’s primary purpose
The exam is designed to test your knowledge and skills to safely practice architecture independently. You are demonstrating that you know enough to provide architectural services as a sole practitioner or the person who has responsible control of an entire project. Ensuring that licensing boards have full confidence in the validity and security of the ARE has always been a top priority.
Updates to the exam, including the new tools and navigation, will ensure all candidates—regardless of where they test—will have a secure and fair experience. NCARB is also adjusting the cut score for each division, which ensures all candidates who receive a passing score have demonstrated the same level of competency.
10. Continue to share your experiences and feedback
Please know that NCARB hears you and is listening. I have worked with countless volunteers over the past several years exploring the viability of an online exam. And while the pandemic moved up the timeline to launch this option, NCARB did not come to this decision swiftly or lightly. Continue to ask questions and share your experiences—whether through social media, email, or the ARE 5.0 Community. NCARB takes customer feedback seriously, and understanding candidate experiences—whether good or bad—helps us strengthen our programs and outreach efforts.
As we look to the future, NCARB will continue to balance the needs of candidates with the responsibilities the organization has to state licensing boards and the public they protect. Despite architecture’s rapidly shifting landscape, one goal remains constant: delivering a fair and accessible, yet rigorous licensing exam.