Taking the Architectural Registration Exam (ARE)

Bob Borson —  January 21, 2013 — 104 Comments

In order to call yourself an architect (or even state that you provide architectural services) you have to pass the architectural registration exam – the ARE. It is a grueling 7-part test that if you sat through them end to end, it would take you 33 and a half hours.

33 AND A HALF HOURS !?!?!

Yikes, that is some serious test taking.Unlike some of the other white-collar professions that require licensure through passing a test, the architectural registration exam can be taken 1 section at a time and basically whenever you want. This is a big deal and changed the way hopeful future architects went about taking the exam. It certainly had an impact on how I went about taking the exam.

 

Architectural Registration Exam 4.0.

The ARE currently consists of seven divisions that can be taken in any order. Exams include a combination of multiple-choice, check-all-that-apply, and fill-in-the-blank questions and graphic vignettes. The ARE assesses candidates’ knowledge, skills, and ability to practice architecture independently. It focuses on those services that most affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Because of this, the exams are rigorous and require demonstration of competency in each of the testing areas.

I passed the ARE 12 years ago and I passed all the sections on the first try, something that I am proud of even after all this time. I am not a great test taker – never have been – so I went through some very specific measures that helped me and I thought I would share my techniques with those of you that are currently in the process (or about to start) taking the ARE.

Set a schedule and stick with it.
I gave myself 4 weeks to prepare for each section of the exam and this was always enough time to cover all the material I had to study and review.

Schedule your test for first thing in the morning.
Every test I took was at either 8 or 9 am in the morning. I am a big believer in that most people psyche themselves out before the test and the more time you leave yourself to think about what you are doing, the more anxious and nervous you will become. I also think that reviewing the study material right before you go in for the test is a bad move. You’ve been studying for 4 weeks by this point and asking yourself questions that you might not get correct will only undermine your confidence.

Get a good nights rest.
These tests are long and you need to be fresh coming into the test that morning. Part of the reason I gave myself 4 weeks for each test was so I could be methodical about it and not feel like I was coming in unprepared. I was well rested and walked into each test center confident that I had taken my preparation seriously and was ready to take my test.

Create a study pattern
I set a schedule for when I would study and when I would have breaks. Every Monday through Thursday I studied for two hours – from 7 to 9 pm. I was married but I didn’t have children yet and this time allowed me to get my study time in but also allowed me to eat dinner with my wife, watch TV, run errands – whatever I needed. I took Friday nights off so that I could go out with friends, have people over, just go out and do something fun. I had to get 8 hours of studying in over the weekend but I was free to pick when I was going to get it in. My only rule was that a study session had to be at least 2 hours in length to count – 30 minutes here and there doesn’t count, you can’t get in the right frame of mind.

That adds up to 16 hours of studying a week and 64 hours of studying per test. 64 hours is a long time but I can tell you with absolute certainty that I walked into each test thinking that I had done everything that was reasonable (and a bit beyond) and as a result, I was confident that I would do well.

Study Materials make a difference
I didn’t start taking the exam until I was 30 years old – and I felt like a complete loser for not being licensed. Graduating from college with my degree in architecture was not the finish line for me. Until you get your license, you are not an architect and as a result, taking the ARE is a really big deal. I had spent most of my career designing interior retail spaces and felt that I simply hadn’t learned enough practical matters to actually sit for the exam. While the first part of that sentence is true, the part about not knowing enough to take the exam is total garbage. There is no reason to not start taking the exam immediately – if you are waiting on getting some practical experience – don’t.

There is enough study materials available for the ARE for you to learn everything you need in order to pass the exams. I used the David Kent Ballast ARE Review Manuals  for almost all of my studying except for the structural exams. I also made my own flash cards – thousands of them – for every section. I struggle a bit with short-term memorization and making my own flash cards really helped me.

 

Individual exam guides and exam practice programs are available in the Preparing for the ARE section:

Programming, Planning & Practice
85 Multiple-Choice Questions
Site Zoning Graphic Vignette
Total Time in Exam = 4.0 hours
Exam Guide for this section

Exam Description: The application of project development knowledge and skills relating to architectural programming; environmental, social, and economic issues; codes and regulations; and project and practice management.

 

Site Planning & Design
65 Multiple-Choice Questions
Site Grading and Site Design Graphic Vignettes
Total Time in Exam = 4.5 hours
Exam Guide for this section

Exam Description: The application of knowledge and skills of site planning and design including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.

 

Building Design & Construction Systems
85 Multiple-Choice Questions
Accessibility/Ramp, Stair Design, Roof Plan Graphic Vignettes
Total Time in Exam = 5.5 hours
Exam guide for this section

Exam Description: The application of knowledge and skills of building design and construction, including environmental, social, and economic issues, project and practice management.

 

Schematic Design
Interior Layout and Building Layout Graphic Vignettes
Total Time in Exam = 6.0 hours
Exam Guide for this section

Exam Description: The application of knowledge and skills required for the schematic design of buildings and interior space planning.

 

Structural Systems
125 Multiple-Choice Questions
Structural Layout Graphic Vignette
Total Time in Exam = 5.5 hours
Exam Guide for this section

Exam Description: Identification and incorporation of general structural and lateral force principles in the design and construction of buildings.

 

Building Systems
95 Multiple-Choice Questions
Mechanical and Electrical Graphic Vignettes
Total Time in Exam = 4.0 hours
Exam Guide for  this section

Exam Description: The evaluation, selection, and integration of mechanical, electrical, and specialty systems in building design and construction.

 

Construction Documents & Services
100 Multiple-Choice Questions
Building Section Graphic Vignette
Total Time in Exam – 4.0 hours
Exam Guide for this section

Exam Description: Application of project management and professional practice knowledge and skills, including the preparation of contract documents and contract administration.

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I also went onto the NCARB website to get passing rate information for the various sections of the test. Since you can’t retake a test you’ve already failed until 6 months time has passed, there is some gamesmanship to the order in which you take these tests. I would recommend starting with the two sections you feel most comfortable with taking. This will allow you the opportunity to become familiar with the test environment, process, and procedures before trying to tackle a section that you think you might fail (not that you will – positive thinking and preparation!!) Follow these up with the most difficult sections so that if you do end up failing, the 6 months waiting period will pass as you are preparing for other tests.

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ARE Pass Rates by Division

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All of this data – and a whole lot more – is from the National Council of Architectural Registration Board (NCARB) website. It is an absolute must visit site if you are thinking about taking the architectural registration exam or simply want to know more about the process.

I was also thinking that I would allow anyone to put links in the comment section if they think of a resource that would be of value to someone who is in the process of taking the exam. There are a lot out there but I am not going to maintain the links in the post beyond a year or so but they can live on forever in the comment section.

Best of luck, you can do it if you take your preparations seriously.

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  • mimmers pon

    How do I find out which tests are offered and when? I went to the Prometric site and search for ARE but only ARE Graphic test appears, NCARB is not avaiable. Also it does not show me which of the 7 tests are available. I go to my NCARB records and it just directs to the Prometric site to schedule the exams. Please advise.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t think that’s the way it works. You take whichever test you want, you just need to find an open block at which to schedule the exam.

      What I’m trying to say is that you won’t look for a specific test being offered at prometerics, you schedule your own tests.

    • tdata

      NCARB has now updated their website and has their own interface w/ links to scheduling exams you have not yet passed. It’s not seamless but they are now all in one spot including your exam results.

  • DAB

    Can anyone tell me the percentage of applicants who pass all sections of the ARE on the first attempt

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      not on the first try – NCARB has all that sort of data and I don’t think they track it at that level. Here is a link for the current passing rates by section and by school:

      http://www.ncarb.org/ARE/ARE-Pass-Rates.aspx

  • Bobbi

    Hi Bob – I have an issue with myself that I’d like to ask your opinion.
    I do not have a college degree in architecture, I have been eligible to take the ARE since 2009, I am 58 years old, I was diagnosed with epilepsy in December 2012, I work full time as a code compliance manager for a university, freelance drafting & design, the architectural community is not doing so great, originally my goal to become an architect was a personal goal but now I am thinking that my personal goal has been achieved….somewhat. I am torn as to take the ARE or not. I want to move to Tucson in a few years where design work is even less than NY so what would the purpose of licensing be except for personal achievement? I know that you are younger than I with a college background and my studying would be different than yours….but I am still torn. I don’t want to put you on the spot but thought you may have some words of wisdom…..
    Thanks

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I make up my opinions as I go so no worries about putting me on the spot. I would think that at 60 (let’s assume that would be your age once you were done with the testing process and received your license) there wouldn’t be a whole lot of new doors opened to you as a freshly minted architect. I think it’s incredibly important for younger people to become licensed because without the license, different doors close to you and to a certain extent, you would be judged as someone who COULDN’T get a license (as opposed to someone who wouldn’t).

      Would the license have some value to you when you move to a new city and don’t have a built in support circle in place?

      • Bobbi

        Thank you Bob….this helps me see things in a different light. Your last question I guess is the eye opener somewhat since I am not sure if I want to retire (never full time), reinvent myself (as I have before), or wait for another door to open. Hmmmmmm…more thinking ahead.

  • Dana L Parker

    what’s the latest on the practice vignette downloads. The last thing I read (November 2013) there was still issues with the software?

    • tdata

      They now offer it online for $10 a year, not a big dent for a full year of access. Cost goes lower and value higher if I sit for more exams in the same year hah.

      It almost functions like a remote desktop where it looks like they are running the software in another computer w/ 32-bit platform and you access it through an interface installed on your end. It also has some kind of memory to it because if I open it again it still has my solution in it unless you reset.

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  • SamWell

    Does anyone know what a passing score is for these tests? I’m about to start down this journey (New Year’s Resolution, yay), and decided just to do the practice questions on these exam guides as a sort of starting point. Is 70% passing? Is it 90%? Why am I having a hard time finding this listed anywhere?

    • Brett Wolfe

      passing scores aren’t reported, although they are definitely different for each exam. they judge ‘passing’ based on how candidates performed on the same questions in previous years. more importantly, each exam is subdivided into sub-topics. these are listed on the NCARB study guides. you have to do well in each subtopic to pass the whole exam. i.e. if you only miss 10 questions out of 100, you should pass with 90% — BUT– if all of the 10 questions you miss are in the same subtopic, then you will likely fail the whole exam.

  • KJH

    Hi Bob,

    PREPA.R.E., Inc has a cool digital flashcard called EQuALS. You can even use it to take a mock exam! It costs $60 but if you take their SS course you get it ‘free’…

    • Michael Riscica

      Yes, I took Mark Mitalski’s Structures Class and it was really good. My biggest regret waiting sooooo long on making that $425 investment. It was really well done and I aced the test!!!!

  • mjava

    Hi Bob,
    how did you make flashcard? can you show us an example? thanks

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  • Tamra Arch

    Thank you very much that was very helpful. but I do have one important question to ask, Who needs to take the exam? as an architecture student not from US, Toefl and GRE exams are already on my list, should I include the ARE in it too?

  • Ishita Banerjee

    I am studying for the construction documents and services and using 2009 Kaplan guides, do you think it is adequate or should I buy newer guides. Please suggest as I woud need to take them soon.

  • Michael Riscica

    Bob I recently completed the exam and I must admit that finishing these tests is truly one of my proudest moments. It took a significant amount of my time, money and energy. Your recent post regarding the costs of becoming and Architect inspired me to write a post called
    5 lessons I learned studying for the ARE
    http://michaelriscica.com/2013/11/21/5-lessons-i-learned-studying-for-the-architects-registration-exam/

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Great job! Thanks for sharing

  • Sager

    Quite a few comments mention the hurdle of learning the testing software. Is it really that cumbersome/difficult and if so, is there a way to learn/practice with it before taking the tests?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I took the test 11 years ago so I;m not sure how the test has changed. When I took it, you could get a copy of the software to practice on prior to walking in the door to take a test. I did not find it particularly difficult to learn, rather easy actually.

      Maybe someone else could chime in who has taken the test more recently.

    • tdata

      I think most of us are very skilled at using the computers and our preferred (or work required) drawing softwares. In my opinion the difficulty of the testing software stems from the fact that it does not resemble any of the softwares we use on a daily basis. The reason for this (they say) is so that everyone has an even platform. I’d say if you started out using computers with MS-DOS or Windows 3.1, you will already have an advantage, haha!

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  • kateco2

    Ugh. Yup – I’m an ARE procrastinator too. Although my reasons for not finishing before my “old age” are probably different from yours… (pregnancy, illness, etc.) I started taking the 3.0 but was “timed out”; I found that my problem with the tests was NOT the knowledge/subject matter (I did great on multiple choice exams!) – my issue was learning the CAD interface well enough to do the graphic problems quickly enough. Any tips there? (I’m a 25+ year Autocad user. Might say: a little set in my ways.)

  • Dustin Casper

    Hey Bob,
    First off thank you so much for taking time away from your busy schedule to help us with preparing for the ARE… True Jedi!
    A friend of mine took half of his exams under the 3.1 version of the ARE and gave me his study materials. Curious if you know if the Pre-Design (ARE 3.1) is similar to Schematic Design (ARE 4.0)? Wanting to know before I go and buy any study guides. Also did your 4 week study schedule include making the flashcards?

    Thanks,
    Dustin

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Yes – I made my own flashcards in that 4 week period. Typically I wrote them as I went through the material and once I had read everything I was going to cover, all I focused on thereafter was the flashcards. That system works better for me with my short-term memory issues.

      • Cam

        Your method of flashcards is very similar to mine Bob. I read through the material and highlight and write my own short hand flashcard notes then after that I only use my flashcards to study/review. I found that in test taking over the years if I write it I stand a good chance of remembering it.

  • Jen W

    Hi Bob,

    I wanted to let you know that I just stumbled upon your blog, and I really appreciate this post. I am gathering study materials and about to take the plunge to begin studying and taking exams. I like that you gave specific information about what worked for you in terms of time and study materials. It’s daunting to get started. I’m sure I will make adjustments as I go, but I think the study schedule you describe is a good way for me to start.

    Best,
    Jen

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      HI Jen,
      Pretty sure that if you follow the same method I did, you will ace the exams. I over prepared since I don’t think I am a great test taker and I was definitely feeling the pressure when it came time to take the tests. Most of the time I left thinking the test was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

      Best of luck

  • Ashley

    Hi Bob,

    Why did you use David Kent Ballast study material rather than Kaplan or (ALS)?
    Curious becaue i am a recent grad about to start studying for my first exam.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      They didn’t have Kaplan when I took the test and the ALS book were too wordy. The Ballast books were incredibly dry but they got to the point quick. I started with ALS and would highlight the important piece of information in every paragraph … you’d be highlighting the entire book in the Ballast books. In the end, it was a time thing.

    • Brett Wolfe

      I agree. I’m reading them now and the Kaplan/ALS books are full of a lot of fluff… I have time, so I’m still reading them. The Ballast review manual is straight and to the point, and it is now bound into a single book. I’ve been reading Kaplan books as a light warm up and Ballast as a final review.

  • muhammad

    how can i apply for ARE in case of iam not american?

  • seeing green

    hey all – i’ve only passed SD so far. I’ve failed 4 exams after that…i’m really depressed about the whole thing but i’m not giving up. thanks for the study tips. anyone else having issues?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/chela.williams Chela Borne

    I love this break down! I’m trying to take my first exam in April (CDS), but I’m having a hard time staying motived and studying. I tried before, but I think I was overstudying and burning myself out – making me want to throw my study material out the window, lol. I have the ARE Manual and flash cards for each section, plus notes from the ARE forums.
    I’m married too with no kids too and your schedule makes it easier to stick to but no neglect my family. I will have to try this. Thanks!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      good luck!

    • Elmira

      hi. where can i find this shecdule?

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        under the “Create a study pattern” section

  • Brett Wolfe

    so what did you do for the structural portion

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Since I had forgotten everything I learned in school (running calculations – not theory) I bought the ALS books and started there. My wife has degrees in math so I asked for her help on occasion (to properly configure formulas).

      I also decided that I wasn’t going to add two days to my study schedule to master trusses. There are only a few questions (I had 3) on the test and to focus on them would have been a waste of time. At worst I had a 25% chance of guessing the answer.

      • Lindsay Gray

        Can you clarify what the ALS books are?

        • Brett Wolfe

          ALS (Architectural License Seminars) is the name of the publisher. I believe they were the original study resource before Kaplan started publishing.

          • Brett Wolfe

            It appears Kaplan has purchased ALS.

  • Drew Hasson

    Well, at least the ARE is a tangible obstacle. I’m sure many have prepared very seriously. I mean, surely the bonehead who designed my apartment building had to get licensed; BEFORE his permit got signed by the NYC buildings Dept :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      let’s hope

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cristian-Sebastian-Fernandez/1315543459 Cristian Sebastian Fernandez

    Hi Bob , I am an Argentine Architect , Now Living in Argentina , married with an american Girl , and I am starting to read and preparin progamming , planning and practice , I know It will be so hard , But I will take 14 months to prepare , take the exams , and go to the US to work , Thanks to god I have so much contacts there , but I do not want to go and work as an archtect Illegal Or without a license , Thanks for your post , the blog is amazing , Greetings from Argentina .

    Cristian

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Cristian – I wish you well

  • http://twitter.com/tmston_2 Timothy M. Stone

    i am trying to take an exam at the end of every month, if you were to recommend an exam to take at the end of feb., what would it be?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      hard to say, there is a comment on here that seems to give a reasonably sound order in which to take the tests. If you don’t know, I’d simply follow their lead.

  • DG

    If I have a masters from an accredited university, what sort of I.D.P. hours do I need to accrue before taking the tests or can I take the exams without any hours?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      you should go to the NCARB website for the answer to your question – the link is at the bottom of the post

  • http://twitter.com/tmston_2 Timothy M. Stone

    Doug,

    Great post. i am taking my first exam next week. i actually came up with a similar study routine as yours in order to get through the exams. my goal i to take an exam every month till im done

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Good luck!

  • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

    Great stuff Keith – thanks for sharing your story and the links – particularly the on for the CD exam.

    Cheers

  • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

    I agree – I used the Dorf materials when preparing for the vignettes but as much as I sort of liked the ARE forum, I kind of hated it. There was a lot of negativity on there and more times than not I kept thinking “why am I listening to these people, they aren’t passing the tests!”

  • JJohnson

    Unfortunately for me, the closest testing center was a 4 hour drive away. Not wanting to deal with that many individual overnight trips, I opted to take multiple tests in just a few trips. One trip was a 5-test in 4 days extravaganza of examination. Passed them all on the first try as well, but cut it close on a few. Being from California, the final exam was the dreaded oral exam in front of a panel of 3 architects. I hadn’t seen so many stressed out archi-types in one place since just before thesis presentations back in college. Glad to be licensed, glad to be done with that.
    When people ask why so many tests, I tell them that a doctor can make a mistake and kill one person at a time. An architect can make a mistake and kill a lot of people at once.

  • archaalto

    Excellent write-up Bob. I thought I’d share a tidbit for when taking the exams. It’s the “more likely to get paroled after lunch” theory. Bring a snack to eat between the multiple choice section and the graphic tests. Studies have shown that even if you might not feel hungry, the brain has just been through an arduous (if not traumatic!) event and needs to refuel. After I failed 2 exams I took something to eat and the testing center even let me walk around outside to get some fresh air as long as I was within view of their front desk. So far, I think it helps tremendously and am back on track with 5 more remaining. Thanks again for such an extensive write up!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      A snack is an excellent idea – I failed to mention that. Getting away from the test cubicle (if they will let you) is nice, fresh air and stretching your legs is even better.

  • Evan Kelsey

    Any thoughts on the order to take the tests? I know some of the people I have talked to about that had their own reasons for it but they were typically consistent with what they took, in a particular order.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Scroll down towards the bottom, Jessica gave an order that seems to make sense to me

  • Steve May

    I got a little taste of both formats. I passed 7 of the 9 when taking it on paper over 4 days. Of the other 2 I took one on paper and passed it. Then the exam was changed to being on the computer and each section was taken at different time. I took the final exam on the computer, wow was that different, and passed it. All said it took me two years because when I started you could only take it once a year.

  • jv

    Thanks for continuing to support the boy’s club by writing articles that glorify the ARE and making it look easy by only studying 4 weeks for each section. No other white colar professional exam requires you to learn a new computer program to take it. (you forgot to mention that) If lawyers had to learn a different program to sit for the BAR there would be lawsuits everywhere. Think about that!!!
    The only question on the Structural Section should be the phone number of your Structural Engineer.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’m not sure how I am “continuing to support the boys club” with this article. And “only” studying 4 weeks for each section is still 36 weeks of preparation – hardly an inconsequential amount of time.

      The structural problems on the test (as I remember them) had more to do with demonstrating a basic understanding of forces, certainly not the complicated problems that I have my structural engineer review. I think I am a better architect for knowing more about structural systems than my engineers phone number.

  • http://twitter.com/RMLAIA Robert M. Longo, AIA

    I took the exam a “few” years ago when it was only offered once a year on four consecutive days. Architects are masters of procrastination. If I could have scheduled the exam whenever I wanted, I’m sure it would have taken
    me longer to complete all 9 sections as there were at the time.

    I think scheduling the exam (and sticking with it) is the most important thing. Scheduling exams at 4 weeks intervals will allow you to complete all 7 sections in 6 months. Even if you have to retake one or more sections you should be licensed in 1 year with one “mulligan” per section.

    Good luck to all the ARE candidates reading this post, and thanks Bob for starting the conversation.

  • Will H

    One additional thought I’d add to all of these good comments: remember that your goal is to pass the test. There are many people who complain that the ARE doesn’t reflect the reality of the profession, or emphasizes irrelevant areas, and to them I say that the ARE is what it is, and your job is to pass it. Period. And once you’re done, you’re done.

    I second the suggestions of AREforum. They have lots of resources there too. And advice. Also Dorf got me through the graphic sections. The only one I failed was Site Planning.

    I also did my tests in the morning, and always on the same day – the idea being to become familiar to the staff which will make things easier if you have problems.

  • http://twitter.com/Parthenon1 Tara Imani, AIA, CSI

    Great post Bob!

    I especially liked this part where you said:

    “There is no reason to not start taking the exam immediately – if you are waiting on getting some practical experience – don’t.”

    Amen to that.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I put it off for a reason that didn’t make sense once I actually started taking the tests. I tell everyone who will listen – if you are going to take the test, don’t wait!

      • http://www.facebook.com/chris.ortiz.121 Chris Ortiz

        And this should tell you right there that these exams do not gauge one’s ability as an architect but of as a test taker. is tarted taking my exams, and like you, I really am bad at test taking. I failed my first exam after studying, basically, how you have, and it is very frustrating when a co-worker, right after graduating, took his exams back to back over 7 months, while living with his parents, and passed them all, with no prior job experience. So, what are these exams actually teaching us? Compitent architects or competent test-taker?

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          Hi Chris – sorry you had a bad experience but this is the way of the world so people who are bad test takers have had to generally find a way that works for them to make it through the system that’s in place.

          Best of luck

  • http://twitter.com/myHomeArchitect rebecca riden

    Well said Bob! I also took the exam when it was on paper and only offered once a year. I think it was easier to take all sections in one week. I am not sure when I would ever feel totally ready to take the exam or in what order if given the choice this week or month or year! It was either take it that year or wait an entire year. All interns in the office were gone test week and expected to take it!

  • WillC

    I agree with the plans for taking the ARE-I took the exam by computer and finished up in 2005, taking about a year to finish all the exams, but taking the time allowed me to pass every test. My only gripe about the test was the waiting for results, especially for the graphics, which took a few months. You used to be able to find out if you failed because prometric would allow you to reschedule the test, so after a week you would check to see if you could reschedule, or you would call the state board of architects to check if they had a pass letter. The administrator for the Maryland board of architects got to know my voice I called so much, expecially for the last exam!

    A for resources, I used the standard stuff, but I also use the ARE Forum, which is a great resource for discussing study resources-just be careful to never discuss or divulge test answers, since NCARB did discipline a few people who were sharing answers. Another for the graphic exams were the guides created by Norman Dorf-clear and easy to follow. He sadly passed away a few years after I finished my exams, but the guides were worth every penny, since the graphics exams at that time were notorious for failing canidates, since they had alot of “instant fail mistakes”,

  • http://twitter.com/drewpoeppel Andrew Poeppel

    Thanks for the post Bob. I too have waited WAY too long to take the test. Hopefully this will get my butt in gear. Its nice to hear other people have the same procrastinations I do.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That’s right Andrew – get your butt in gear!! (and good luck)

  • Kat

    And now NCARB is throwing in another wrench…for something like 2 or 3 months late this summer, you cannot take tests or schedule a test due to the fact that they are switching testing companies. The reason behind this is, of course, to make getting licensed more difficult for those of us currently going through testing.

  • http://janrobin.de/ Jan Robin

    Quick question (I haven’t read it yet – no time – so if the answer is in the text, just ignore it): Do you need a degree in architecture (or a related field) to take the ARE?

    • http://www.facebook.com/gary.atcheson Gary Atcheson

      Yes, generally, although the specific requirements vary by state. The degree has to be a 5-year (minimum) degree from a school accredited by NCARB.

      • http://janrobin.de/ Jan Robin

        wow, thanks!
        … glad i’m in -apparently- lazy europe ;-)

      • Mark Mc Swain

        Yeah, Texas, specifically, had a law change between when I graduated, and the end of the once-a-year, four-straight-days-at-TCU testing change. Which created a spiffy Catch-22 for me. Pretty much, I need a year I can afford both the full boat of IDP fees, and to also take the exams. procrastination and poverty are unfortunate sigils of our trade, sad to say.

  • http://twitter.com/nickjthorn Nick Thorn

    Thanks for the post, Bob. I’m hoping to begin my AREs this year after being out of school for two and a half years. It’s quite the daunting task, but it’s been my life-long dream to be an architect.

    Any suggestion for which order to take the exams in? I hear so many different tips from others that it can be a bit overwhelming.

    • Jessica

      I’ve heard from a couple of friends (and through some forums as well), that it’s not so much the exact order of the tests you take, but how they’re grouped. The two groups (see below) have some overlapping topics, which tends to be easier to study for if you keep them together. At least, this is how I’ve been doing it and it seems to be working okay. Another good suggestion I’ve heard is that your first test should be the topic you’re most sure about — that first “pass” is definitely a confidence boost! Good luck!

      (Doesn’t matter which group is first)

      Group #1 – PPP, SPD, CDS (in whatever order)

      Group #2 – BD/CS, SS, BS (in whatever order)

      And then fit in SD wherever

      • http://twitter.com/nickjthorn Nick Thorn

        Thanks, Jessica! After reading some of Bob’s comments, I’m really kicking myself for waiting “so long” to start my exams. This is my lifelong dream, what am I so afraid of?

  • Intern

    How much time did you allow yourself between exams?

    • Kat

      I’m doing 2 months between mine. But I’m married and mommie, so life is full. If you can really buckle down and study a lot, then a month is probably adequate.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I was working in a 3 man office at the time and one of the three (the boss) was going back to grad school to get his masters … there were times when it got too busy to study properly. I took 5 tests in 5 months, took 9 months off and then the last 4 in 4 months.

      The break was nice and even now I am on the fence between admitting whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. I think 4 weeks is the perfect amount of sustained studying – anything more per test is too long and you might start forgetting what you already studied. 4 weeks – take test and 1 week off, then repeat.

      • http://twitter.com/nickjthorn Nick Thorn

        Did you immediately start studying for the next exam after taking the previous? Or did you allow yourself some time in between?

    • Ian

      It’s definitely going to depend on you and how dedicated you can stay to studying. I studied from 6-8am and 8-11pm on weekdays, then six hours/day on weekends for three weeks per exam. Took exams first thing on Monday mornings. When I took them (2007) there were 9 exams, three of them graphic. After the first graphic exam, I rescheduled my second for two weeks rather than three. After the second, I scheduled my third for one week later since I had really gotten the hang of it. Everything was done in six months (passed all on first try).

      I definitely could have studied less and known enough to pass. But the extra time meant that I went in with a lot of confidence, which counts for a lot. I used the Kaplan books as well as the Dorf guide. ARE Forum is awesome, too.

      BTW, I used similar study techniques for the LEED exam two years later, and passed it w/ a score of 198/200.

  • Matt

    I took the ARE in 1991 (also passed first time BTW) and the format was the same as architectrunnerguy describes. The last day was the infamous 12-hour design exam. I understand why the ARE is administered the way it is now, but I think the old format is better at least in the sense that you were required to develop an integrated, plausible design solution for a whole building after three days of tests and your brain is like oatmeal. There is a lot on the line too, because failure means waiting until the same time next year to try again. Believe me, there is no great architecture being created at this exam- it is a problem solving exercise- but I think it does bring out qualities in the candidates that are necessary to be successful as a licensed professional.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Matt – are you saying that in addition to demonstrating the knowledge required to pass the exams that the act of passing them as you become mentally exhausted is a good thing? I might be misunderstanding what you are trying to say.

      • Douglas McClure

        I’m not sure if this is what Matt is saying, or my interpretation of it ;-). I took it back in the days the 12 hour design as well (passed everything the first time, except written site design which I missed by 1 point…how ridiculous is that? Nobody failed written site design!), and I think Matt is saying that the final design exam really did test your ability to synthesize all the other pieces of the test that you had previously taken. It was not about making a great design, but incorporating all the aspects of the program and construction into a coherent design. It does appear that, from what I’ve heard about the new test from my younger colleagues, the more vignette focused approach of the current test has diminished that to some extent. Whether that’s good or bad, I can’t say. It’s definitely different though. I’ll also say there was something amazing about being in that warehouse scaled room, with all of those other would be architects, that you can’t appreciate sitting in a testing cubicle looking at a screen. It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating!

        • Matt

          Douglas, you captured the essence of my comment. I forgot to mention the part about all the candidates (including coworkers and former schoolmates) being in the same room at the same time- that added some peer pressure to the mix as well!

      • Matt

        Mostly I was thinking of the whole-building design process compared to the vignettes, but partly yes- being able to focus and complete a complicated task while tired and on a deadline is an essential skill, at least it is for me!! (I plan on reading you post on procrastination tomorrow.)

  • Robert Ross

    RIck- everything in it’s own time. I took much longer to get to the exam than you! I started it and (unlike some of the geniuses here) did not pass everything the first time, got caught up in the exam reduction during the recent switch over…..and am finally registered! It does make a difference!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      congratulations! It seems that more and more people are delaying licensure for 10 or more years – it’s quite common.

  • Jessica

    I’m in the middle of the ARE right now (passed 3 of 7, working on #4), and I have to say that, short of making a million flash cards, I pretty much do what Bob describes — so that makes me feel better! I would definitely reach out to your local AIA office, your own office, and your architecture friends for study materials — those things are pricey!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      There were only 3 Ballast books when I took the exam – now there appears to be a book for each section – yikes!

      The study material can be way more expensive than the actual test. Most local AIA offices have study groups where the cost of study material is either shared or removed altogether since the chapter owns the books. Definitely a good idea to check in with the local chapter to see what’s available.

      Good luck on the tests!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rick.nelson.731 Rick Nelson

    Bob -
    Thanks for giving me another reason to continue postponing taking this (it’s been 16 years)…
    Rick

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      If people who are eligible to sit for the exam chose not to do so, I leave them alone. I wouldn’t want to reduce it down by saying it’s not for everyone but people have their reasons for either taking it or not.
      Cheers

  • architectrunnerguy

    I wonder why the test has to be so long. When I took it (mid 70′s and passed first time too BTW) it was over four back to back days averaging eight hours each. By the fourth day our brains where like oatmeal.
    I don’t think the profession is that complicated to warrent such an intense test, either then or now.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Doug – I think it’s a little foolish as well. Since the test isn’t focused on building specific types, I think the test could effectively dial back on the detail and specifics and focus instead on the concepts and life safety and still be effective.

      • http://twitter.com/nickjthorn Nick Thorn

        My opinion of the tests might change once I start taking them, but I find the length to be appropriate. If you evaluate how much is involved in architecture and designing a building to stand up, be aesthetically pleasing, within building codes, accessibility codes, not leak, be aesthetically pleasing, perform properly mechanically, be appropriately situated on the building site, and be aesthetically pleasing there’s a lot that goes into calling oneself an architect.

        After telling my engineer friends and coworkers that we have to take 7 exams, I take pleasure in their reaction that there’s more to architecture than just making a building look pretty. They don’t realize how much goes into designing a building.

        Again, this might be the inexperienced intern in me talking, but I find the length to be adequate.