Challenges in Completing All Six of Your ARE 5.0 Exams

  • 03 November, 2021

You've always been a good student, especially in your studio work. You graduated with honors, started a dream job at one of the best firms in the city, and have done well there. At your first annual review, the partners mentioned that they had high hopes for you and inquired about your ARE® exam status. That evening, you set a licensure goal for yourself and signed up for the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®) on the NCARB website. You have officially begun the last trial standing between you and licensure.

In three years, you have completed the required architecture experience and received notification from NCARB that you could sign up and start taking the exams. You spend weekends reviewing materials on the NCARB website, speaking with your old studio buddies, joining Facebook ARE groups, and purchasing study materials to give you some sort of edge on the ARE exams.

Various ARE study programs recommend that you should schedule an exam first, allowing yourself approximately six to eight weeks of study time. You decide to sign up for Project Planning and Design (PPD), because you think this exam will replicate what you learned in school.

Within a few weeks of studying, you experience your first "oh ****" moment where you begin experiencing some doubts. Everyone you ask about the exam responds, in a dismissive tone, "I passed all of my exams the first time." They don't offer any helpful advice, seemingly pushing any exam experiences from their memory.

You create an ARE study cave and devote the next seven weekends and several weeknights to constant studying and quizzing. You have heard that this exam is about understanding concepts and thinking questions through, and you begin to understand the method behind the madness of these questions. Finally, after weeks of preparation and effort, it's time to sit for the first exam. You tell yourself, "I can do this!" The initial questions are a mixed bag- you think you got the first seven out of ten right, and you have plenty of time to come back at the end to review the other three. Things are looking good.

Suddenly, there's a batch of questions that you have no idea about. Designing a kangaroo exhibit for a new zoo in Maine? Seriously... What kind of question is that?

The clock keeps ticking and you realize you may not have time to go back and check the questions you initially saved for the end. You have no choice but to take quick, educated guesses. Time runs out. As you return home, you keep rethinking every question that troubled you- especially that one about the kangaroos. What just happened?

At some point in the exam preparation process, you may feel that your architecture school totally failed to prepare you for these exams. You will begin to understand that architecture exams are not just about architectural plans and elevations, but also about understanding the subject matter in all those engineering classes.

So now what? As it turns out, passing your AREs might require more effort than you expected.

Smart, talented people like you fail the ARE for all kinds of reasons, such as:

  1. YOUR CHOSEN STUDY MATERIALS ARE LACKING- The independent study materials you purchased may have been outdated or reflected on an older version of the exam.
  2. YOU MISREAD THE QUESTIONS- Pressed for time, you may have read some of the exam questions wrong and provided incorrect answers.
  3. OUTDATED TECHNOLOGY- You may have struggled with the case studies formatting on the computer at the test center, which was a dinosaur compared to the computers you used for the practice exams.
  4. YOU FAILED TO REVIEW CASE STUDIES- You spent all your time studying questions and answers from various study materials, but barely looked at any case studies until the weekend before your exam.
  5. IT CAME DOWN TO THE WIRE- It might not be evident from your score, but you may have nearly passed. Different answers to two questions that you were on the fence about may have made all the difference.
Challenges in Completing All Six of Your ARE 5.0 Exams

Countless ARE exam takers feel emotionally knocked out after receiving a failing grade. Some choose not to retake the exam for reasons such as fear of failure, their personal life stage, or just life in general getting in the way of finding time to devote to exam prep.

If this scenario sounds familiar, I highly recommend that you take a SCHEDULED (meaning you will schedule another exam and plan your study time accordingly) break. Breaks are essential for your mind, body, and emotional state.

Don't convince yourself that you are doing just fine without an architectural license. I can tell you from personal experience that without a license, your career will eventually hit a ceiling.

Don't assume you will have plenty of time next month, next season, or even next year. Life only gets busier as you get older, and the years will fly. Make the time now, regardless of your age, career stage, or any other personal issues. Now, more than ever, you need to put yourself and the need to conquer the ARE as your first and foremost priority.

So, how do you overcome one of the biggest challenges of your career? First, remain in top physical and emotional health, remain positive, and consider the following:

  1. Realize that you are still the smart person who succeeded in previous life challenges, and you will ultimately conquer the ARE as well. Change the focus of your studies from Q&As to real books or other media that focuses on ARE topics. These are mentioned by NCARB in the ARE 5.0 handbook but sometimes get lost in the deluge of varied topic questions.
  2. On the exam, read each question carefully. Do not be tricked by questions that appear simple and direct. Make sure you understand what the question is asking. Using the exam strikeout and highlight tools, strip the question down to relevant information only. Eliminate the obviously incorrect answers. Re-read the question and the remaining answers carefully before making your final selection.
  3. Occasionally, test center computers experience technological problems. Report any issues immediately at the test center and to NCARB as soon as you return to your personal computer. If a test center is old and outdated, schedule your next exams at a different one.
  4. Do not overlook case studies. In fact, ARE exam prep experts recommend that you start with reviewing case studies, which can be a source of easy points. By this, I mean the information you need is already supplied in the provided materials. Take every extra step you can to ace the case studies portion of the exams.
  5. Case studies may also provide you with an overall sense of exam topics. If you can ace the practice case studies, you'll be ready to tackle questions like the one about the kangaroo exhibit!
  6. It's not unusual to miss a passing grade by a razor-thin margin. It's unfair, but then again, so is life. Don't let this get you down. Learn to take that punch and schedule your next exam before you have the chance to fall into a rut.

ARE is not an easy exam. Being an architect is not an easy career. You knew this as you lost sleep finishing studio projects, struggled with your thesis, and worked late hours at the office on never-ending project deadlines. The exam is demanding because architecture is demanding.

This license is not to be taken lightly. Your buildings may house hundreds, perhaps thousands of people during their lifespans. Your designs will have a tremendous impact on the health, safety, and welfare (HSW) of not only occupants but also the local environment. The exam, however, is much more about your understanding of the architects' Instruments of Service stated in AIA (American Institute of Architects) contracts, building codes, a building's engineering infrastructure, site design, and a host of other topics that constitute being able to provide architectural services at a professional, competent level.

Once you realize this notion, you can adjust your approach to studying for the ARE. Try actively reviewing your consultants' drawings and asking them questions about their designs to better understand the whats, hows, and whys.

You can ask your employer to attend client meetings and site reviews, so you understand the complexities involved in building a project, which go far beyond the openings and finishes specifications that have been your sole preoccupation during your early years of architecture.

It may seem completely overwhelming, and I won't lie to you- it really is. But there's hope. You will find good mentors along the way and experience moments of personal insight as you traverse this journey. Your hard efforts will all be worth it when you receive your license in architecture!

Always remember: You've successfully conquered prior life challenges, and you CAN pass the ARE. You've got this!
About the Author: Emanuel (Manny) Machado, AIA Biography

Manny Machado has worked in architecture since his first internship at the age of 19. Despite early success, he did not sit for the ARE exams until decades later. He successfully completed his AREs, passing all his exams on the first try, except for one dreaded exam that took three attempts to pass. Much like anyone willing to admit it, he found it difficult to understand why he passed some of the exams but understood the reasons why he failed the same exam twice.

Manny is committed to being a good mentor and helping others pass the ARE. He believes in the importance of architecture and the need for talented and detail-oriented architects.

Manny lives with his non-licensed architect wife and crazy cats in a very messy, but clean house.

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