How to Bounce Back After a Failed ARE 5.0 Exam

  • 04 February, 2022

Everyone wants to be one of those ARE unicorns that somehow manage to pass all six exams on the first try, but the odds of getting through the exams without a single failure are pretty slim. This isn't college anymore-you've got much more on your plate. At this stage of your life, you have a full-time job, project deadlines, and a personal life, so making the exams your absolute top priority is nearly impossible! But through consistency and dedication, it is possible to get through these exams while maintaining the rest of your responsibilities. As you go through your testing journey, it is incredibly important to keep in mind that about half of ARE examinees fail at least one, if not several, exams 1. With odds like that, it's best to plan for when you fail an exam and not wonder if it will happen.

How to Bounce Back After a Failed ARE 5.0 Exam

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you've failed an ARE exam.


    As you're strategizing your exam schedule or as you're beginning to study, take a moment to review the ARE 5.0 Pass Rates on the NCARB Website2. This page shows that in 2020, pass rates for each exam range from 45-66%. Keep in mind that this accounts for every time an exam is taken, not just the first time someone take it, so the overall pass rates for each person are likely lower. The ARE 5.0 Pass Rate by School3 page is also great to review. This page allows you to select your accredited school and see the pass rates for each ARE exam over several years. This can be very helpful to see if there are any divisions that seem to be especially difficult for people that went to your same school. Review the pass rates, but don't get discouraged by these numbers! You will absolutely get through the ARE, but it's best to go in with realistic expectations. For example, thinking you'll pass them all on your first try in three months while you have a massive project deadline for your job would be a recipe for huge disappointment. A surprise failure could be paralyzingly discouraging and make for a slower ARE timeline overall. Do some research to set yourself up for success with realistic expectations.


    You did your research, set a reasonable exam schedule, studied hard, and got through several hours of taking the exam. Still, you just had your first "FAIL" come up on screen at the end of your exam. Hopefully, by planning for this moment, you're able to recognize it both as a moment for growth and a stepping stone in your overall exam journey. First, take some time to just process and relax. As soon as you can, get out a notebook and jot down some thoughts about the experience. Capturing this moment and the way you feel about it will be last thing you want to do after failing-but having a clear picture of what caused that outcome will be hugely beneficial when you go back for your next exam. Think about how you felt going into the exam, during, and after. Did you skip breakfast because you were running behind? Stay up late studying the night before? Write down how the day went and what you think you could have done to improve the factors outside of the exam itself. Then, refocus back to the exam. Was there a specific topic for which you weren't prepared? Did you spend too much time in one area and then feel rushed at the end? Write down everything you're feeling about your failed exam, then put it away for a while! Read these notes a week or two before your next exam to remind yourself how this one felt. This quick reflection could help you improve during your next exam.


    When you're ready to get back to studying, you'll likely have to switch gears to a different division. Unfortunately, NCARB requires that you wait 60 days after a failed exam to retake it. That also means you can't schedule the retake for 60 days. Rather than getting out of your studying routine during the long wait, it's usually best to switch to another division while still reviewing the information from the failed division. Keep moving toward your goal, and don't get hung-up on your failed exam.

    When you're getting closer to your retake date, the first thing you should do is take a look at your failed exam's Score Report, which can be found under the exams tab in your NCARB account. This report will have a big, blue "FAIL" mark at the top-but again, don't get discouraged! This page contains valuable information that will help you pass your retake. On the second page, there is a chart which breaks down each content area of the exam, the percentage of questions that were about that subject area, and the level of your performance on a scale from 4 (lowest) to 1 (highest). Levels 1 or 2 are passing. This chart is a great tool to understand what content areas you need to focus on before you retake the exam.


    The key to getting through all six of your exams is to maintain a positive outlook and stay committed. A failed exam is a chance to learn from your mistakes, rethink your study strategy, and ultimately deepen your architectural knowledge. In the end, you'll be a better architect for putting in the hard work now! You just can't let a setback derail your whole studying plan. Even though you failed, you already know a lot about the subject matter, so keep reviewing! Don't let yourself forget everything you've been studying just because you feel defeated by one (or many) divisions.

    One of the hardest parts of the ARE is that examinees have typical been out of school for several years and simply aren't in the swing of academic studying. Adding in work and life stress can make the adjustment to exam-taking very difficult. Try your best to cut yourself some slack and learn what you can from the experience.

    If you need some added encouragement, chat with friends or coworkers about their ARE experiences! As we discussed earlier, chances are your friends or colleagues also had a failure (or several) and can help brighten your outlook. Remember that a failed exam is just a minor setback on your larger career journey. What matters most is how you bounce back and persevere.


About the Author: Genevieve Doman, AIA

Genevieve Doman is a licensed architect with over five years of professional experience working in Detroit, Chicago, and Seattle. She received her B.S. in Architecture and Master of Architecture degrees from the Taubman College of Architecture at the University of Michigan.

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