ARE Insights FAQs: Part I

Here, our team of exam experts address all of your questions from the ARE Insights webinar—our most popular NCARB Live to date. If you have additional questions about the exam, be sure to check out the new ARE 4.0 Community! By joining, you’ll gain access to exclusive prep videos, advice from architects who’ve taken the exam, and more.

[Exam Content] [Studying for the ARE] [At the Test Center] [Taking the Exam While Completing IDP] [Policies] [Fees] [ARE Insights FAQs: Part II

Exam Content

How detailed can we expect each division to be?
The ARE covers a broad range of material, reflecting the practice of architecture as an integrated whole. The intent is to determine a candidate’s qualifications to perform measurable tasks as well as exercise the skills and judgment of a generalist working with numerous specialists. 

You can expect detailed questions about materials, systems, project types, building code, design principles, and other topics. However, you are not expected to memorize contract documents or building codes, and you’ll be provided with numerous formulas and other references in the Structural Systems [PDF] and Building Systems [PDF] divisions.

The exam guides for each division contain a number of sample questions. And be sure to watch the video tutorials on the ARE 4.0 Community for more sample questions and explanations as to why options are either correct or incorrect.

How long is each exam?
The division lengths vary based on the number of multiple-choice questions and the vignettes to be completed. A listing of each exam time is available in the ARE Guidelines or on our website.

While studying, I have come across many questions that are either invalid or have incorrect answers due to changes in code and/or construction technology. How often are exam questions reviewed or updated to keep up with current trends?
Questions on the ARE are reviewed regularly by volunteer architects, psychometricians, and NCARB staff to ensure that all questions are fair and valid. Learn more about the development of written questions on our blog. Keep in mind that code-related questions on ARE 4.0 refer to the 2009 editions of the ICC family of codes. 

Which divisions of the ARE include questions about the history of architecture?
None of them. The history of architecture is not a primary focus in the health, safety, and welfare of the public when it comes to licensing architects. You should not expect to see questions like, “Which architect did this building?” But, you should expect to see questions on the application of historical concepts that are still important today, such as: “The John Hancock Building in Chicago with its expressed structural has what implications?”

If you retake an exam after getting a fail, is it possible you will see some of the same questions on the retake exam? 
Yes. It is likely that you may see one or two of the exact same questions. You may even feel like you saw more than one or two. However, you’re likely experiencing very similar questions to ones that you were exposed to previously.

Studying for the ARE

How many practice vignettes are available for each portion of the exam? 
One practice vignette is available for each vignette section of the ARE. The practice vignettes are based off of the same templates as the vignettes on the exam, so they’re the same level of complexity and difficulty as the vignettes you’ll see at the testing center.

There are so many study guides by different companies and some with conflicting information. What do you recommend?
NCARB does not endorse third-party companies that provide study materials for the ARE, but we do provide a new resource to help you choose the best study materials. Check out the ARE 4.0 Community to learn which materials other candidates are using!

How can I balance studying for the exam with a full-time internship?
Many ARE candidates have found that the best approach to the exam is to make a plan to get it done and stick to it. Think about what will work best for you:

  • Are your co-workers taking the ARE, too? Try studying together over lunch. 
  • Do you take public transportation to work? Try studying during your commute. 
  • Is your workweek already packed? Plan to focus your studying on the weekends.

And don’t forget, the work you’re doing in your internship can also help you prepare for the exam. Are you doing a lot of site observation with your supervisor? Might be a good time to take Construction Documents & Services.

Here are some more resources on our blog:

  • Read this guest post about how to study every day.
  • Check out the Architect Spotlight interviews to learn how some recently licensed architects completed the ARE. 
  • Take a look at our Getting It Done campaign for more tips on how to get licensed sooner.

What are your suggestions for people who are just bad test takers? I feel comfortable with the material, but feel I’m a below-average test taker.

Getting into test-taking mode can be difficult, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while. A few strategies that might help:

Before you test:

  • Practice the vignettes. Be sure you know how to use the vignette software before you sit for the exam. Already being comfortable with how the software functions means that on test day you can focus on solving the vignette and not also trying to learn the software.
  • Make sure you know how to get to the test center. It can be really hard to focus on the test if you’ve just gotten lost, fought traffic, or missed your bus. Consider doing a practice run to the test center, at the same time of day as your test.

At the test center:

  • Don’t try to answer every question right away. If you’re not sure of the answer, select your best guess, mark the question to review later, and move on to the next question.
  • Take a break if you need it. The clock stops only for mandated breaks (refer to the ARE Guidelines), but if you’re feeling frazzled, it might be worth it to step away from the computer for a few minutes.

Why doesn’t NCARB provide more study materials for the multiple-choice sections?
We are not in the exam preparation business and that is on purpose. We don’t want to cross a conflict-of-interest line by becoming the provider of all of the content you need to know to become licensed. We are charged by your state boards to develop the exam in a very consistent, uniform way that doesn’t discriminate or create unfair advantages. That’s our focus.

What we do, is we try to give you as much information as possible about the content areas you’re going to be assessed on. This outline is available in each exam guide. We also list possible references in the back of each exam guide to help you decide which books you could potentially use to prepare, but that in no way is an all-inclusive list. You may have a great textbook from college or find one available at your local library.

How do you prepare for a particular division knowing that there will be a "sprinkle" of questions from other divisions?
Yes, if you lay out the different exam guides together, there’s definitely content that will overlap. However, a question that people think is repeated across divisions isn’t quite exactly the same question. For example, you’re going to get a question on masonry construction in Construction Documents & Services because it relates to how you have to think about it in that realm of the practice of architecture. That is very different from a similar masonry-type question you’re going to get in Building Design & Construction Systems, which is going to be more about the detailing or the flashing around a masonry detail.

To understand what you are going to be assessed on in each division, look in the exam guide for the division that you’re going to be taking. The exam guide includes a pretty detailed list of the content of a particular division. 

I mostly work in residential architecture. How should I prepare for PPP when a lot of the questions are geared toward commercial architectural issues?
If you don’t have any experience in commercial work, your best resource may be the licensed architect you’re working under. They may have experience in those more commercial projects. You can also reach out to your mentor or friends. This is a great chance for you to sit down and have some conversations with people about the practice of architecture.

At the Test Center

Can you please explain why you have extra questions that show up in the multiple-choice section that aren’t included in scoring?
This refers to what we call our pretest questions. We’re always testing out new questions before they become operational. Pretesting our questions helps us assess whether or not they’re good questions. We want to make sure that all the questions we’re asking are fair and reasonable.

Pretesting items is a standard practice. On the ARE, you can expect that on any division you’re being administered, 15 to 20 multiple-choice items are going to be pretest questions. You’re never going to know which ones they are, so you do need to do your best at every single item you’re presented.

I recently took a division and experienced computer issues that resulted in lost time. I reported the issue to the proctors, but is there a way for me to appeal my exam results?
Any concerns you have about exam administration or testing issues should be sent in writing to customerservice@ncarb.org within 15 days following your test administration. Once the matter is researched and investigated, a response/resolution would be indicated as appropriate.

Will the testing center make an architect’s scale available as part of the SD exam?
No, the testing center will not provide an architect’s scale and you will not be able to bring one with you. A measuring tool is provided within the vignette software. 

How do I close out the vignette at the end of my exam?
You should click on the “Review Vignettes” icon when you have completed all of the vignettes within a section. The vignette review screen contains an icon that allows you to exit the test section. If you choose to exit the test section, a warning screen will appear to confirm that you intend to exit. Further details can be found in the ARE Guidelines. 

Taking the Exam While Completing IDP

What if my state board doesn’t adopt the streamlined IDP? Can I still take the exam?
The upcoming changes to IDP will not affect exam eligibility. 

Can we start testing even if we haven't completed the IDP?
You may start testing while completing IDP if your jurisdiction allows early eligibility for the ARE. If you’re unsure whether your jurisdiction allows early eligibility, you can check out the member board requirements or reach out to NCARB customer service.

Policies

How many times can a candidate take an exam per year?
Candidates can retake a failed division of the ARE as soon as 60 days after the previous attempt of that division. A candidate may only take the same division of the ARE three (3) times within a running year.

When does my five-year clock start? At the time I pass my first exam or when I apply for eligibility to test?
Your Rolling Clock is based on the date you pass your first exam. 

I heard I can lose credit for passed exams if I don’t pass within a certain timeframe. Is this true?
Yes. A passing grade for any division of the ARE is valid for five years, after which time the division must be retaken unless all divisions have been passed.

Fees

Will the cost of each division decrease anytime soon? The tests are very expensive and this just adds to the pressure of passing.
We make every effort to keep exams as affordable as possible. In fact, NCARB currently subsidizes the overall cost of the exam. The income generated by the administration of the ARE covers only a portion of the expenses related to the development and administration of the examination. The remainder of the expenses is covered by income generated by other programs operated by the Council. Examination fees are not anticipated to decrease.

Why is there a $10 charge for the online practice vignette software?
This fee helps cover the cost to provide and maintain the cloud-based Practice Programs as well as support the overall cost of the ARE. NCARB will continue to subsidize the remaining costs associated with the exam to maintain division fees at their current rate. 

Once we pass all of the exams, do we still need to be an NCARB member? If yes, is the annual fee $75?
After you’ve completed all the requirements for licensure and received an initial license, you are not required to maintain your NCARB Record. However, there are many benefits to converting your NCARB Record into an NCARB Certificate. Benefits of the NCARB Certificate include streamlined reciprocity for licensure as well as free access to continuing education self-study materials. 

If you maintain your Record until you receive your initial license, we will waive the Certificate application fee. In addition, your Certificate renewal fee will be half-price for the first three years. That’s a total savings of over $1800!

About the Author

Since joining the Council in 2008 as assistant director of ARE development, I have been involved with all aspects of the examination including development, security, the practice analysis, and implementation of ARE 5.0. Promoted to director in 2013, I am an advocate for transparency into the examination with a focus on refining the efficiency of the process while maintaining high standards and measurement quality. Before joining NCARB, I operated a sole proprietorship in northern Minnesota. I also served as a faculty member of the Architectural Technology program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College where I led the Architectural Technology program in the areas of curriculum development, course assessment, and program outcome assessment. I graduated from North Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Architecture.