How the ARE is Scored

Previously, we covered who develops the ARE, along with how written questions and vignettes are created. Today, let’s talk about how a division of the ARE is scored. For six of the seven divisions of the ARE, candidates must complete written items along with vignettes. Only one division, Schematic Design, is composed of only vignettes.

Written Questions

The written portion of the exam includes three types of questions: multiple-choice (MC), check-all-that-apply (CATA), and quantitative fill-in-the-blank (QFIB). As we discussed in a previous post, every division with written questions includes some pretest items, which do not count toward your score. The number of pretest items per division ranges from 15-20. Since there is no way to know which question might be pretest, it’s best to answer all items as if they will count.

Each written question—whether MC, CATA, or QFIB—is worth one point. You cannot receive partial credit. Put simply, each question is either fully correct or incorrect. Here’s how they’re scored:

  • Multiple choice: your response is compared against the key. If the response matches, you’ll earn one point. If a response is missing or incorrect, you won’t earn any points. So, a good testing strategy is to always select your best guess and never leave a question blank.
  • Check-all-that-apply: the multiple checks are also compared against the key. If the response fully matches, you’ll earn one point. You cannot earn credit for getting part of the CATA correct.
  • Quantitative fill-in-the-blank: your numerical response is compared against the key. To account for potential rounding differences, the key will typically include a range of acceptable answers (for example, 1,458 to 1,461). If the response falls within the acceptable range, you’ll earn one point.


Vignettes are scored differently than written questions, using what we call a “scoring tree.” Each vignette has a series of features that are measured by computer scoring—for instance, riser height in Stair Design or beam support in Structural Layout. The number of features varies by vignette, with between nine and 48 features measured in each.

Features are weighted for importance. Major feature errors, such as a dead-end corridor, will immediately impact your score. The combination of several smaller errors will also impact your overall score. All of the features are then combined to determine an overall vignette score.

Minimum Score

Each division has a minimum score that must be met in order to pass. Your total score is determined by adding the points earned for both the written questions and vignettes—this is called conjunctive scoring. Typically, vignette performances account for 20-30 percent of total division points, while written question performance account for around 65-75 percent.

If your score is equal to or greater than the minimum necessary, you’ll receive a passing score. But if your score is less than the minimum required, you’ll receive a failing score.

Score Reports

On a failing score report, you’ll find limited diagnostics about your level of performance. Areas and vignettes marked as “level 2 or 3” should be reviewed more before sitting for a retake. Descriptive feedback is not provided on passing score reports as the exam is designed to assess general competency; not to be used as a “teaching tool.” You can learn more about interpreting your score report here.

In the next Demystifying the ARE post, we’ll look at how and why we update the exam every 6-10 years.

About the Author

I joined NCARB in 2011 as a member of the Records Department, where I resolved both candidate and architect inquiries. In 2013, I was promoted to Manager of Examination Development. Now, I assist in managing the item bank, and I serve as a staff liaison to ARE development committee efforts.