NCARB produced the first national exam for architects in 1965. Since that time, many changes have been made to the exam—after deliberate, studied, and controlled evaluation—for two essential reasons: to update questions so that they reflect current architectural practices and to utilize technology that more accurately assesses the ability of candidates.

In 1979, NCARB conducted an extensive “task analysis and validation study” that led to the development of the fore runner of today’s Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®). At that time, candidates were required to take all nine divisions over a four-day period. The exam was only offered once a year in major cities across the United States.

Introduction of a Computer-Based Examination

In the late 1980s, as the practice of architecture moved into the computer age, NCARB began to develop a computer-based exam. After a decade of research and development, the last paper-and-pencil test was issued in 1996, and the computed-based exam rolled out in 1997. NCARB did not want to implement other major changes so soon after the introduction of the computerized version of the exam, so it purposely spread out exam updates over the next several years.

Practice Analysis

NCARB conducted comprehensive Practice Analysis studies in 2001, 2007 and 2012 that led to improvements to the ARE. These improvements have been rolled out in phases in ARE 3.0, ARE 3.1, ARE 4.0, and ARE 5.0. The information gathered from these surveys is critical to the work of the ARE Subcommittee in developing new questions for the ARE and modifying the format in accordance with the needs of today’s practice.

These historical improvements included:

  • The debut of ARE 3.0 in February 2004. ARE 3.0 was noteworthy for including a new Test Specification—the material that guides the creation of exam divisions and questions—and providing the first reduction of graphic vignettes (from 15 down to 13).
  • In February 2006, NCARB introduced ARE 3.1. The Council combined four vignettes and introduced the new Site Design and Site Zoning vignettes, further reducing the number of vignettes from 13 to 11.
  • In February 2007, NCARB prototyped “alternate-item-type” (AIT) questions in the Mechanical & Electrical Systems division. The AITs include "Check-All-That-Apply" and "Quantitative-Fill-in-the-Blank."
  • ARE 4.0 was launched in July 2008 and integrated graphic vignettes and multiple-choice questions into six hybrid exams. The number of overall divisions was reduced from nine to seven.
  • ARE 4.0 also introduced enhancements to the Site Grading and Mechanical & Electrical Plan vignettes. Additionally, AITs were included in all ARE 4.0 divisions (except Schematic Design).
  • ARE 5.0 was launched in November 2016, including a restructuring of the exam content into six new divisions and incorporating modern testing technology.

Throughout all versions of the ARE the goal of the exam has remained the same: to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public by providing a psychometrically justifiable and legally defensible exam that measures the level of competency necessary to practice architecture