The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).
A few months ago, I decided to do something crazy. I scheduled all seven divisions of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) in seven consecutive days. On top of that, I only gave myself seven weeks to prepare—all while working full-time and without any formal experience in an architecture firm.
It was an epic and seemingly impossible quest, but I learned a lot, both about architecture and myself. Much to my own surprise, I passed all seven exams—an indescribable feeling. Whether you're planning on taking them in one fell swoop, or even weeks apart, here are my top seven tips for passing the ARE.
The biggest hurdle to getting through the ARE is you. At the end of the day, pursuing licensure is a serious commitment. You have to want it badly enough and be willing to sacrifice some free time with friends and family. But the more effectively you prepare, the less likely you'll need to retake an exam. Things like work and school are often non-negotiable, so take a good, hard look at what's left, and make sure you're ready to give up a few things for a while.
2. Identify Your Study Style
There are a variety of study resources out there, ranging from free content in blogs and on YouTube to prep courses costing hundreds of dollars. Your first step should be to figure out how you study best. Some people are able to read an exam guide cover-to-cover and retain everything. Others prefer things like flashcards or practice exams. And some opt for audio or video guides. Know yourself before you try to learn the material.
3. Make a Realistic Study Plan
In order to do well, it's essential that you crunch some numbers to determine how much time you can dedicate to studying. This will help determine how far out you schedule each exam. Once you have scheduled a test, hold yourself to that deadline and don't let anything get in the way. You're never going to feel completely ready, so just set a date, work hard in the time you've given yourself, and then give it your best shot. Don’t reschedule unless absolutely necessary.
4. Study From Multiple Sources
As mentioned above, there are a number of content providers out there. Remember, NCARB doesn’t endorse any third-party materials, so don't put all your eggs in one basket. Once you know your preferred medium (see tip #2), find a few alternates that offer comparable material. Mix it up regularly to make sure you understand the material, even when it's phrased or presented in a different way.
5. Give Yourself Time to Breathe
As much as architecture students are used to the all-nighter mentality, make sure you allow yourself some time to relax. Overloading your brain with endless facts and figures is an express route to burnout and panic. Take a break, watch a movie, play a game—anything that will take your mind off of the exam. Just make sure you know when it's time to get back to work!
6. Share Your Plan With Others
If you're not proactive about it, preparing for the ARE can be a very lonely road. In the “old days,” everyone took the same exam at the same time, which created a sense of inherent camaraderie. That's not always the case today. So even if you're not able to (or just prefer not to) study with others, share your plans and goals with friends and family, or even on social media. Publicizing your benchmarks creates a sense of accountability that makes it much more difficult to post-rationalize or make excuses.
7. Celebrate Every Small Victory
Not just passes. Not just sitting for an exam. Celebrate completing your plan. Celebrate scheduling an exam. Celebrate all of your benchmarks, because pursuing licensure is a big deal. And when you do sit for that last exam, or get that final “PASS” notice, make a big deal out of it. Tell your firm, tell your AIA component, throw an epic party. It is a big deal, and it’s an immensely satisfying feeling once you've got it all behind you. Trust me.