Recently licensed architect Grace Anne Friedhoff, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, shares her advice on navigating the path to licensure and talks about her experience transitioning from ARE 4.0 to 5.0.

Why did you want to become an architect?

I went into the architecture profession because I wanted to contribute to the built environment in a sustainable way and design meaningful structures that create value while having a positive impact on many. Architecture is a way to create social gathering spaces and encourage learning and understanding. I saw being an architect as a way to use my knowledge and passion to advocate for both the environment and higher standards of living.

How long did it take you to complete your experience, and what was that process like for you?

I completed my experience as quickly as possible as soon as I established my NCARB Record. I was able to attribute some hours from an internship during college. I always knew that licensure was my main goal, so once I found full-time employment after graduating I made it a point to communicate my aspirations to employers. I think that the separation of hour requirements into the different categories is very helpful as a young professional. It gives you a tool to advocate for yourself in the workplace and ensure that you get a variety of experience. It could be easy to get pigeonholed in a specific phase or task when you are young and inexperienced, but by having the experience program to lean on you are able to ensure you get the hours you need and really develop yourself as a well-rounded architecture professional.

I was reporting my hours during the time that NCARB switched the Intern Development Program (IDP) (now the Architectural Experience Program®) hour requirement from 5,600 hours to 3,740 hours. I was already quite far along in the process, so I found myself suddenly finished with the required hours. However, I continued to report them as some states require three years of logged hours post-graduation, no matter what.

One thing I do miss from the old IDP is the “Leadership and Service” requirement. By mandating that all aspiring architects seek opportunities to volunteer, you are embedding a spirit of service into the profession from the very beginning, and helping young professionals advocate to use their time to give back. Architects are by nature creative, so I enjoyed hearing the different ways that my colleagues fulfilled the Leadership and Service requirement. I started a recycling program in my office and put on food drives—with that service spirit, I established myself as a founding member of AIA NJ’s Emerging Professionals Community (EPiC). EPiC was created to provide support and resources for emerging professionals through opportunities for continued education, community service, and advocacy. We work closely with the local AIA New Jersey Sections to coordinate and implement events throughout the state.

You transitioned between the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) 4.0 and ARE 5.0 and managed to complete the exam in five divisions! What was your strategy?

I completed the ARE in less than two years. I took my first division a few years into my career after I had some experience under my belt and felt ready to focus. My strategy was to start with the most foundational exam first, which to me was Construction Documents & Services (CDS). I felt that CDS material would overlap with other divisons and better prepare me in that regard.

I had the ARE transition calculator printed by my desk and used that to plan out my order of operations for the next tests. I took my first three divisions in 4.0 over the course of a year, and as I went I would highlight which exams that translated to for 5.0. I saw that I would only need to take two more exams if I switched to the 5.0 exams. I waited for quite a bit to see how the 5.0 transition would shake out for other test takers, for study material to be available, and to hear feedback.

I studied for Project Planning & Design (PPD) and Project Development & Documentation (PDD) together and took them the same weekend. There is a lot of overlap of material between those divisions, and it made sense to study in tandem. My strategy for those exams was to use my 4.0 study materials, watch all of the Amber Book videos from Michael Ermann, and read Building Construction Illustrated every day on my way to and from work (using mass transit of course!). 

Do you have any study secrets or advice on staying motivated?

Before you do anything else, take the ARE Demonstration Exam on the NCARB website. You need to understand the context and experience that you are preparing for. Then read the ARE 5.0 Handbook to grasp the content you are being tested on.

One big study secret for ARE 5.0 is that you DO NOT need to buy all new study materials. There are a lot of great resources out there for 4.0 that still apply; just because there are new test formats does not mean that the content has changed. It has only been reorganized. The practice of architecture did not fundamentally change when these new exams came out, and all of the material is still relevant. Go through the ARE 5.0 Handbook and review the topics you need to know for your specific division and focus there.

Find what works for you and stay consistent. For me it was setting aside time each day to concentrate and dig in to the material. I knew that at certain hours I wouldn’t be watching TV or going out with friends, I would be focusing on myself and my future. When I got bored or frustrated with reading I would go over practice questions. When the practice questions were exhausted I would review study videos or ARE forums.

One particular thing that kept me motivated was seeing my studying really pay off in the workplace. By studying this material, I wasn’t just learning for an exam, I was preparing to be an architect. This was evident in my interactions with coworkers and consultants. I was able to understand more fully what my project managers were talking about on a day-to-day basis. It also helped me more actively participate in project meetings. I distinctly remember I spent one weekend studying HVAC systems, and that Monday I was in a client meeting where we were discussing VAV boxes. I was able to join in and contribute, where the week before the entire thing would have gone over my head.

Hearing the stories of my friends and colleagues as they took their exams also kept me motivated. It would push me to succeed and also spark some healthy competition inside to keep me going.

How has becoming licensed impacted your career?

Being licensed has allowed me to contribute at a higher level in the workplace. I feel more confident advising my clients and speaking to colleagues. I am only recently licensed, but I know that being licensed will allow for future mobility, growth, and leverage. Going through the licensure process has also allowed me the opportunity to serve as a mentor to others.

What advice do you have for candidates going through the licensure process?

Keep going! There is always going to be something happening in your life that will seem more enjoyable or exciting than focusing on studying. There will literally always be an excuse not to start if you want to look for one. So figure out why you want to be a licensed architect. This is something that is self-motivated and for you alone; think of it as an opportunity for self-care and focused growth. You’ve got this!

Grace Anne Friedhoff is an assistant project manager at ENV in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.