ARE Insights FAQs: Part II

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.

[Vignettes] [Grading] [Score Reports] [Transition to ARE 5.0] [ARE 5.0] [Other] [ARE Insights FAQs: Part I]


What should I do when I can’t directly snap to a line or shape?
That comes up a lot, especially in vignettes that have curves or angles. There’s a hidden grid that underlies the drawing. Some vignettes snap every inch and some snap every foot. Scoring has tolerances to allow for the inability to be precise in every instance. Simply snap to the closest grid point (up, down, left, or right) when you can’t seem to find a perfect fit. Scoring accommodates for this and there is no penalty to the candidate.

Would over-lighting or under-lighting be a fatal error in the Building Systems vignette?
Over-lighting and under-lighting are something you want to avoid. These errors are not critical if done in moderation. However, significant over-lighting or under-lighting will impact your score.

Lighting is a good example of where a little bit of over-lighting or a little bit of under-lighting is not critical, and you’re not going to be penalized in a significant way. If you really go crazy and you put lights everywhere, it will trigger a big feature and you’re not going to do well on that vignette.

What is an acceptable distance between the supply and return air grilles?
It’s challenging because some of the rooms are small and you may experience little storage room. It’s probably not a good idea to see a supply and return closer than four feet. Think through using good design logic in this space. If you put the supply close to the door, move that return as far away as you can to get good airflow.

In the Schematic Design Interior Layout vignette, is furniture allowed to be placed in front of an executive desk?
When you do place chairs or the sofa, there isn’t a direct side requirement for the furniture—it can be right against the wall. You do need to maintain clearance to get in front of the chair/sofa to be able to sit down.

Some study guides mention that there should be a downspout per 450 square feet. Others say just one on the other end. Which is correct?
No such calculation is required in the program of this vignette. A single gutter and a single downspout off of any roof surface area will control the water from a scoring perspective.


Do all questions carry the same weight in the exams?
Not exactly. Multiple-choice questions and vignettes are weighted differently. Every multiple-choice item is worth one point. Each of the vignettes are worth a different amount of points. Keep in mind that the more time you’re putting into the vignette, the more points that are going to be assigned overall to the weighting of that vignette.

Are check-all-that-apply questions also worth one point?
Yes. A check-all-that-apply, a quantitative fill-in-the-blank, and single-select multiple-choice questions are each worth one point.

Is providing too much plenum space between a finished ceiling and the underside of a structure a level 1 or 2 error?
Too much or too little plenum space can be a critical error on the Building Section vignette, especially if it’s an error made in multiple locations. Several different features in the scoring engine look at plenum depth, joist depth, duct size, and ceiling height. These are interrelated components of a building section, so be sure you consider them all carefully.

For SPD, what are some fatal errors to avoid in the vignettes?
Fatal errors, or critical features in testing lingo, are errors that will cause your vignette solution to be determined unacceptable no matter your performance on all other features. The scoring engine does not include many of these critical features, but there are a few to keep in mind as you complete your vignette solutions.

The Site Grading vignette, for example, includes a few critical features. You must modify at least one contour line, and when you modify the contours, they must not overlap other contours. Also, you must place the built object, and you must place it fully within the building limit lines.

The Site Design vignette includes just one critical feature: You must place all required elements on the site. So read through the program carefully and be sure you’ve placed everything that’s listed. How you place the elements, including their sizes and relationships to each other, is scored through a series of other features.

What is a good rule of thumb for the direction of the ceiling grids on the BS exam?
The ceiling grids on the Mechanical & Electrical Plan vignette are always 2’ x 4’ grids, and the scoring engine does not look at their direction. However, their direction does affect how you’ll be able to place other ceiling elements, especially the light fixtures.

Using the program requirements and good design logic, think through how the light fixtures will need to be spaced within each room to provide a uniform lighting level. You might want to draw a quick sketch on your scratch paper to decide the best orientation for the lighting layout. You can use that design to inform the placement of the grids. Take a look at the sample solution in the NCARB exam guide for some examples of acceptable ceiling layouts.

For the interior layout vignette, how are clearances figured?
The Interior Layout vignette includes several requirements related to clearances, including wheelchair turning spaces, a continuous path, door clearances, and access to furniture. The scoring engine looks at each of these separately as it evaluates your solution. Clearances are measured to the face of walls and the edge of furniture. Access must be provided to the front of each piece of furniture, but there’s no requirement to access the side.

Candidates often ask specific questions about clearances:

  • Is it OK if the required wheelchair turning space overlaps with the door swing?No, the door should be able to complete its full range of motion without impacting the necessary clear turning radius of a wheelchair. The clear turning radius can overlap other areas of the clear floor area at doors but should not interfere with the door swing.
  • Do I need to provide clearance behind every chair, or just behind the desk or table where the chair is located? Keep this rule of thumb in mind: If an occupant needs to move past a chair to access additional furniture, then clearance must be provided behind the chair. But if the chair is the final destination, then clearance is needed behind the desk only.

In the PPP exam, are all setbacks from the property line or from an existing building?

Not necessarily. The setback requirements for the Site Zoning vignette vary from one vignette version to another. Each version will list all required setbacks and the point from which they must be measured in the program. Be sure to read carefully through the program requirements on your vignette when you sit for the test.

Is Schematic Design considered one vignette even though it is comprised of the Interior and Building portions?
No, Schematic Design is one division comprised of two vignettes. Each vignette is scored separately, and your aggregate performance on both vignettes is combined to determine your total division score.

In regards to the CDS Exam, is the Building Section vignette worth one-third of the score since it took 1 hour to complete? By comparison, the multiple-choice section takes two hours to complete.
The total possible score for each division is based on the content in that division, not on how much time is allotted to take the division. On the multiple-choice portion, you’ll receive one point for each correct answer to an operational question. On the vignettes, a scoring tree is used to calculate your score based on your performance on the various features. Your total score for a division is the sum of how well you performed on the multiple choice and vignette portions of that division. Check out our blog post, How the ARE is Scored, for more information on exam scoring.

How many questions can be wrong to achieve a Level 1 score?
It depends on the overall size of the content being measured. Larger content areas allow for a greater number of incorrect answers to achieve Level 1. Review the exam guide and you’ll see the percentage of total exam questions that make up the entire division. Generally speaking, you’ll need to correctly answer between 59 to 77 percent of the questions correct to achieve Level 1.

Can the computer make errors in grading?
The computer-scoring engine has been thoroughly tested to ensure every exam is graded fairly. The scoring rules used have been developed under the review of a panel of architects ensuring the scoring algorithms accurately measure candidate performance.

Is the only way to pass the division is to get all Level 1s?
Not necessarily. It’s possible to receive Level 2 scores on portions of a division and still pass. NCARB utilizes a process called "conjunctive scoring" in ARE 4.0 to combine your performance on the multiple-choice section and the graphic vignette section into a single score. In this scoring model, you have the opportunity to compensate for a poor vignette performance if you performed well on the multiple-choice section and vice versa.

I took an exam and did well on the vignette but not the multiple-choice. I took the exam a second time and did well on the multiple-choice but poorly on the vignette. How can I be sure there wasn't a glitch in the grading since I recall approaching the vignette in the same way as I did before?
The computer-based scoring has been rigorously tested to ensure consistent scoring across multiple administrations. Remember that each version of a particular vignette could have different program requirements and must be approached as a new design problem.

Are the vignettes graded by hand or the computer?
The vignettes are scored by computer scoring engines, which have been programmed to objectively evaluate each solution for compliance to the specific vignette’s requirement.

Why isn't there a way to grade your vignette through the practice software?
The vignette scoring software is completely separate from the vignette solution software. During initial development, the vignette practice program was not designed to incorporate a scoring functionality—it was made for only practicing the tools. Similarly, the software in the test center does not contain scoring capabilities. The only vignette scoring software available is held by our psychometric test consultants who score your exam solutions.

Score Reports

Why don’t we receive more feedback on score reports—even if we passed? I would like to know if there are still areas that I can improve upon.
The descriptive feedback provided to candidates is based on the measurement of performance around each content area or vignette. The professional measurement standards are based on establishing a pass/fail decision and not about providing feedback on specific items. We’re investigating enhancing the feedback provided for ARE 5.0 exams in consultation with our psychometric consultants.

Why do some candidates receive their scores within 4 to 5 days from testing, while it typically takes two weeks for me to receive my scores?
After an exam is taken, scored, and all quality control measures are completed, the score is released. Since the score is based on a combination of multiple-choice and graphic content, the scoring time may vary.

Also, some jurisdictions have internal processes that can delay score reports to their candidates, while other jurisdictions allow for immediate release of scores. If you don’t receive your score within four weeks of your test date, you should contact us.

How long does it take to get the paper results of the exam in the mail after taking an exam?
We don’t distribute paper score reports. All exam results are made available electronically to a candidate’s My Examination page.

Transition to ARE 5.0

I’m about to start testing—should I wait until ARE 5.0 comes out?
No, we don’t recommend waiting. ARE 5.0 will not be offered until late 2016. At the time of this writing, that’s 18 months away—plenty of time to get started in ARE 4.0, and maybe complete the exam before ARE 5.0 even comes out!

What order do you recommend we take ARE 4.0 divisions?
The best order might be different for each candidate, depending on your strengths and weaknesses, the type of work you’re currently engaged in at your job, and other factors. However, with the future introduction of ARE 5.0, we recommend starting with CDS, PPP, and SPD to allow for a strategic transition to ARE 5.0. Review the ARE 5.0 Credit Model [PDF] for more information about the future transition and to help you develop your own test taking strategy.

How will the transition from ARE 4.0 to 5.0 work?
After ARE 5.0 launches in late 2016, ARE 4.0 will continue to be offered in testing centers until June 30, 2018. During this dual exam period, candidates will have the opportunity to continue with ARE 4.0 or self-transition to ARE 5.0. After June 30, 2018, all remaining ARE 4.0 candidates will be automatically transitioned to ARE 5.0. The ARE 5.0 Credit Model provides detailed information about how the ARE 4.0 divisions will map to ARE 5.0 divisions. Refer to our website for more information about the ARE 5.0 transition.

For those of us who just started taking ARE 4.0, what kind of an overlap period will there be?
There will be at least an 18-month dual delivery period of both ARE 4.0 and ARE 5.0, from the time ARE 5.0 launches in late 2016 until ARE 4.0 is turned off on June 30, 2018.

If a candidate has already completed a few tests for 4.0 and the 5.0 transition begins, what happens to the remaining divisions?
Candidates will have the opportunity to receive credit for ARE 5.0 divisions based on divisions already passed in ARE 4.0. Even after ARE 5.0 launches in late 2016, candidates may continue testing in ARE 4.0 until that exam version is turned off after June 30, 2018. Be sure to review the ARE 5.0 Credit Model for detailed information about how the ARE 4.0 divisions will map to ARE 5.0 divisions, so you can best plan for the transition.

ARE 5.0

Why are you getting rid of the vignettes in ARE 5.0?
ARE 5.0 is expected to take advantage of new tools and technology in the testing industry. The division structure for ARE 5.0 incorporates graphics throughout the exam through new performance item types instead of the current graphic vignettes. These new item types allow for testing at higher levels of cognition through analytical, synthetic, and evaluative exercises—which will be more like what an architect does as part of regular practice.

Also, the vignettes are an expensive custom technology to maintain. By moving to industry standard item types, NCARB is anticipating overall savings in the exam which will help hold costs down for the candidate.

When will the exam guides for ARE 5.0 be published?
We expect to publish ARE 5.0 policies and guidelines in early 2016, and ARE 5.0 exam guides in mid-2016.

Is NCARB going to release study materials for ARE 5.0?
We’re currently looking at options for ARE 5.0 study materials.


Do you have any advice for test takers who claim English as their second language?
The ARE is offered in English only, so we do not provide exam guides or other resources in other languages. Prior to scheduling and taking ARE divisions, it is recommended that all candidates should spend as much time as needed to familiarize themselves with the information we provide regarding preparing for the ARE.

Illinois passed a bill that requires a candidate with a pre-professional degree to complete the ARE by the end of 2015. After that, completion of a master’s program will be required in order to become licensed. Does NCARB have any input on this? Are there any ways get around this?
NCARB offers support and guidance to the member boards regarding the licensure process, but each jurisdiction sets its own requirements for registration. You can review those requirements, and compare requirements for different jurisdictions on our website. In order to receive the most accurate and up-to-date information about jurisdiction-specific exam requirements, it is best to contact the jurisdiction directly.