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). 

With so much to think about when preparing for the ARE, it’s important to simplify the factors you can control—like your study habits and testing schedule. Keeping things consistent across all divisions can help reduce your stress and elevate your comfort level. First, let’s take a look at some of the different strategies you can implement in your preparation for the exam.

The amount of preparation that goes into studying for the ARE certainly varies with each candidate. It’s important to look at your own study habits to figure out what works best for you. As you gain more experience taking the ARE, you will quickly learn which strategies work and which don’t.

Balance Your Study Materials

Some people struggle with the vignette section of the exams simply because they haven’t prepared enough. With so many resources available for the multiple-choice sections, it’s easy to overlook the vignettes. My recommendation is to develop a study routine that balances the multiple-choice and vignette preparation. Here’s an example of what you could do if you had a month to prepare for each exam. 

Prepare for the multiple-choice section for two weeks by reading any study materials and taking practice exams. After that, take a week off from the multiple-choice material and only focus on the vignettes by using the ARE practice software. The final week should be a review of the multiple-choice material, as well as a quick review of the vignette a day or two before your exam.

Keep in mind that this example is just a rough outline and can be adjusted based on your comfort level with the material. The key here is to develop a general strategy that you can carry over to each exam. Developing a robust study routine will help you feel more prepared for each division.

Don’t Forget Practice Tests

While many candidates take advantage of practice tests, they often do so late in the game. In my opinion, too many people wait to take these tests a day or two before their exam. By taking practice exams earlier in the process—I recommend one or two weeks before your test day—you’ll give yourself ample time to see which content areas you need to focus on. 

Stick to Your Plan

Come up with a game plan before you even start studying for the ARE. Write down the target dates you’d like to take each exam, and try to stick to your plan. Of course, events may arise in your personal life that could delay these target dates. But the purpose of creating a game plan is to make sure you remain focused throughout the ARE process, always looking at the big picture. With seven exams to take, it can be easy to lose sight of the end goal—especially if you fail an exam. By creating a solid plan and sticking to it, you’ll make things easier for yourself in the long run.

Check back tomorrow for a second post on testing day strategies!