Does NCARB Profit From the ARE?

We received a couple of questions from one of our members on the new ARE 4.0 Community, and we thought it’d be a good idea to address them on the blog. If you haven’t checked out the Community, you should—over 1,500 candidates have already joined!

“Why does failing one content area cause you to retake an entire exam and failing one test not cause you to have to take all of the exams again? Basically why aren't the exams simply broken down into each content area and candidates allowed to pass them as they go without having to retake an entire exam? This seems a little old-fashioned [since] computers can track it."

These are all good questions. Tests are designed just like buildings. Well, maybe not just like buildings, but they are designed with a specific purpose. The ARE is designed with the specific purpose of assessing general competency in architecture. ARE 4.0 does this by making seven discrete decisions based on the seven divisions. For example, it makes a decision on a candidate’s competency in structures using the Structural Systems division. Once a candidate passes that division, he/she has exhibited the appropriate amount of competency and doesn’t need to retake the division (provided all divisions are passed within their rolling clock).

It is possible to design the ARE so that every single content area is its own division. But that would also mean candidates would be taking about 40 “mini-exams,” resulting in a lot more testing time. Plus, this would require an increase in the number of overall questions to make the same assessment on competency. My guess is not too many candidates would be in favor of more tests, testing time, questions, and cost.

“Also why so expensive? It costs us nearly five times as much to get through these exams as it did someone in the 80s—inflation hasn't been that steep. You're making money off of this.”

Speaking of cost, the second question asks about comparing the cost of the current exam with the cost of the exam in the 80s. It’s true that the total cost of the ARE is more now than it was then. Aren’t all things? But it is also a very different testing process. Candidates in the 1980s had one opportunity to pass the exam each year. There were nine divisions administered over four days, including a 12-hour paper-pencil design division. It took 3-4 months to find out their results, and the cost of the exam varied by state.

Now, candidates can take a division any time they are able to find a seat in a Prometric test center. They can schedule their exams online, take the divisions in any order, can retake exams in 60 days, and are receive their score reports in less than two weeks.

We have said this before, but it is worth saying again: We do not make money off the ARE. It costs quite a bit to develop and administer the exam each year. (Learn how written items and vignettes are developed.) The income generated by the ARE administrations only covers a portion of the expenses related to the development. A percentage of the exam fees are supplemented by registered architects who maintain their NCARB Certificate.

I hope this provides some clarity to your questions. If you have additional questions about the exam, be sure to join the ARE 4.0 Community!

About the Author

I joined NCARB in 2010 as an assistant director in exam development. I now work primarily on the development of ARE 5.0 and other new research initiatives within our Directorate, as well as on various outreach events reinforcing the importance of licensure. Previously, my work focused on the development of the ARE’s 11 graphic vignettes. Before joining NCARB, I worked as a project architect in Washington, DC, and have over 10 years of experience in all phases of design and construction management. I have been fortunate enough to work on a variety of project types, including: base buildings, commercial interiors, hotel/hospitality, urban planning, and branded environments. Originally from Indiana, I am a graduate of Ball State University—the Cardinals, which according to fellow alumn David Letterman, are the “fiercest of the robin-sized birds.”