With the one-year birthday of the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) 5.0 approaching, many candidates are finding success in the new exam. We asked Austen Conrad, Assoc. AIA—who passed all six 5.0 divisions on the first try—to share his thoughts and advice with other licensure candidates preparing to test.

Why did you want to pursue architecture?

I’ve wanted to be an architect from such a young age that I honestly don’t remember how I originally fell in love with the idea. That said, it’s been a long road. I graduated with my M.Arch. at the peak of the recession, so I ended up taking a circuitous route back to architecture via working in technology and then real estate development.

You passed all six ARE 5.0 divisions in three months—and on the first try! What are your study secrets?

My strategy was to take the exams in the order of my work experience, from most versed to least versed. This gave me time to study for the areas that I felt I was weaker in.

Why did you decide to test in such a short period of time?

I originally set a goal of two years to work through the exam, but 5.0’s quick turn-around on scores provides a pretty encouraging feedback loop. I received my first score only a couple days after sitting for my first division. At that point, I decided to keep signing up for the next division once I knew I’d passed the previous one. In the end, I worked through all six divisions over the course of the summer.

What kind of support system did you have in preparing to take the ARE?

My family was very encouraging, and my firm, Strang Inc., provides a lot of support for test-takers—from letting me sit for exams during normal business hours to reimbursing me for the costs.

What were some of your favorite exam prep resources?

The ARE 5.0 Handbook is very helpful because it lists the source material that the exam uses. I acquired most of these materials and then skimmed through them for areas I thought I needed a refresher on. In addition, I watched the Black Spectacles video series every day over dinner. I used a similar strategy, focusing on watching videos only in the areas that I felt I needed a refresher.

What did you think of the exam’s format?

The exam format was very clear and the interface was intuitive. I appreciated that each of the divisions roughly aligned with a project phase. Remembering that the question is asking relative to a particular phase really helps narrow down the options. One area the exam could improve on is the loading speed of the source material in the case study section. The amount of time that I spent waiting for content to load was unnerving for a timed exam, so keep that in mind as you prepare to test.

Are there any challenges you think candidates should be aware of before taking a division?

My recommendation is that you hold off on taking a division until you’ve gained Architectural Experience Program (AXP) experience in that project phase. The test is not designed to trick you. It’s simply testing that you’re competent in a particular aspect of architecture. Without my experience to date, it would have been a struggle to pass.

You’re still working on completing your experience—have you found areas where your work aligns with the material you tested on?

The tests aligned very closely with the various phases of project development. As long as candidates have had a chance to work in every phase of a project, they should feel comfortable taking the exams. For me, I had the good fortune of working as an owner’s representative in real estate development for several years prior to transitioning to an architect/engineer (A/E) firm where I started logging my hours. This meant I had extensive contractual and construction administration experience prior to starting the AXP, which was no doubt helpful in taking the exams.

What’s one thing you wish you knew before testing?

In some instances, the provided source material in the case study section can be helpful in answering the multiple-choice section.

Austen Conrad is a licensure candidate working at Strang Inc., an A/E firm in Madison, WI.

Editor’s Note: NCARB does not endorse any third-party test prep providers.