NCARB Live FAQs: Architect Registration Examination

During February’s NCARB Live, we received dozens of questions from emerging professionals. We weren’t able to address every question, so we divided them up by subject area to answer them here on the blog. In addition, you can watch the webinar or read a transcript here.

First up, we’re addressing questions about the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®). Questions are grouped by the following categories: [Getting Started] [Fees] [Rules] [Scoring] [Study Materials] [Practice Programs] [Test Development] [ARE 5.0]

Getting Started

Can I get licensed without taking the ARE?
No. All U.S. jurisdictions require completion of the ARE as part of initial licensure.

Once you have taken tests in one state, can you complete them in another state?
Absolutely. The physical location of where you take the test has no bearing on the validity of the exam. The ARE is administered in hundreds of test centers located all over the United States, Canada, London, and even in Abu Dhabi.


Besides the $350 before I can take the IDP, I've been asked to pay an extra $100 to apply for eligibility for testing.
This “extra fee” to apply to test is charged by your jurisdiction, as they are responsible for managing your eligibilities to test, and is not an NCARB fee. Not all jurisdictions have this type of fee so be sure to understand the requirements of the jurisdiction in which you want to gain your initial license. They may or may not have an application fee for gaining testing eligibility.

Do you have a way to defer fees for the AREs or other expenses?
Exam fees cannot be deferred and must be paid at the time you schedule the appointment. You are not required to pay for all divisions at the same time—you only need to pay for the one division you are scheduling. Also, all fees must be paid for using a credit card.


Why do we have to wait six months to retake a division? Could this period be revised to three months or less?
The current wait time to retest after a failed division is six months. This policy was established to balance maintaining security of the exam with the limitation of the different versions of each division that NCARB creates each year. We understand the frustration some candidates experience around the six-month wait, and we are currently investigating some possible ways to shorten this timeframe while maintaining exam integrity and security.

Editor's Note: The retake policy was updated in October 2014 to 60 days.

I passed two exams—the first one in 2009. I am out of work, so what should I do if I can’t afford exams? Are there any extensions or temporary holds?
If you are currently in a situation where you cannot test, please continue to work on completing IDP so your path to licensure does not stop. There are several supplemental experience options that can be completed for IDP credit even while not employed in the design and construction industry.

Extensions to the rolling clock are available for the birth/adoption of a child, a serious medical condition, or active military service. Divisions cannot be put on hold, and the rolling clock will continue to impact any division until the point when all divisions are complete. Upon completion of your final division, all division are secure and remain valid.

Will the five-year rolling clock and the six-month retake policy ever change?
Possibly. Both of these policies were established to protect the integrity, security, and exam validity of the ARE. NCARB is constantly evaluating and reevaluating all polices around the ARE to ensure we can maintain the quality of the exam while also providing as much access to the exam as possible.

The purpose of the six-month wait to retest on a failed division is addressed above. The purpose of the five-year rolling clock is to ensure that a candidate can demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the practice of architecture across the broad divisions of the ARE. Since the profession evolves, the exam also evolves. For this reason, the content within the ARE divisions is always being updated to remain relevant. By completing all divisions of the ARE within a five-year timeframe, you have demonstrated your level of competency of the current state of architectural practice. The reason all divisions remain valid once you become licensed is because you will continue to demonstrate ongoing competency through the completion of your jurisdiction’s continuing education requirements.

When a candidate hits the five-year clock for the first exam but hasn’t finished the exam, do they only need to retake that division? Or does the candidate need to retake all divisions?
Only divisions that have expired will need to be taken again. The NCARB Rolling Clock is easiest to understand by thinking that each division has its own five-year expiration date.

If I do not pass a test, does the rolling clock start counting or does it only count once I pass an exam?
The Rolling Clock only applies to divisions that are passed.

Will I ever be able to take the ARE online?
Possibly. NCARB recently conducted research into the ability to deliver high-stakes exams via the web to remote locations such as schools of architecture, offices, and even homes. While the technology currently exists to easily deliver the exams, the greater issue is ensuring security of the exam. At this time, NCARB is not confident enough that remote testing with proctoring can provide the level of security necessary to ensure a truly secure remote environment. Who knows, maybe sometime in the near future, technology may reach such a secure level that remote proctoring becomes a viable option. NCARB will continue to monitor developments in this industry.


Why can't we see what questions we missed on a failed test so that we can study those areas for the re-exam?
NCARB does provide descriptive feedback on all failing score reports that identifies the candidate’s performance level in each of the division’s content areas and vignettes. Candidates should use this feedback to assist in identifying areas of improvement prior to retesting on a division. Specific exam questions are not released to help ensure the ongoing security of items that are reused on future iterations of the exam.

Why is the ARE grading process a secret?
It’s not. The process is complex, but here is a brief overview:

  1. All scoring is done by a computer (both multiple-choice and vignettes). Scoring is not done at the test center, which is why your score is not immediately available. Scoring is done in batches on a weekly basis as all results for the week are scored, go through a quality control check, and are released to My Examination.
  2. All multiple-choice questions—whether standard multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or check-all-that-apply—are worth one point. Never leave a question blank because then you have no chance of earning that point. For check-all-that-apply items, all parts of the response must be correct to earn that point.
  3. Vignettes are scored based on a series of “features” unique to each vignette. The stair vignette scores for things like head height, riser height, tread depth, railings, clearances, etc. The Building Layout vignette scores for things like room sizes, room relationships, exiting, entry requirements, views, etc. For each vignette, the features are scored independently and combined to create an overall determination of vignette performance. In the end, the vignette is scored to achieve one of three levels. Based on the level achieved, the candidate receives a quantity of points.
  4. All of the points earned in multiple-choice are combined with the points earned in the vignette section and a final numerical score is calculated. The candidate score is compared against the official cut score for the division, and if the score equals the cut score or is greater, the division is marked as “pass.” If the total points are less than the cut score, the division is marked as “fail.”

In an upcoming blog series, we’ll take a closer look at how the ARE is scored. Stay tuned!

Study Materials

When is NCARB going to provide more thorough study materials?
NCARB is currently considering our role in providing more comprehensive study resources for candidates and looking at the possibility of offering more preparation materials. At this time, NCARB currently provides an exam guide for each division of the ARE. The exam guides are not intended to be comprehensive study materials, but instead are intended to provide you with an overview of what to expect in each division. At the beginning of each exam guide, NCARB provides a detailed description of the content assessed within that division. At the end of the exam guide, NCARB provides a list of reference materials that were used to help develop exam questions.

What study system would you recommend for the ARE 4.0?
NCARB is not affiliated with any exam preparation providers and does not endorse one system over another. I would recommend that the best system to achieve success on the ARE is to commit to a plan of how you want to go about testing. Set your goal as to when you want to complete the exam, establish the amount of time you want between divisions, and how you will handle having to retake a division if necessary. It’s okay to fail a division, most people do—including me—so don’t let it derail your process. How you prepare and what you need to study for each division will vary based on your own experiences. Refer back to the exam guide and read the description of the content included in the division. Assess your areas of weakness and seek out resources to build your knowledge in those areas. Everyone’s path to completing the ARE is unique. The best system is a strong plan.

Any suggestions on studying and taking the exams when you are not a good test taker?
As far as studying for the ARE, the key is to build your knowledge on the broad base of content covered under each division. You don’t need to be an expert in each topic area. The ARE is about measuring competency, not about ensuring you are perfect.

To overcome anxiety about test day, read through the ARE Guidelines, which explains what you can expect to experience at the test center. You can also go to the Prometric website, which provides even more resources on what you will experience.

A final point to remember when answering the questions is to simply take each multiple-choice item one at a time. Read the question and determine what the question is asking you to identify. Try to come up with the answer before you even read the possible options given. Then, when reading each option, determine if it fits with the nature of what you already believe to be correct. This will help you feel more confident in picking the option that you believe to be correct. In the end, you need to trust your professional judgment when choosing an answer.

In addition to exam guides and practice programs offered through NCARB, are there any ARE prep courses you would recommend?
NCARB does not endorse any third-party preparation courses. Recommendations of courses would best be sought from individuals you know also going through the testing process, as they can speak to what worked for them and why.

Does anyone know what happened to the ARE Forum?
The ARE Forum was independent from NCARB. NCARB does not know why the host of the ARE Forum chose to no longer continue to support the site.

Practice Programs

Are there any considerations for those who have been out of school for 20+ years and have never learned CADD or something similar in completing the vignettes?
All administrations of the ARE are given via the Prometric test center network and all divisions contain at least one vignette. The vignette application is CADD-based, but is much less complicated with only a limited tool set to learn. The practice programs are available to download for free or through a subscription service. Each vignette has basic layout and object placement tools. Take the time to practice and learn how to use the software prior to testing so on test day you can focus on solving the problem, not using the tool.

Won't you, eventually, with the fast moving technology trends, need to update the programs?
NCARB is continually monitoring the practice of architecture including trends in technology. CADD application advancement has improved significantly since the release of the vignette application in 1997. A key factor to remember is that the vignette applications only need to support the necessary assessment requirements and are not intended to replicate the full practice of architectural design and documentation.

NCARB has investigated updating the practice programs to an AutoCAD-based platform. The determination of the extensive research and testing was a decision to support the delivery of ARE 4.0 using the vignettes, but evolve to new item types in ARE 5.0.

Test Development

Does NCARB follow national examination testing requirements?
Yes. NCARB works with Alpine Testing Solutions to ensure the development, delivery, and scoring of the ARE meets the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing as established by the National Council on Measurement in Education. NCARB uses a combination of Classical Test Theory and Item Response Theory along with hundreds of volunteer architects to support the validity of the exam, reliability of test scores, and overall fairness.

Does ARE 4.0 use the latest codes and standards or, in other words, does the content change based on code updates? For example, the documentation lists the IBC 2009 but the IBC current version is 2012.
The codes and standards to which the ARE is written is identified in the ARE Guidelines. You are correct in that the current ARE 4.0 is written to IBC 2009.

The content of the ARE is constantly being evaluated and updated. As for the IBC specifically, NCARB monitors adoption of the IBC across the various jurisdictions and then updates the exam items after the majority of jurisdictions have adopted a version. Whether you are working in a jurisdiction that immediately adopts the new edition of the IBC or one that only adopts every other edition, be sure to refer to the ARE Guidelines to know what codes and standards to be familiar with to prepare for the exam.

ARE 5.0

What will happen to people who have taken only some of the 4.0 exams when ARE 5.0 is released? Will those who have not finished 4.0 have to start over with 5.0?
NCARB is already in the process of planning how to manage the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0, even though ARE 5.0 is not set to launch until late 2016. Also, at the launch of ARE 5.0, ARE 4.0 will continue to be delivered. When ARE 4.0 is eventually retired, NCARB will grant appropriate credits in ARE 5.0 for divisions passed in ARE 4.0. More specific information regarding the transition will be released in late spring of this year.

Will the new exam have vignettes, and will they be done in an AutoCAD format?
Vignettes will not be included as part of ARE 5.0. NCARB is currently investigating the use of new item types to use in addition to our current multiple-choice, check-all-that-apply, and quantitative fill-in-the-blank items.

The new item types under investigation are known as “hot spot” and “drag-and-place” items. Similar versions of these item types have been implemented in other licensure examinations including the Landscape Architect Registration Examination. NCARB is also planning on including case studies in ARE 5.0, which will allow multiple questions to be asked from a shared set of resources. NCARB will be releasing more information and providing samples of the new items types this summer.

Do you expect (or have you done preliminary research to find) that the pass/fail rate of ARE 5.0 will be similar to 4.0? Meaning, is 5.0 going to be harder?
Research into the passing standard for ARE 5.0 has not yet begun as formal standard setting cannot take place until all item types, and measurement of their performance, are in place. NCARB is committed to ensuring the ARE remains a valid, reliable, and fair assessment of architectural competence measured against the current practice of architecture.

Where can I find study material and/or practice tests for 5.0?
ARE 5.0 is not anticipated to launch until late 2016 (more than two and a half years from today). ARE Candidates should continue to prepare and test on ARE 4.0. Exam preparation materials for ARE 5.0 will start to become available in late 2015/early 2016.

Editor's Note: ARE 5.0 preparation materials became available in summer 2016. You can find them here.

If I start testing this year, how will I be affected by the changes that are coming with ARE 5.0?
In all likelihood, you will not be affected because you will complete ARE 4.0 prior to the launch of ARE 5.0. Most ARE candidates complete all divisions of the ARE in three years, which is roughly how long until ARE 5.0 launches. Even if you do not complete ARE 4.0 prior to the launch of ARE 5.0, ARE 4.0 will continue to be delivered for a period of time along with ARE 5.0. More information on the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0 will be released late this spring.

You can find more FAQs on NCARB’s website here.