During a recent NCARB Live webinar, we spoke with recently licensed architects regarding their path to licensure and any tips they’d share with someone on the same path. We received an outpouring of questions from attendees. We got our panelists, Alan Li and Farah (Ahmad) Qadeer, to answer some of the questions we didn’t get to during the webinar—here’s the advice they had to share:

One of the panelists mentioned, per their mentor, “Go for it before it gets harder.” Can you tell us more about that thought process?

Alan: My professor had a similar saying, “You will never get less busy.” The longer you wait, the harder life and the exams get. Think about this—how will you have more free time to study next year or the next few years? Your workload will be the same, if not more. You might make more friends and have a more active social life. You might get married or have kids at some point. It will be harder to study when you get older. Is it easier to do it now compared to last year?

Farah: Being a recent graduate keeps your mind in “studying mode.” You are mentally trained to study for a marathon of exams. When my mentor said, “Go for it before it gets harder,” they were referring to all life milestones (i.e., getting married, raising children, etc.) that might cause even more disruptions for a studying schedule. I finished all my exams and got licensed before I got married. This helped me be “selfish” with my time because I had to focus all my energy on the process to get it done as efficiently as possible.

Is there a particular perk you enjoy as an NCARB-certified professional?

Alan: I enjoy access to free continuing education and easy application for licensure reciprocity in other states.

Did your life and/or overall well-being improve after becoming licensed?

Alan: Yes, I have more free time to enjoy life. I am more confident in dealing with daily tasks and having a regular daily schedule, besides being able to introduce myself as an architect and having more professional opportunities.

What section do you recommend studying first for the Architectural Registration Examination® (ARE®)?

Alan: I started with ARE 4.0, so the divisions are different now. You can go on the Facebook ARE group to see what others recommend. There are, in general, two paths: harder ones first or the easier ones first. I took the harder ones first.

Farah: For me, studying construction documents/contracts first set the stage for all the other topics. I would also advise paying attention to what other test takers, online forums, or groups dictate logically. Going from easiest to hardest helps boost your confidence.

Did you still have a social life when you were studying? How did you balance that?

Alan: The short answer is no. I had a specific daily schedule, including what time to wake up, work out, study, etc. I would turn down any social invite if it conflicted with my study plan. I did not balance my social/study life but prioritized my study life and sacrificed my social life.

Farah: My social life was cut down drastically, but studying made me appreciate the small pockets of time I dedicated to family and friends even more! Setting aside a little time on the weekends with your friends keeps you mentally refreshed. I did spend a lot more time with candidates who were also studying for the exam, but we could all relate to the journey together.

Where do you feel that you wasted the most time during the process?

Alan: I wasted time choosing and comparing study materials (Kaplan, Ballast, Amber Book, Black Spectacles, etc.), worrying I would waste time reading anything unnecessary. These are all good study materials, and you won’t go wrong with them. Don’t take long breaks after passing or failing an exam. Keep the momentum going, and keep your memories fresh. Most of the exam content overlaps to some degree. Studying for one division helps with the others.

Did you plan your path to be actively licensed in multiple states/jurisdictions? If so, have you found it worth it so far? Are you happy you did that?

Alan: Initially, I only planned to be licensed in my home state, Colorado. Then my friends in California started referring me to their friends for potential projects, so I first got licensed in California for “marketing” purposes. As you probably know, California requires a separate exam called California Supplemental Examination. I learned a lot while studying for the CSE, and more importantly, I made good friends while studying for it. I met more architects, engineers, and potential clients in California, so yes, it was worth it! I am very happy I did that. I’m also licensed in South Dakota and Florida because my firm had projects in those two states.

The times I failed the ARE, I felt it was due to time constraints. Do you have any recommendations for completing the tests in a timely fashion? Would you recommend completing case studies before regular questions, or vice versa?

Alan: I always did the multiple-choice questions before the case studies but had a pre-determined clock in mind. If I planned (before the exam date) three hours for the multiple-choice questions and one hour for the case studies, I would pre-calculate the average time to answer EACH question. If I realized I spent too much time on one question, I’d mark it up and move on. My general suggestion is not to spend too much time on one question. You need to know when to move on to the next.

Farah: If you’ve spent a few minutes on one question and are puzzled, it’s time to move on to another. Jot down any notes for questions you’re stuck on, adding that question number to your notes so that you can go back to that question at the end if time allows and build from what you already started trying to figure out. Always put down an answer (don’t leave anything blank!). Also, have faith in the fact that you don’t need to get every question right in order to pass the exam.

The NCARB Blog hosts more information for licensure candidates, from studying tips to best practices for working remotely.