Understanding the ARE Cut Score Update

When the online proctoring option and related exam updates to ARE 5.0 launch on December 14, NCARB will begin the process of adjusting the cut score for each division. Learn more about what a cut score is, why it matters, and what to expect while NCARB sets cut scores.

What is a cut score?
Put simply, a cut score sets the minimum passing standard for exam performance. It identifies the number of items you need to answer correctly in order to receive a “Pass” on an ARE 5.0 division. Any candidate who scores at or above the cut score on a division receives a “Pass;” any candidate who scores below the cut score receives a “Fail.” Learn more about the original ARE 5.0 cut score process.

Why does the cut score matter?
Adjusting the cut score for each division based on the modified number of items, increased timing, new exam delivery tools, and navigation ensures that all candidates continue to be assessed fairly and at the same level of rigor as previous ARE 5.0 candidates. By setting an updated cut score, NCARB is making sure that you are being evaluated appropriately based on the difficulty of the exam that you’re taking.

Your exam performance in comparison to the cut score is what determines whether you receive a “Pass” or “Fail” on your score report. Cut scores are not raised or lowered to set pass rates, because the level of competency required to protect the public doesn't vary.

The cut score is not a target percentage of test-takers who should pass an ARE division, and NCARB does not adjust scores based on any sort of “curve.” The cut score is a fixed number based on the level of difficulty of all scored items on the form you take. (A “form” is the set of scored questions that make up your administration on test day.)

Adjusting the cut score for difficulty ensures all candidates who receive a passing score have demonstrated the same level of competency, which is a necessary step in guaranteeing licensing boards that you are able to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

How will NCARB determine how to adjust the cut score?
Psychometricians will conduct an equating exercise comparing the operational forms being launched as part of the online proctoring option to the forms of ARE 5.0 that have been used previously. Because the item bank is made up of questions used prior to December 14, the scored items being used on the new forms have reliable statistical data points from past test administrations. This will allow NCARB to properly measure and compare new performance to previous.

A general equating will be done to accommodate for the overall decrease in the possible number of potential points on each form. Since the number of items (and thus points) is going down, the cut score is going to decrease for each division. In addition, further item analysis will be conducted to determine how individual items are performing in the new delivery. If candidates’ performance consistently indicates that items are more difficult in the new format, the cut score may be lowered. And vice versa—if candidates performance indicates that items are less difficult in the new format, the cut score may be raised. The final equated cut score calculation for each division will consider the various changes occurring as part of the online proctoring option.

To set the cut score, NCARB will use data from approximately 400 test administrations per division. Volunteer architects will review the psychometric analysis and exam performance of candidates and recommend a cut score for each division. The cut scores will then be reaffirmed by our psychometricians and approved by the NCARB Board of Directors before they’re implemented.

What can I expect while the cut score is set?
NCARB expects the process of establishing the cut score for each division to take approximately four weeks from the launch of online proctoring. While the cut scores are being set, NCARB will not release any score reports, and provisional feedback will not be available during the testing appointment. Once the cut score for a division is set, NCARB will release all the score reports for that division.

Setting cut scores is a one-time thing when exam changes are made, so after the cut scores are established, score reporting timeframes will return to normal. Typically, score reports are available within one or two days. Also, once the cut score is established, provisional feedback will be available at the end of an exam appointments