New Era for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®)

San Diego, CA—A new path forward for the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) was revealed today by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) at its 94th Annual Meeting. The NCARB Board of Directors has approved the development of ARE 5.0, the next version of the examination, which will incorporate dramatic new breakthroughs in graphic testing methods. The use of case studies and new “performance item type” questions will allow the determination of a candidate's graphic competency while not requiring the present outdated CAD software system.

ARE 5.0 is anticipated to launch in late 2016, with development and integration testing taking place over the next three and a half years. The division and exam structure are expected to be finalized by mid-2014, at which time information about the transition from ARE 4.0 to ARE 5.0 will be announced. The launch schedule assumes successful modeling and testing of this approach in the coming months.

“This is the threshold of a new era for the ARE,” said NCARB President Ronald B. Blitch, FAIA, FACHA, NCARB. The proposed direction for ARE 5.0 was informed by multi-year R&D efforts of volunteer committees, expert psychometric advice, research conducted by a multi-disciplinary staff project team, results of the 2012 NCARB Practice Analysis of Architecture, and a thorough review of emerging technology and testing industry tools.

The new test specification will be developed by the ARE 5.0 Test Specification Task Force and evaluated by the ARE Item Development Subcommittee, NCARB’s largest volunteer committee, which is responsible for writing questions (or “items”) for the exam.

The ARE is required by all 54 U.S. jurisdictions and helps ensure that both NCARB’s Member Boards and licensed practitioners can meet their obligation to protect the public health, safety, and welfare.

Proposed Structure and New Item Types

Proposed Divisional Structure
The proposed structure of ARE 5.0, which is not yet finalized, includes six divisions, and while it is anticipated that each of the proposed ARE 5.0 divisions will be standalone, single test administrations, it is possible these divisions could result in more than one exam part. This shift in structure results from an effort to align the ARE with the more commonly defined professional architect activities of practice management, project management, and project design.

1. Practice Management
2. Project Management
3. Programming & Project Analysis
4. Project Planning & Design
5. Project Development & Documentation
6. Construction Phase Services & Project Evaluation

“Rather than looking at individual components of buildings and testing on foundations followed by testing on life safety systems in a building, what we decided to propose is to move from how you manage a firm, to how you manage a project, to how you design a project, and last but not least to how that project gets implemented,” said David Cronrath, Chair ARE R&D Subcommittee, Dean and Professor, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, & Preservation.

New Item (Question) Types and New Graphic Testing Methods
“We saw an opportunity to introduce a means of testing that wouldn’t involve the classic generation of a graphics solution, such as the way it is done in the vignettes or the way it was done in the old 12-hour design exam,” said Cronrath. “Instead, we saw an opportunity for testing at higher levels of cognition through analytical, synthetic, and evaluative exercises—which would be more like what an architect does as part of regular practice—and have a high quality and reliable exam.”

The proposed six-division structure of ARE 5.0 incorporates graphics throughout the exam through new item types like hot spots (candidates are presented a question asking them to identify the correct location, or “hot spot,” on a response image) and performance items, instead of through the current graphic vignettes. In the performance item type, candidates are given a problem statement that may or may not have associated references such as codes or ordinances, either a single or multiple design elements to work with, and a base drawing. They must then arrange the design elements on the base drawing in response to the problem statement and any appropriate reference requirements.

“Initially, I was very, very skeptical of eliminating graphic vignettes from this exam—it’s at the essence of what we [architects] do,” said John P. Sullivan, FAIA, Member ARE R&D Subcommittee, Member, New York State Board of Architecture, Sullivan Architecture, PC. “We evaluated an awful lot of material … task force information, information from other committees, and expert advice from psychometricians regarding varying means to deliver an examination like ours.” Ultimately, Sullivan concluded that ARE 5.0 simply offers a different means of delivering graphics in the exam. “I’m sold. I’m there. I’m on board and feeling very comfortable knowing that we can craft … an improved examination.”

Incorporation of Case Studies
To allow for items that require more in-depth analysis of architectural scenarios by candidates, case studies are also anticipated to be implemented in all proposed divisions and will consist of a scenario with a related set of resource documents (e.g., drawings, specifications, code resources). Case studies require candidates to assess multiple pieces of information and make evaluative judgments, a better reflection of the practice of architecture, as often no one decision is made in isolation of other factors.

A Psychometrically Sound Exam
All of the proposed item types for ARE 5.0 have been judged by outside testing experts to be psychometrically justifiable for purposes of the program. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999) requires test developers to collect evidence that supports the intended interpretations and uses of test scores. Such evidence is typically collected to ensure that the test is measuring the intended knowledge and skills (validity), in a consistent manner (reliability) that is appropriate for all examinees (fairness). “NCARB has a history of being viewed in the industry as a leader for its forward thinking approaches to test development,” said Chad W. Buckendahl, Ph.D., Senior Psychometrician, Alpine Testing Solutions. “We have confidence in the range of options that NCARB is considering for ARE 5.0, and believe the ARE can continue to set the benchmark for other organizations looking at methods for appropriately representing a professional domain through testing strategies that balance breadth and depth of measurement.”

Path to ARE 5.0

R&D Efforts Led to a New Path Forward
In early 2012, the NCARB Board of Directors decided to pause development efforts around a new delivery model for the ARE in order to conduct more research around options and opportunities for a future exam. This research involved evaluating a range of research inputs, such as data from the 2012 Practice Analysis, and considering possibilities for the future, such as new item types, different scoring models, and new delivery models.

“The testing industry has changed dramatically in the last five years … there’s a different way to deliver items; there are new item types out there being used by other professions/exams,” according to NCARB Assistant Director of Examination Development Jared N. Zurn, AIA, NCARB. “We learned there were some new testing tools available to us that could potentially give us the determination of competency from a graphics standpoint without a CAD-based software program. That was basically the light bulb that went off that said, ‘we have a solution,’” added Blitch.

In February 2013, the NCARB Board of Directors, “understanding the full implications of this decision … voted unanimously with where we were [heading] … with a lot of excitement that we were on the threshold of something really special,” said Blitch.

ARE Development Process
The ARE is developed by practitioner volunteers from across the United States and Canada, ranging from recently licensed to experienced architects, from large and small firms, who have their "fingers on the pulse" of the profession and are familiar with its trends and current practices. NCARB and its volunteer committees are committed to using and implementing innovative testing methodologies to ensure all sections of the exam remain fresh, current, and forward thinking.

For More Information

To learn more about the ARE, please visit the ARE section. Additional information about ARE 5.0 will be released as various phases of research and development are completed, leading up to a late 2016 launch.


The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ membership is made up of the architectural registration boards of all 50 states as well as those of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NCARB assists its member registration boards in carrying out their duties and provides a certification program for individual architects.

NCARB protects the public health, safety, and welfare by leading the regulation of the practice of architecture through the development and application of standards for licensure and credentialing of architects. In order to achieve these goals, the Council develops and recommends standards to be required of an applicant for architectural registration; develops and recommends standards regulating the practice of architecture; provides to Member Boards a process for certifying the qualifications of an architect for registration; and represents the interests of Member Boards before public and private agencies. NCARB has established reciprocal registration for architects in the United States and Canada.