March 3, 2014

Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) - My Approach and what to do

As I mentioned in my first post, I took one exam (CDS) in 2010 and failed due to my lack of understanding of the graphic portion. I officially started my exams in middle of 2011 and completed four exams prior to my son being born in July 2012. I took another two exams prior to my daughter being born this past Oct 2013. I couldn't be more ecstatic to be finished. Here's my process and advice, in general of course. NCARB has its strict privacy policy and I do not plan on divulging anything other than general information on the exam and the process I took to get here.

The Exam & NCARB:
First thing's first, do you have an NCARB record? Recording IDP hours? If not go here: NCARB IDP , read it all, create your account and transfer all the required docs from your college (diploma, etc.). 
What ever state you are in, you will have to apply to be allowed to start testing. Check with yours to find out the rules. They will look at your experience, education and make a determination. It wasn't a big issue for me since NY state allows concurrent AREs and IDP.

While you wait for authorization to test go here: NCARB ARE Info , read all items and download ARE Guidelines and all the seven section guides NCARB ARE Sections. You can also download each section practice program to your computer for later use.
Don't be in a rush to finish IDP. I wasn't in a rush knowing the AREs would encompass a good amount of time and I'd for sure be done by the time I got all 7 done.

Now comes the studying!  

The Exams & the Order:
There are seven (7) exams: PPP, SPD, BDCS, SD, SS, BS, CDS. You can check the NCARB site for their full names. The first basic question almost everyone asks is which do you start with? This is a very personal question. It all depends on your work experience and your strengths & weaknesses. There is a known grouping of exams that overlap topics. They are 1. CDS, PPP & SPD and 2. SS, BS & BDCS. These exams should be tested close together since all the info will be fresh in your head and help to pass the whole set. SD is set aside and known to be the easiest exam. I choose to take this order: CDS, PPP, BDCS, SD, SS, BS & SPD. I know I deviated from my own advice but after taking them all I see why each set is overlapped. In my opinion, the most difficult exams are SS & BDCS. It is mainly due to the vast amount of info necessary to go through and the broad range that can be on exam. SS has a reputation for being un-passable but it really is not. I took the SS Thaddeus online course and it helped immensely. I'd recommend this over anything else. He dispels the myths about the exam and he is dead on. I know they have the in-person 3 day seminar but with the online version you get more info and have 45 days to use it all at your own pace. There really is not that much math. It's all about the theory behind it all.
At the end of each section guide there are reference books that help with studying. They usually list at least 10 or more. Some I had from my college days but others I did not. I did not go crazy buying them all. I purchased some which were more general and larger in covering the scope of the exam. In addition to these reference books, there are the two big study guides that are most popular: PPI/Ballast Guides & Kaplan Guides. I used both. The PPI/Ballast ARE review Manual is the older 2009-2010 version but is still fine to use. The Kaplan, also the older version, is the more expensive of the two but usually worth it for each of the sections. There are a ton of other guides but be weary as some aren't as good or missing vital info. Using both really enforced the info since they approach it differently but the outcome was the same.        

My Process:         
The best way to go about the exams in my opinion is to set a routine and follow it very closely. The best is to try and study everyday. Yes everyday. I stuck to my routine religiously. Every night after my wife and kids were sleep I studied. At least an hour, sometimes less sometimes more. I am a night person as most architecture students become following college. So this worked for me. It makes for very little sleep with a baby that wakes up throughout the night though! What every time frame works for you, run with it. 

Another good thing is to get all your study info and make a folder in your digital cloud (Dropbox, Google +, Google Drive, etc.). Load all your stuff into it so you have access to it on your computer, laptop, tablet, phone, work computer, etc. On free time, you can review some things. I utilized Dropbox and loved having the access. Practice exams and graphic portions were always more structured at home in quiet to emulate the exam itself. 

Vignettes/Graphics Portions:
One word: Practice! The NCARB has a weird program for the exam and you must learn it and know it well. Practice practice and practice. It is crucial to get good with that program. Vignettes become a breeze. You will only have to focus on the problem rather than "how to get the program to do" something. Speed is your friend since it has some really odd functions. Be familiar with "zoom" and "erase" especially. I would review each practice problem at least 5 times. BDCS is a tough one since you have 85 multiple choice and three, yes THREE, vignettes to complete. Timing is everything. 

Book Resources: 
The PPI books are decent. Kind of dense to read. I liked the Kaplan books better though. They break each exam in chapters. Each chapter has a quiz on that info. Keep you in touch with what you have read. Plus the Kaplan is a little easier to read and comprehend. I usually took 3 months of study time except Structures which I took a good 6 months. 3 months is plenty for all the others. More than that and you forget stuff. Also I made a habit of studying through all the guides multiple times so it stuck in my head. Using Kaplan and PPI, I read through them 2-3 times each or more. This way I force the info to my knowledge not just memory. Some people are able to take them in shorter time spans. I was not able. I had two children in the 2.5 years it took me to finish exams. I have extensive responsibilities at my firm, so this worked for me. 
The most important part to all this is after you've familiarized your self with the study material after a month or so, schedule your exam. This as I like to say "makes it real". You then have a reason for all the studying and you focus IN. The last 2 weeks is crunch time and I usually study 2-3hrs a day and leave the day before exam as a cool down review time (no hard studying).
Online resources: 
(This site has been taken down by NCARB because some people were giving out exam info that broke confidentiality rules. It may go back up but nobody knows when.) 

 (alternate forum for discussion on AREs. Good for posting practice vignettes and asking for review by others. Take others advice with a grain of salt. Not everyone knows what they are talking about.) 
(this thread has links to study info from the now closed AREforum)

Good general info here: 
(He's dead on, on a lot of the aspects of taking exams. And in order to pass, you have to show up.)
These links are private people who took exams and made the best study help documents and many people refer to these as the best free guides around. Look at these before you buy anything other than the PPI & Kaplan guides:

LEED. I'll keep my story short (if I can): I took and passed my LEED when it was "hot and IN" back in 2008 prior to attempting any exams. I wanted to use that as a buffer to preparing to start AREs. I am extremely glad I went that route. I will explain in a second. My test was completely different than it is now. When I went for it, there was one exam not two like there is now. I am considered LEED Legacy AP (or something like that) since I came in prior to the separation between GA and LEED Fellow. I wouldn't advise anyone to go for it now unless you currently work on LEED projects and it is after getting license. I worked on a LEED project at my old office (prior to passing exams). I loved doing it but I was an intern and wasn't given as much responsibility as I wanted. My current office does do some green design with new technologies but no LEED projects thus far. 

With that being said, if you are not LEED- it would not be a bad idea to get the (older/used) LEED study guide(s) for reference. Or check their websites: USGBC & GBCI. Nearly all the exams touch on Green Design/Sustainability. Having my LEED was invaluable for that reason. I already went through so much sustainability studying so a lot of the techniques and products, I was/am familiar with.

I recommend to any one doing their exams or about to: Upon completion of IDP, transfer your whole record (work & school experience) to your state prior to completing your exams. This makes the process after completing your last exam that much easier and quicker. I took my last exam on 2-15-14. Received my pass on 2-22-14. Received my license number on 2-26-14. And lastly received an official hard copy of my license and registration certificates on 3-1-14. All in 2 weeks exactly. This was the best route to take by far. I will add that this is NY state and other states will vary. Just keep in mind your record must be finalized and reviewed by NCARB before considered "complete". Additionally, this same record has to be reviewed by your state to ensure everything meets their requirements. This all will take time. Get it out of the way early on. I doubt that it's just me but after the final exam, all I wanted was my official certificates finalizing my completion!  

I hope that helps! I did not just write this for you but so I can refer those attempting the exams here. Under 4.0, you need to start now! The new ARE 5.0 will be transitioning in fall 2016. You want to be done by 2016 so you aren't forced to repeat sections with the new 5.0. Complete 4.0 now!! If you have any other questions or issues you've encountered, comment below and I'll respond back. Thanks for reading.

Jared W. Smith R.A.

Interesting link to another two blog posts about the AREs - ARE 
Shoegnome - ARE

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful advice. I would add NALSA to the list...they have the Archiflash digital study cards and vignette study guides. I found their
    products helpful in passing my ARE's.