December 23, 2014

Submission to NYCOBA for Recognition Award- "A Lesson Learned in Architecture"

I recently won an award for my efforts to promote and help young emerging professionals attain licensure. This submission was to the New York Coalition of Black Architects (NYCOBA) part of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). I am honored to hear others speak highly of my works and give me recognition to which I am humbled. The following is the written submission I wrote which is an update to my first NCARB Architectural Registration Exam pointers found HERE.   

A Lesson Learned in Architecture (NCARB ARE)

Architecture is a dynamic creature that begs to be mastered but can never truly be achieved. Many lessons can be derived from a profession that deals with such a complex art.The Architectural Registration Exam (ARE) is a lesson ("a useful piece of practical wisdom acquired by experience or study") that lends itself to acquire practical wisdom from its laborious process. Having completed the ARE process, coupled with relevant experience, what follows is a reflection of what process I took in preparation for the exam. Hopefully, my accounts will be a helping hand and shed light on the path for current candidates seeking licensure.

Key Concentration-
There is more at play than just sitting at a desk and answering some questions. Yes, the exam is intimidating but only due to its unfamiliarity. The process that assisted me in accomplishing a successful result entailed three strategic factors: understanding your study style, momentum and consistent persistence. I believe that these factors should be approached in your own personal way and applied across the entire 7-exam process.

Making a Schedule-
This is a useful starting point that doesn't have to be detailed or lengthy.

Firstly: Briefly review ALL seven exam section guides provided by NCARB. This will get you thinking on each subject. The ordering in which you test is irrelevant initially. Think about your exam spacing and any life events that may be occurring. This may be family, work or school related which will affect your exam focus. Set aside these initial findings.

Secondly: Follow up with a more in-depth review of each section guide and the additional reference materials therein. Which topics are you familiar with? Which are new to you? Would you rather start with the unfamiliar topics and finish up with familiar ones or would you rather the opposite? When you have answered these questions, you are on your way to having a tentative schedule and exam order. Tentative, in that it is likely to change.

Study Style-
How well were you during high school and college taking exams? What factors were necessary for you to do well? Did you procrastinate? Organized sessions or sporadic? Did you read repeatedly, listen to audio books or make personal flash cards? These questions pose the relevant dialogue you should have with yourself. Understanding the manner in which you learn is key to "ingesting" the massive amount of information the ARE encompasses. I was able to read study guides & reference guides repeatedly while making my own notes. My most important note taking was during and following practice exams. You should be honest with yourself about topics or questions you don't grasp during the study process. Review them and note where you went wrong. Seek out additional materials if you still have trouble.

I did not "cram" for any of my exams and I do not recommend you do so either. "The quicker the information comes in, the quicker it goes out." Remember this exam is a learning tool; you will not retain much information if you just memorize. If your passion is architecture, knowing every word is unrealistic but understanding the topics and concepts will help you beyond your exams. This is uniquely important for the structures and building systems exams. Most would think there's no need to delve deep into these topics since I have engineers to handle this in real life. Yes and No. Architects need to be knowledgeable on many facets of buildings, design and construction; sort of a 'jack of all trades'. This Renaissance man mentality was very apparent during my study sessions. Understanding the principal concepts of basic structures and their loading is just as important as understanding heating, cooling and drainage.

A physics term which has two applicable meanings as related to the ARE:

One: A mass in motion. Consider yourself to be the mass and the completion of one exam as motion. In order to create motion, you have to start. It's understandable with exam topics, procedures, software, all of which is new, for this to be daunting. The famous phrase said it best "half the battle is showing up." Procrastination is not your friend. I found it necessary to bite the bullet and get started. If you are slipping during the process, make sure to reassess your schedule.

Two: The more the mass is in motion the harder it is to stop. Once you start, do not stop! I got into a groove of testing across the 2.5 years it took me to finish. Then the task doesn't seem as difficult but just a necessary middle man to an achievable goal. This was especially important for me having passed all seven exams straight through without stopping.

Consistent Persistence-
Though partly related to the aforementioned factor and somewhat expected, these are equally important aspects of completing your ARE. After setting a schedule and starting, you have to remain consistent with your study routine; a routine which will be dependent on each individual. I also felt it necessary to study every day in order to remain persistent. The material remained fresh in my mind and I built on top of that information in every subsequent study session. I did not take too much time off or it would have felt like I was starting all over.

About the Exam-
The exam itself is broken down into a multiple choice portion and a graphic vignette portion. Multiple choice is exactly what you'd expect; choosing the correct word answer(s) from four to six options, fill in the blank, true-false and graphic/picture selection. The biggest help for me during preparations was taking as many different practice exams as possible. I recommend you take a wide variety of exams from different testing material publishers. I'll warn you, I only took each practice exam twice at the most. Any more than that and you run the risk of memorizing the correct answer as opposed to learning why the correct answer is correct.

Unfortunately, the graphic portion utilizes a truly un-user friendly software. It is quirky and time consuming if you aren't accustom to it. There's only one solution to mastering this program and that's usage time. In the beginning I would start using the program at my midway study point. Towards the end of my testing I could wait until the latter since I was very proficient using it. Familiarity aids in time management which is a major learning curve to overcome. Generally, the vignettes are not difficult but put under a time constraint coupled with the software nuisances, they do become challenging. For multiple choice and vignettes, my review materials consisted of Kaplan & Ballast/PPI study guide systems, Norman Dorf's Solutions vignette guide, NCARB guides, select reference text and various free online study resources.

Don't let things get you down-
Failure is a principal we come to terms with at an early age. No one is perfect and we cannot let the possibility of failure deter you from accomplishing your goal. The ARE is no different. Prepare for the exam accordingly and give it your all. Be positive and confident. This was my testing ethic. After starting my exams I hit a stumbling block. My first exam came back as a FAIL. I was upset and distort. Reading the letter almost brought me to tears. Getting back on the horse per sae was not an easy task, but I did and passed all seven after that. I urge you to take advantage of the given score report as well as an evaluation of your feeling during the exam and try again. With the new 60 day wait period, don't be fooled into rushing into a second attempt. Make sure to prepare accordingly.

Get the Paperwork done-
Despite my heavy focus on studying and getting through the exams, I did not forget about the documentation process. I was sure to stay up to date on the completion of all NCARB and state license requirements. In a lot of states you are allowed to test concurrently with completion of the IDP. In my state, NY, this is so. These requirements can vary greatly, so be proactive. For example: I've seen NY require more than the NCARB minimum experience hours. NCARB sets the basis but your state is the final determining factor. I felt it was prudent to complete the backend items so my main focus was on the only outstanding requirement: the ARE. In a two (2) week span of time I was able to get my last exam pass, attain my license number from the state and receive my formal & official hard copy certificate, license and registration. Next to the day of my marriage and the birth of my two children, that was a glorious moment! The ARE is challenging but it is far from impossible. Stay positive from day one. Set up a plan and stick with it.

Bringing it all together-
Gaining momentum while being consistent and persistent is key but you also have to work within your limits understanding what works for you. Be cautious as to who you confide in about your journey through the ARE. There will always be that bitter person that complains about every aspect of the exam or makes excuses as to why you shouldn't start. Attempting to stay positive in your own path can be derailed with these "Debbie Downers." There's enough pressure with completing the exam itself. Strive toward completion and remember "That which is worth having isn't easily attained."

Jared W. Smith, R.A.  
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