by: ARIK LUBKIN, ASSOCIATE AIA
This past February I plunged head first into the ARE 5, taking (and passing!) all six exams over the course of four weeks. It was a grueling gauntlet that seems like a dream now. I still check my NCARB report every other week to make sure that it really happened. The anxiety and uncertainty most people – myself included – have over taking the exams is palpable, and since I took them, even before I found out I’d passed, I’ve received a number of messages from old friends and classmates asking for advice, strategies, study materials, and why on Earth I would take them all so close together?
I’ll answer the last question first. Sometime right near the end of January I got an email from NCARB with their latest incentive: until they got the 600 testers they needed in order to establish the cut scores they were offering a free retake to anyone who failed. Yowza! To be able to take the test without feeling like I’d be throwing away the testing fees if I didn’t pass was a huge motivator. I’d been studying on and off for the tests for a while, putting off actually scheduling them while I debated taking some in ARE 4 and some in ARE 5. But once I scheduled them it was game face time. No more deliberating, no more procrastinating. It was time to study.
Whether you’re planning on spacing out your tests or trying to tackle them in a mad flurry, here is the best advice I can give:
Know Your Strengths
Everyone’s path through architecture and AXP is different, and you’ll certainly have more experience with certain areas of architecture than others. It’s easy to be intimated by the sheer volume of material in the review books and the extensive ARE 5 bibliography, but if you’ve been practicing as an intern you certainly know more than you think. Start there and build outwards. Starting with what you know is a great way to build confidence as you study.
Make Your Own Flashcards
While looking for test prep materials online I found multiple collections of flashcards for sale, posted on forums, etc. I had bought a few boxes of Kaplan flashcards for the ARE 4.0 and after I took all the tests most of them still had the shrink wrap on them. Why? Because taking the time to write the flashcards slowly and deliberately helps you remember the information better than anything else.
Understand the Test
The absolute worst piece of advice I’ve seen out there for tackling the ARE 5 is to tackle the case studies first. I’m not sure why, but people seem absolutely convinced that they are worth more despite NCARB reiterating time and again that all test questions are worth one point. It’s easy to spend several minutes on each case study question whereas most regular questions can be answered in 30 seconds or less. The case studies are at the end of the test, where they belong. If you are good at processing information in the back of your mind, I did find it useful to take a quick glance – no more than five minutes – at the case studies and supplemental material at the beginning of the test to let my subconscious brain sort through it while I worked on the main body of the exam.
Unfortunately this one is hard to study for. I firmly believe that I passed all of the exams on the first go around because I had the chance on almost every test to answer every question, then go back and at least review my flagged questions. So how can you test faster? First take a swift pass through the test. Answer every question you know or have a pretty good feeling about. If you’re not sure, flag it. If you don’t know, or if it is a bit more involved and requires calculations, skip it. Get as much of the test done as you can on this pass. Since there are only two levels of tagging questions – either flagging or leaving unanswered – I had multiple lists going on my scratch paper: hard questions, long questions, questions I answered but didn’t feel great about, etc. After you make it through that initial set, congratulations! You’ve probably gotten a good chunk of the test complete and should have plenty of time left. Now go through and hit your unanswered questions and case studies, then spend any time left reviewing flagged questions. Remember that there is no harm in guessing, but there is definitely harm in spending 20 minutes agonizing over a single question.
I’ll cover more about test prep materials and exam sequencing in a future post, but remember that AIA Santa Fe is a great resource for study materials. If you have specific questions, get in touch or find me at an AIA luncheon and I’ll try to address it in the future.
Arik Lubkin is a Senior Architectural Associate at John Barton Architects in Santa Fe. He received his M.Arch. from the University of Maryland in 2010 and has designed assembly, educational, healthcare, hospitality, and residential spaces. He owned and ran Lubkin Design, LLC in Chicago for several years before moving to Santa Fe.