One Down, Five to Go

by: STEVEN MATTERN, ASSOCIATE AIA, CDT, Studio Southwest Architects

After having completed my first ARE 5.0 exam, I’m relieved to have passed and ready to approach the remaining tests with new hope and insight. For those of you who’ll soon be beginning the exams yourselves, here are some thoughts and considerations to help prepare and motivate you.

First off, after studying for this exam I quickly realized that doing so immediately filled in gaps in my knowledge. Perhaps this goes without saying but for certain passing the AREs and becoming licensed will make you better at what you do. Much of the information on the exams is not taught in architecture school and so in some ways completion of the AXP and AREs is the grand finale of one’s architecture education.

Since the pass rates for all the exams hover around 50%, it’s pretty likely the average test taker will experience some failure. While I was prepared for this, I didn’t want it to be on my first exam. So, I over-studied a bit to try to ensure my test experience would start strong. Although you can take the tests in any order you wish, I elected to start with the Practice Management exam. NCARB lists it first in the series and at 80 questions and 2 hours and 45 minutes, it’s one of the shorter exams. For about two months I studied between 5-10 hours per week, which was about the most I could muster with everything else in life. Being a member of AIA ABQ enabled access to their Brightwood (formerly Kaplan) book and flashcards. I read the book, worked and reworked the quizzes and studied the flash cards. Since I was being conservative on this first test, I also paid for a month of Black Spectacles (getting the AIA 15% discount) and watched all the videos. The Schiff Hardin audio lectures (available free online) were also very informative for understanding the AIA contracts.

After completing this studying it was time to pull the trigger and schedule the exam. Be sure to understand what to expect at the Prometric testing center since they enforce strict rules and don’t offer refunds if you’re late, etc. Once in the exam test takers can flag questions they wish to return to, which was useful to keep moving and not get stuck and waste time. While maybe ten or so of the questions were ones I felt very confident in answering (the easy ones), most were a bit puzzling and the challenge of finding the “best” answer resulted in me feeling only somewhat confident about the answers. Another ten or so questions were ones I did not feel confident about my answer (the hard ones). By the exam’s end and without knowing what score was needed to pass my confidence that I was successful was not high. Yet, the clouds parted when upon completion a screen popped up saying I “likely” passed. While the possibility of failure was not gone this was most welcome news*. Perhaps these exams aren’t as hard as I thought! Perhaps I know more than I realize! The day after the exam there as an email from NCARB: I passed! Available through the NCARB website was a document that lists the exams and showed a big red PASS next to Practice Management. No other information as provided.

Now after a glorious week off studying as celebration, it’s back

into the fog to prepare for the next one.

*Editor’s note: The “likely to pass” or “likely to fail” you receive at the end of a 5.0 exam is, per NCARB, completely accurate just not the official score report. 
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