A Broken System? New Survey Reveals Widespread Disquiet Over ARE Testing Process

More than 1,000 aspiring and recently licensed architects told of their frustration and anxiety with the examination system.

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

Recently, 1,114 aspiring and recently licensed architects participated in a survey that revealed a huge dissatisfaction with the state of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) testing process and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), the body that oversees it. 72% of ARE candidates reported being dissatisfied with their relationship with NCARB, while 95% reported they did not feel the NCARB Board of Directors properly understands the concerns, challenges and issues facing ARE candidates.

The most pressing problems facing current ARE candidates relate to the software they use to take their exams. 73% of candidates have experienced the software lagging, freezing or crashing altogether while taking their tests, costing them valuable time and making it significantly more difficult to maintain concentration.

Then, there is growing anxiety around proposed changes to the exams, which are transitioning from version 5.0 to 5.1 before the end of 2020 (the transition has already been delayed by a month from November to December). 84% of survey respondents believe that incoming changes will present more roadblocks to people wanting to become licensed architects.

The biggest concern is around the banning of scratch paper from exams taken in testing centers, to be replaced by an as-yet untested “digital whiteboard”. Given the outstanding technical problems with NCARB’s testing software, this has led to a stampede of candidates attempting to change their testing schedules and squeeze in their exams before these changes are put in place.

The scrapping of physical scratch paper has been explained by NCARB as a necessity in order to make conditions in test centers exactly the same as those taking the exam remotely (an option introduced in response to the COVID–19 pandemic). However, 94% of candidates view remote proctoring as a fundamentally different experience, therefore making “equality” between the two testing methods both impossible and unnecessary.

The same percentage of candidates believe the removal of physical paper from test centers will negatively affect their test performance. 82% also feel the change could disproportionately impact left-handed candidates and those with a physical disability.

Then, there were wider issues reported regarding communication and transparency between NCARB and its stakeholders. A staggering 95% of survey respondents said they did not feel properly represented when decisions around testing are being made by NCARB. 94% also felt they had not been listened to when reporting testing issues.

While the survey is not a definitive representation of everyone within the ARE testing process, the high number of respondents — 1,114 active candidates took the survey — means it is likely an accurate reflection of opinions.

It remains to be seen what, if any, changes are made by NCARB in light of these findings. Stay tuned for more updates, and read the full survey over on youngarchitect.com.

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