The path to becoming a licensed architect often seems daunting. Between schooling, experience and exams, the journey looks different depending on where an emerging professional hopes to become licensed, whether in their home country or abroad. However, there are many resources to help guide professionals in their journey to licensure, including a series of programs in the United States to help test-takers pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).
In most U.S. states and territories, you’ll need a degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) to get a license. You’ll also need to gain real-world experience. For most aspiring architects, passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) is the final step to earning a license. The ARE 5.0 is a multi-part test made up of six divisions:
- Practice Management
- Project Management
- Programming & Analysis
- Project Planning & Design
- Project Development & Documentation
- Construction & Evaluation
Each U.S. jurisdiction requires that you pass the ARE, and most will allow you to test while earning experience. The exam evaluates whether you have the necessary knowledge and skills in areas of architecture related to health, safety, and welfare. The following guide outlines how to pass the Architect Registration Exam through a series of steps, forming a resource for aspiring architects on their journey to becoming licensed.
1. Start with NCARB
As the body that runs the ARE, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) provides a range of resources, study tools and guides to help professionals through the process of examination. The ARE 5.0 Guidelines includes everything you need to know about starting the ARE, scheduling an exam, going to the test center, and other important examination policies. Download the Guidelines for a step-by-step explanation of how to navigate ARE 5.0. At the same time, The ARE 5.0 Handbook walks you through each division, providing specifics on objectives, sample questions, suggested references, and more.
There are many more NCARB resources you can try as well: you can join the ARE 5.0 Community when looking for a study group, or if need help from NCARB’s experts, and there is also a free demonstration of the exam, available through your NCARB Record. The video prep series offers insight into each ARE 5.0 division with information on content, sample questions, and suggested references, while NCARB also has a blog with study tips and details about the exam.
Bear in mind that there have been many changes to NCARB’s exam system, many of which have made headlines in recent months; talk to others navigating the ARE process to better understand these changes and prepare for them.
2. Find the Right Study Materials
NCARB provides more than its own resources; it also evaluates a series of submitted materials to gauge whether they adequately address the content areas and objectives outlined in the ARE 5.0 Handbook. These include Black Spectacles and Architect Exam Prep, as well as PPI, a Kaplan Company. You can also find free content via blogs and on YouTube, open-access information that can help you as you navigate what to study. It’s important to try and better understand your study habits before you try to learn the material.
It’s vital to vary your study resources to form a well-rounded education across the six divisions. There are many other study materials and courses that can also be great resources on your journey. These include rigorous, in-depth courses like the Young Architect Bootcamp run by Michael Riscica, as well as study guides and resources like Hyperfine and Amber Book. Each will provide you with a different method of studying and understanding the range of content you’ll need to know to pass the exam. Don’t forget to try studying from multiple sources; as you mix it up regularly it can help you understand the material.
3. Design Your Study Strategy
Develop a personalized strategy for studying, as well as for breaks during the exam. Study strategies differ, but consistency and dedication are required no matter which option you choose. It takes considerable time and effort to pass the exam, and many emerging professionals see licensure as a personal milestone. Remind yourself of your reasons for pursuing licensure, and commit to a study strategy that is achievable given your workload and study habits. Many of the aforementioned courses and study guides give you a study framework to follow, including how much time is required and the amount of content that you need to cover each week.
Taking breaks apply to both your study plan and the exam itself. In the latest version of the ARE, each division will include 30 to 45 minutes of break time, which can be used for one long break or multiple short breaks. But remember, previously viewed questions will now be locked after you return from a break, so pace yourself accordingly.
4. Learn from Practice
ARE 5.0’s six divisions mirror current practice and the progression of a typical project. The ARE focuses on areas that affect the integrity, soundness, and health impact of a building, as well as an architect’s responsibilities within firms, such as managing projects and coordinating the work of other professionals. Remember that whether you pass an exam or not, you’ll continue to learn and gain experience in each of the divisions along the way. These mirror practice itself; a great way to study and pass the Architect Registration Exam is to practice architecture in a firm and continue learning how to run an office and detail buildings.
While some believe taking the exam immediately after graduation helps as you’re still in “study mode,” having training in practice can also help you pass the exam. Consider what works best for you.
5. Commit to Your Plan
Remember that no study guide or course is perfect. Stick to your plan; every test taker is different, and will have diverse needs. Figure out your learning style, take some guidance from NCARB and practice, and look for third party materials that can help you mix up your study plan. The biggest tip to passing the Architect Registration Exam is to commit! Make a plan, and stick to it.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t pass — each exam, pass or fail, is the most valuable learning experience you’ll have throughout this process. Reschedule your exam and continue to study, varying your resources to grow your knowledge in a holistic way. Every year, thousands of designers take the ARE; reach out to others in your firm or within a study group for encouragement. Don’t be afraid to fail, and keep reminding yourself why you want to become licensed. With commitment, a study plan and practice materials, you can create the right approach to pass the Architect Registration Exam.