Passing the Architect Registration Exam (ARE) allows you to get your license to practice architecture as a professional in all 50 states. The exam tests your knowledge of your professional obligations as an architect, including protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. You must pass the ARE and receive your state license before you are considered an architect. Our list of top study guides can be found further down.
ARE 5.0 is the current exam, which went into effect on November 1, 2016. The exam consists of six divisions that are structured to represent the progression of a typical project and the operations of a typical architecture firm. Each division includes a variety of questions (multiple choice, fill in the blank, check all that apply) and case studies that are similar to the older vignettes. The exams take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours each and require a significant amount of study and preparation. NCARB has a very thorough guide that has all the information you need to get ready for the ARE 5.0.
If you started the older ARE 4.0, you can still take those exams through June 30, 2018 at which point testers will be automatically transitioned to ARE 5.0. Each of the seven ARE 4.0 divisions includes multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and check-all-that-apply questions plus vignettes that require a graphic solution. The NCARB website has a wealth of information about the ARE 4.0 and the process for transitioning to ARE 5.0.
If you "test strategically," as NCARB puts it, you can complete the ARE in only 5 exams by taking a combination of some ARE 4.0 tests and some ARE 5.0 tests. More information is available on the NCARB Transition to ARE 5.0 page.
NCARB is an organization made up of members from each state licensing board. It is responsible for the Architect Registration Exam as well as IDP, which ensures that ARE candidates get a range of professional experience prior to taking the ARE and getting their license.
The NCARB website has all of the important information that you need to know as you prepare for and take the ARE. We would like to highlight a few important pieces of info:
ARE 5.0 Guidelines – a PDF that contains everything you need to know about your journey through prepping, taking, and passing the ARE 5.0.
ARE 5.0 Handbook – a PDF that introduces each division of the exam and give information about exam content, suggested references, and example questions.
Official ARE 5.0 Community – This official NCARB community is a great place to get help from fellow test-takers.
Preparing for the ARE – Includes guides for each division of the exam that give example questions (with answers) and solutions to sample graphic vignettes. In addition, downloadable practice programs are available for each division or you can sign up for a web-based practice program for $10 per year.
ARE 5.0 Study Guides and Materials
Quality study materials are critical to your success. There are a lot of test prep materials out there, but the following few items are our favorites. These are tried-and-true study guides that have helped thousands of testers, including the archtoolbox.com team! These should be on your must-have list.
Before purchasing the materials below, we recommend you check with your office to see if they have already purchased them. Many firms keep ARE study materials in their libraries. If they don't have them available, definitely ask if you can be reimbursed for buying them – most firms will say yes!
Please note that the exam is still relatively new and the various test prep companies are feverishly working to get their guides released. Mistakes happen when you rush so some early guides have problems. Other companies simply aren't releasing until they are ready. Check back here regularly as we expect the ARE 5.0 guides to be updated, but for those studying now, our recommendations are below.
ARE 5 Review Manual
The absolutely massive ARE 5 Review Manual is the best comprehensive study guide on the market. David Kent Ballast has been teaching people to pass the Architect Registration Exam for a very long time. If you are going to purchase just one study guide, this is the one. This is required reading and contains tons of figures, diagrams, tables, and 150 practice questions.
Unfortunately, there are some Amazon Comments indicating lots of grammatical errors in the first printing of book, but we expect the publisher to fix this in future releases and they have released an errata PDF.
ARE 5 Practice Problems
These practice problems are meant to be used during your study process while reviewing the above ARE 5 Review Manual. Review the problems to make sure you understand the content as you read it.
The book includes more than 550 problems sorted by divisions and section so you can check your knowledge in particular areas.
ARE 5 Practice Exam
Use this book to take mock exams prior to taking the real thing so you have a feeling for the time you have available. You will also be reviewing your knowledge for last-minute review sessions.
The book includes more than 500 problems organized into the six division tests, which should be taken with a time limit that matches the real exam.
If you aren't a fan of the Ballast study guides and tests or if you are struggling with a division and want another guide, you can also try the Brightwood ARE 5.0 study products. Brightwood purchased and rebranded the Kaplan study programs so they do have a history of providing quality study guides. Rather than package everything together, Brightwood allows you to buy the study guide and practice exam for each division. At $79 each, buying all 6 is more expensive so we recommend using these to brush up on the divisions you are struggling with.
ARE Flashcards are popular study materials. In the past, we have recommended the NALSA Archiflash flashcards (see links below) for exam prep. NALSA has yet to release their updated ARE 5.0 Archiflash, but you can still use their ARE 4.0 flashcards by resorting them per this blog post. Brightwood also offers flashcards on their website.
ARE 4.0 Study Guides and Materials
ARE Review Manual, Second Edition (for ARE 4.0)
Weighing in at around 800 pages, this is the king of ARE study materials. David Kent Ballast has been writing ARE guides for a long time and he has teamed up with Steven O’Hara to develop this guide for the ARE 4.0. This is the book we used to pass the exam and should be your main study guide.
Save money by renting: Rent the ARE Review Manual on Amazon
Archiflash Flashcards (for ARE 4.0 and ARE 5.0)
The Archiflash flashcards are the gold standard for ARE flashcards. Students have been using these to pass the test for a long time. If you have an iPhone, we recommend the mobile flashcards since you will always have them with you. However, you can also get the desktop version or the desktop + printed version.
These flashcards also work for the ARE 5.0! Check out this blog post from NALSA on sorting for the new exam.
NALSA Solutions Guidebook (for ARE 4.0)
The solutions guidebook is another must have, which covers all of the graphic vignette exercises on the ARE. You get 2 sample problems for each of the 11 vignettes, passing solutions, and failing solutions. This will help you understand the dos and don’ts of mastering the graphic portion of the exam.
ARE Sample Problems and Practice Exams (for ARE 4.0)
In our opinion, the Ballast sample questions and practice exams are the closest to the actual exam questions in terms of how they are written. Sometimes the test questions can seem vague or tricky, but the Ballast practice tests will teach you to think about the questions the right way. Choosing practice questions that give you a real feel and that force you to think like you will have to on the exam will give you more confidence when you are taking the exam.
There are a number of ways to get through the exam and you must tailor your method to meet your goals and keep up with your daily obligations. However, our number one recommendation is that you sit for the exam as soon as you are eligible and finish each division as quickly as possible. We cannot stress this enough – once you leave school and start to build your life, it gets harder to find time for studying and taking the exams. Find out about each state’s registration requirements.
We suggest establishing a testing schedule that works with your circumstances, but one that is relatively aggressive. For instance, you can decide to take the exams during the winter time (when people tend to stay indoors). Perhaps you decide that you can spend 2-3 hours every evening studying after work, plus 6-8 hours studying each weekend day. Based on that, you should be able to take a division exam every 2 or 3 weeks. At that pace, all exams can be finished in less than 5 months.
On the other hand, if you can only dedicate an hour per evening and a couple of hours each weekend, plus two full 8 hour days on the weekend before your test, you may only be able to take one division exam every 4 to 6 weeks. This would allow you to finish all the exams in a calendar year.
Again, our recommendation is to take the exams as quickly as possible and as soon after graduating from school as possible. In this case, you are still used to studying and you can easily find time to study without a family to look after.
Regardless, we suggest that you map out a schedule that works for you…and then stick to that schedule. Otherwise, it is easy to take time off from studying and next thing you know a couple of years have passed and you have to fight for time to dedicate to studying.
Local Study Groups
While studying for the ARE is a solo venture, don’t overlook how a support network can help you get through the exams quicker and with less stress. Check out your local AIA chapter for study groups. Team up with other people in your office who are working through the exam or who have recently passed. Finally, check out online forums to get input when you feel unsure about an exam topic.
Passing the ARE – Now What?
Congratulations! Passing the Architect Registration Exam is an enormous milestone in the career of an architect. You have worked hard and you deserve to celebrate! However, before you burn sell all those study guides and spend the next few weeks binge-watching Netflix, if you aren’t a LEED Accredited Professional we suggest you make the LEED exams your eighth exam. You are in study mode, after all!
In fact, rather than make the LEED Exams your final exam, we think it is smarter to make it your third or fourth exam. That way, you get a bit of a break from the ARE content and you won’t be tempted to avoid the LEED exam all together.
Listen to the advice of an architect that we know...
When I passed the ARE many years ago, I was sure that I would take the LEED exam right after I took the final ARE division. Unfortunately, finishing the ARE was such a huge relief that I needed a break. It was only going to be a week or two. Life got in the way and I didn’t get around to taking the LEED Green Associate Exam for another 4 years! Do yourself a favor and if you aren’t accredited, take the LEED exam in the middle of your ARE exam testing so you don’t have the opportunity to put it off.
Check out our article on How To Pass The LEED v4 Green Associate Exam for more information. We also have a comprehensive list of study materials for the LEED exams in our article: LEED Exam Study Guides and Practice Tests.