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 4.0 vs ARE 5.0
As of the writing of this article, ARE 4.0 is the current test, which consists of seven divisions. Each division includes multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and check-all-that-apply questions plus vignettes that require a graphic solution. All ARE 4.0 tests must be completed by June 30, 2018 at which point testers will be automatically transitioned to ARE 5.0.
ARE 5.0 is the next iteration of the ARE and will be released in late 2016. The new test will consist of six divisions, which will include various types of questions, case studies, and graphic exercises. Visit the NCARB ARE 5.0 webpage for more information on the new test.
NCARB is and 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 provides a wealth of important information that will help you understand everything you need to know as you prepare for and take the ARE. We would like to highlight a few important pieces of info:
ARE 4.0 Guidelines – a PDF that contains everything you need to know about your journey through prepping, taking, and passing the ARE.
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.
Official ARE 4.0 Community – This official NCARB community is a great place to get help from fellow test-takers.
Top 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.
ARE Review Manual, Second Edition
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 most recent version of their guide for the ARE 4.0. This is the book we used to pass the exam and should be your main study guide.
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.
NALSA Solutions Guidebook
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
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 eighth exam, we think it is smarter to make it your fourth or fifth 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.