Passing the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) allows you to get your license to practice architecture as a professional in any of the 50 United States, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. 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 the best study guides can be found further down in this article.

Overview of ARE 5.0

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. The six exams are:

  • Practice Management (PcM) covers the management for an architecture practice including business, ethical, and financial issues.
  • Project Management (PjM) covers management of an individual project, which includes client relations, consultant management, team organization, contracts, and quality control.
  • Programming & Analysis (PA) focuses on pre-design topics like programming, different project types, site evaluation, and economic factors.
  • Project Planning & Design (PPD) covers preliminary design tasks including conceptual design, sustainability and resiliency issues, accessible design, and codes.
  • Project Development & Documentation (PDD) covers topics you will experience during the Design Development and Construction Document phases of a project.
  • Construction & Evaluation (CE) focuses on the construction phase of a project including contractual obligations, shop drawings, RFIs, construction observation, payment processing, and project closeout. The exam also includes questions about the post-occupancy evaluation process.

Each division includes a variety of questions (multiple choice, fill in the blank, check all that apply, hot-spot, drag-and-drop) 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 with all the information you need to get ready for the ARE 5.0.

NCARB Resources

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) is an organization made up of members from each state licensing board. It is responsible for the Architect Registration Exam as well as the Architectural Experience Program (AXP), 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 gives information about exam content, suggested references, and some 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 Resources – All of the above items are included in the list above, but this section also includes some helpful videos about each exam division and question types.

Testing Strategy

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 mapping out 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.

Other people will spend 6-8 weeks studying for PcM, PjM, PA, and CE. Then they take them rapid-fire over the course of a couple of days. Following a brief rest, they then study for PPD and PDD for 4-6 weeks and take those exams back-to-back.

Keep in mind that NCARB has a five year Rolling Clock, which means you have to complete all of your exams within five years from the day you pass your first exam. Otherwise, you will have to repeat exams that you may have already passed. Five years seems like a long time, but many people take an exam or two and then take a break either because life gets busy or they fail an exam and get frustrated. Keep focused, stay motivated, and keep moving forward so you don't run out of time.



ARE 5.0 Study Guides

Quality study materials are critical to your success, but there are a lot of them out there, especially since the internet has made it easier to create and maintain study programs and online courses.

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 and a lot of online courses have firm subscriptions. Definitely ask if you can be reimbursed for buying them and adding them to the library – many firms will say yes!

The Absolute Best ARE Study Guide...

...sadly, doesn't exist.

That's right, there simply isn't one best study guide that will guarantee that you pass the exams on the first try. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably trying to sell you some snake oil.

You see, everyone learns differently and each of us has different test taking abilities. You need to craft your own set of study materials that suit your needs based on how you learn. That's why you won't see anything below listed as THE BEST. Instead, we try to help you understand who might benefit from each product.

In addition, it is likely that you'll want a couple different sets of material across the different types listed below. While you may decide that one of the full packages suits your needs, most people use multiple products from different sources. Each person is different so make sure you take a lot of time to evaluate the different options and put together a custom set of materials that work for you and fall within your budget. As you'll see below, there are plenty of options.

Remember, you need to really think about how you learn. Go back to your school days. Did you learn best from reading the material in a book or were lectures where you retained the best? Did you make flashcards for your hardest classes? Did you attend group study sessions or did you find they got in the way of your ability to learn? Study methods are a very personal preference.

Unofficial Study Materials

Before we get to the official ARE Prep Study Guides, there are two FREE resources that you should consider as you work your way through the process.

The first is this website, Archtoolbox.com. We have lots of helpful technical and professional practice articles that will help you with individual topics.

The second unofficial resource is YouTube. You can find a video on just about any topic related to architecture so don't forget to check there when you need more detailed information for complicated topics.

Now, it is time to select the guides that are best for you. You can use this table of contents to jump to the different types of materials:

Complete Packages

Complete packages are systems that include study guides, videos, and exam simulations included in one purchase. In general, the components aren't available for purchase separately.

Architect Exam Prep Study Packages

Architect Exam Prep Study Packages

Architect Exam Prep Study Packages are available for all six ARE 5.0 exam divisions. The comprehensive packages include:

  • A PDF Study Guide that can be printed or loaded onto your computer, tablet, or phone - includes text and supporting graphics/diagrams
  • Hundreds of hours of audio files of David Doucette reading the PDF Study Guide
  • Audio files where David and Eric Corey Freed provide commentary for that exam section
  • Hundreds of Printable Flashcards
  • 3 Case Study Guides that include documents and more than 100 questions
  • 30 days of access to an online exam simulator that mimics the exam and can be set to provide feedback if desired - the question bank includes 3 full exams
Here is an example of their materials, study guide on the left and printable flashcards on the right.

Architect Exam Prep Study Package Examples
Architect Exam Prep Examples: Study Guide at left and Printable Flashcards at right

Eric and David update their Study Packages regularly to help clarify topics or to add helpful commentary. Some divisions are on the second generation (Called Gen2), which means they have been updated based on feedback from the thousands of people who have used them. The first generation packages are perfectly relevant and easy to consume so don't let that stop you from considering them.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Learn more about the Architect Exam Prep Study Packages

Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Pro Access

Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Pro Access

The Black Spectacles Pro Access provides a comprehensive video-based course that covers all six ARE 5.0 divisions. The package includes:

  • Over 120 hours of video lectures and PDFs of the accompanying slides
  • Online exam simulator that has 3 different tests for each division
  • More than 3,000 digital flashcards that link to specific video lessons
  • Commentary videos from practicing architects
  • A study roadmap that tells you what to study each day

The primary lecturer for the videos is Mike Newman, and architect from Chicago. Mike lectures from behind a desk and also marks up items on the screen to highlight specific issues or walk you through a complex problem. Each division also has "practical application" videos that are hosted by other lecturers who walk you through example projects. You can see an example of the interface below.

Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Video Interface
Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Video Interface

The overall interface and production quality are very high.

We recommend you check out the free videos to make sure you are comfortable with the format and pace.

Purchase Type: Monthly Payment

Learn more about the Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Pro Access


PPI/Kaplan ARE 5.0 Learning Hub

PPI/Kaplan ARE 5.0 Learning Hub

The PPI/Kaplan ARE 5.0 Learning Hub is a combination of the Kaplan, PPI, and Brightwood Architecture programs. The Learning Hub is an online platform that includes:

  • Digital version of the Ballast ARE 5 Review manual (described below)
  • Customizable quiz generator
  • Full length practice exams for each ARE 5.0 division
  • More than 2,300 flashcards
  • A study plan tp help keep you on track

PPI/Kaplan offers a 3-day money back guarantee so you can review the materials to make sure the package is right for you.

Purchase Type: Monthly Payment

Learn more about the PPI/Kaplan ARE 5.0 Learning Hub

Printed (or PDF) Books and Study Guides

ARE 5 Review Manual

ARE 5 Review Manual

The absolutely massive ARE 5 Review Manual is a comprehensive study guide that covers all six exam divisions. The book contains tons of figures, diagrams, tables, and 150 practice questions. A lot of people consider this book to be required reading for all candidates.

David Kent Ballast has been teaching people to pass the Architect Registration Exam for decades. Ballast has partnered with Kaplan/PPI, who are the publishers of the latest edition.

Be sure to download the updates since the the ARE now references 2017 AIA Contract Documents.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Buy the ARE 5 Review Manual on Amazon

Buy the ARE 5 Review Manual at Kaplan/PPI


Hyperfine Architecture ARE 5.0 Courses

Hyperfine Architecture ARE 5.0 Courses

Hyperfine Architecture is run by Ben Norkin, a licensed architect who also likes to help others through teaching.

The Hyperfine ARE 5.0 Courses are different from anything else you will find in the test prep industry. There are 3 different courses: PPD & PDD, PcM & PjM, and PA. Each course includes a PDF with weekly study assignments that force you to think through problems like you have to do on a real project – and how the ARE 5.0 asks you to think through problems. The problems are formatted with the question and suggested resources at the top of the page and a space for you to work through the answer at the bottom. The answer to each question and a detailed explanation are included in a page at the end of the PDF. Each course also includes a few videos that explain the questions and walk you through how Ben would answer them.

Hyperfine Architecture ARE 5.0 Course Examples
Hyperfine Architecture ARE 5.0 Course Examples

While these courses are not comprehensive enough to be your only study guide, they do provide great value for the price. They help you get a feel for how the exam case studies work and help you understand how to work through problems that you might find on the exam.

Ben offers the first couple questions of each course so you can try before you buy.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Buy the Hyperfine Architecture ARE 5.0 Courses

Online Video Training

Amber Book

Amber Book, which is operated by Michael Ermann, is a monthly online subscription that includes a huge series of videos that walk you through the key concepts from each exam session. Rather than lecture format, each video is fully animated with the narrator walking through the concepts. This provides a more visual experience, which is helpful to many people.

Rather than study for independent sections, Ermann recommends that you study all of the videos (there are hundreds), review the included 375 page example question work-book, and absorb the included case study. Then he recommends you take all of the exams as quickly as possible. The goal is to have you pass the exams as quickly as possible while avoiding over-studying and the full program includes an exam schedule that has you taking exams in just 8 weeks.

The videos are high quality with helpful animations. Some animations are mostly text following the narration, but many have diagrams that are explained through the narration.

Before purchasing, we recommend you review the FAQs and the example videos to make sure this program is right for you.

Purchase Type: Monthly Subscription

Sign up for Amber Book


Young Architect Academy

Young Architect Academy

The Young Architect Academy is run by Michael Riscica and Lorenzo Franchina, who want to provide incredible value at an affordable price. They offer a Practice Management (PcM) course and a Project Management (PjM) course. The PjM training includes a separate AIA Contracts 101 course. They are also working on some new offerings so be sure to check out the Young Architect website for the most current list of courses.

Both courses include hours of video broken down into the specific test objectives. Each video starts with a lecture format, but many also include question and answer sessions with former students. Both courses have recorded case studies and additional videos where students walk through their thought process on questions or problems, which are incredibly valuable. Each course also includes downloadable slide decks so you can take notes and review them separate from the videos. You can see an example of the interface below.

Young Architect Academy Video Training Interface
Young Architect Academy Video Training Interface

We recommend that you create an account and review their free Understanding The B101 and A201 Comparative course to get a sense of whether their teaching style will work for you.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Sign up for Young Architect Academy


Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Standard Access

Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Standard Access

The Black Spectacles Standard Access is a video-based course that covers all six ARE 5.0 divisions. The package includes over 120 hours of video lectures and PDFs of the accompanying slides.

An example of the interface is shown above in the Complete Packages section – both the Black Spectacles Pro and Standard subscriptions use the same video interface.

We recommend you check out the free videos to make sure you are comfortable with the style, format, and pace.

Purchase Type: Monthly Payment

Learn more about the Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Standard Access

Practice Exams

Practice exams are one of the most critical components of your ARE study system. They test your knowledge under the pressure of a time-limit and help you identify weak areas for further study before you take a real exam. We highly recommend using one of the following sets of exams, either printed or online simulators. The following exams can be purchased separately, but some full study packages already include exams.

Designer Hacks ARE 5.0 Practice Exams

Designer Hacks ARE 5.0 Practice Exams

Tony Gushanas runs the online practice exam simulator under the Designer Hacks name. Designer Hacks offers practice exams for all six ARE 5.0 sections and each exam has a mix of multiple choice, pick all that apply, and fill in the blank questions. Case studies, drag-and-place, and hot spot questions are not included.

Each practice exam includes 3 full exams of questions. You can take a 10-question pop quiz, a 25-question quiz, or you can take a full mock exam that has a time limit and the same number of questions as you'll find on the real exam. Questions are rotated randomly so you never get the same exam twice.

Your score is displayed at the end of the exam and you can go back and review each question as well as a description of the correct answer.

An interesting feature is you can review your stats for each exam section so you can determine how you perform in each content area. This let's you quickly identify areas of weakness.

You can see an example of the interface below. It includes a running timer and you can mark questions to return to later, just like in the real exam. The interface is designed to be mobile-friendly so you can practice anywhere.

Designer Hacks ARE 5.0 Practice Exam Interface
Designer Hacks ARE 5.0 Practice Exam Interface

Each ARE section is available as a separate practice exam or you can purchase all six exams for a discounted price.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Sign up for Designer Hacks ARE 5.0 Practice Exams


Amber Book

We discussed the Amber Book videos earlier in this article, but you can also purchase the 375 page practice exam book without buying the full video course.

You will be sent a hardcopy of the book, which includes two sections. The first 150 pages includes hundreds of questions broken into the following categories: Systems, Construction, Site, and Professional Practice. The book includes a study matrix that tells you what sections to study for each exam.

The remaining 240 pages present the correct answers to each question along with a detailed explanation of why the answer is correct.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Sign up for Amber Book Practice Exam


ARE 5 Practice Problems

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 physical book includes more than 550 problems sorted by divisions and section so you can check your knowledge in particular areas.

Be sure to download the updates since the the ARE now references 2017 AIA Contract Documents.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Buy the ARE 5 Practice Problems on Amazon

Buy the ARE 5 Practice Problems at Kaplan/PPI


ARE 5 Practice Exam

ARE 5 Practice Exam

Use this physical 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 600 problems organized into the six division tests, which should be taken with a time limit that matches the real exam.

Be sure to download the updates since the the ARE now references 2017 AIA Contract Documents.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment

Buy the ARE 5 Practice Exam on Amazon

Buy the ARE 5 Practice Exam at Kaplan/PPI

Study Groups

While studying for the ARE can be a solo venture, don’t overlook how a support network can help you get through the exams quicker and with less stress. Having someone to ask about certain topics you are unsure of is extremely helpful.

First, try to set up a group of your colleagues or friends who are studying for the exam along with you. If you don't have colleagues studying for the ARE at the same time, here are a few options.


Architect Exam Prep Fast Track Group Coaching

Architect Exam Prep Fast Track Group Coaching

Eric Corey Freed and David Doucette have been operating their Architect Exam Prep website since 2011 and they have worked with more than 3,000 ARE candidates. They offer group coaching programs for each of the six exam divisions. Each division group starts in the odd months (January, March, May, July, September, and November) and run for six weeks.

Each week you will join up to 30 other candidates on a live call where Eric and David help you develop the mindset to pass that division's exam. You also have access to a private Slack channel that David and Eric attend daily.

You'll receive a detailed 6-week study plan and the Architect Exam Prep study materials that we described above. After six weeks you should have all the technical knowledge and will be mentally prepared to tackle the exam. Using their program allows you to pass all of the exams in less than a year.

You should email Eric and Dave to set up a 15-minute call if you aren't sure about whether the course is a good fit. You'll get a sense for their teaching style and can ask some questions about the exams.

Eric also offers one-on-one coaching if you need help with an individual problem or if you are uncomfortable in an online group setting.

Who it is for: You are anxious about taking the exams and need some help with mindset and strategy. You need a bit of help building confidence. You can study the material on your own, but want assistance with developing a steady plan that forces you to continue moving forward with your preparation.

Purchase Type: One-time payment for the 6-week course and study materials.

Learn more about the Architect Exam Prep Fast Track Group Coaching

Young Architect ARE Boot Camp

Young Architect ARE Boot Camp

Michael Riscica has been running his ARE Boot Camp since 2015 and he has helped thousands of candidates pass their exams. Groups are limited to 10 people, but Michael starts new sessions each month so you can get started right away.

If you are just starting, join the Professional Practice Boot Camp, which covers PcM, PjM, and CE. If you've already finished those exams then you should look at the Technical Boot Camp, which covers the PPD and PDD exams.

After the 10-week camp, you'll have a complete strategy in place to take all of your exams and you'll be ready to sit for the exams. Then, you get ongoing support from Michael and your fellow attendees as you go through the remaining exams. That support comes in the form of direct access to Michael, a private Facebook Group, and all of the tools, files, and videos from the private website.

Who it is for: You don't know where to start and want to work with a group of peers to formulate a full program to get through all of the exams. You can study on your own, but you'd like to have a person or group to ask questions to. You will contribute to the group instead of just following along.

Purchase Type: One Time Payment for the 10-week course

Learn more about the Young Architect ARE Boot Camp


Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Coaching Program

Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Prep Coaching Program

Black Spectacles offers a group coaching program that helps lead you and your group through passing all six exams over the course of seven months.

You work with your group and a coach to develop a study schedule and you'll have two meetings per month. In addition, each group has their own private Slack group for keeping in touch between meetings.

The group coaching program includes full access to the Black Spectacles Pro ARE prep course, which is the main material for studying.

You can sign up for all six exams, but they also offer a 3-month program that covers PPD and PDD.

Who it is for: You have decided to purchase the Black Spectacles Pro subscription, but you want to be part of a group to help provide accountability and camaraderie.

Purchase Type: Monthly Payment for the duration of the course

Learn more about the Black Spectacles ARE 5.0 Coaching Program


Local AIA Study Groups

Check out your local AIA chapter for study groups. Many chapters host regular study groups or they have message boards where you can find other candidates.

Online Forums

Online ARE forums come and go, but there are currently two main active forums. One is hosted by NCARB and the other is an independently run forum.

Before sharing your experiences in the forum, be sure to read NCARB's Exam Candidate Conduct policy as well as the ARE Candidate Agreement. It is important that you don't share ARE questions or content; otherwise, you may face severe disciplinary action.

The ARE Facebook Group by Young Architect

Michael Riscica runs the very popular ARE Facebook Group, which has more than 7,000 members. The community is very active so you can get help where you need it, but you can also help your fellow candidates – teaching is the best way to learn. Most posts have multiple comments and people are constantly sharing resources.

The group is actively monitored so you won't find much spam. In fact, before you get accepted you have to fill out a brief questionnaire to confirm you are a good fit.

Check out the The ARE Facebook Group.


NCARB ARE 5.0 Community

NCARB, the organization that administers the licensure process, runs a forum for ARE 5.0 candidates. The forum is broken down into sections for each of the six divisions plus a Meetups and Study Groups section and a General Discussion section.

The forum isn't all that busy, but people do support each other. In addition, NCARB employees frequent the forum so you can get specific questions about the exam process answered easily.

Check out the ARE 5.0 Community from NCARB.



You Passed 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.

History of the Architect Registration Exam

NCARB has administered testing for state licensing boards since 1963 when it provided multiple-choice exams that were supplemented by each state's graphic exam.

The Architect Registration Exam (ARE) debuted in 1983 as a 9-division, 32.5 hour exam that was administered once per year over four days. By 1997, the exam had been fully computerized, which allowed the exam to be taken at any time throughout the year.

ARE 3.0 debuted in 1998 and was upgraded to 3.1 in 2003. Both ARE 3.0 and 3.1 included nine divisions (6 multiple-choice divisions and 3 vignette graphic divisions.)

ARE 4.0 was released in 2008 and included seven divisions, each of which had multiple-choice and vignette problems. It has been completely retired and you can no longer take those exams. If you started the older ARE 4.0, you were able to take the exams through June 30, 2018 at which point testers were automatically transitioned to ARE 5.0. You may have been given ARE 5.0 credit depending on which ARE 4.0 exams you passed. NCARB has an ARE 4.0 Retirement FAQ that answers many questions you may have.

ARE 5.0 was released in November 2016 and is the current exam. It consists of six divisions and was redesigned so that candidates work through problems in a manner that is consistent with current architectural practice.

Architect Registration Examination, ARE, Architect Experience Program, AXP, and NCARB are registered trademarks of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Help make Archtoolbox better for everyone. If you found an error or out of date information in this article (even if it is just a minor typo), please let us know.

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