Summing Up / by Michelle Linden

Now that I'm officially done taking the AREs, I finally feel ready to talk about the whole experience. Without giving too much away, I'd like to share some of my experiences so that perhaps other taking the exams realize that the horrific process is one shared by many.

I have to admit that nothing about taking the Architectural Registration Exams is easy. And I'm not even talking about the tests themselves. I swear that the whole process is designed to weed out those not fully committed to the profession by wrapping every last detail in yards and yards of red tape.

The first step of the exam process begins with signing up for IDP with NCARB. I can not stress enough the importance of signing up for IDP as soon as humanly possible! The longer you wait, the harder it is to get your hours processed, the longer it will take, and the more it will cost. You may not think that you can afford to sign up right out of school, but I swear it will make your life so much easier if you do. I can't think of a single person who has not somehow been slighted by NCARB, and while you may not think that its possible for an organization to take over a year to process your information, I assure you that not only is it possible, but its sometimes optimistic.

Once you have finally been authorized by NCARB to take the exams, you have to start scheduling your tests through Prometric. The tests can be scheduled online or on the phone, but if your testing facility is anything like mine, I'd advise you to schedule your exams up to 2 months in advance to ensure you can take them when you want. And while you might expect a facility conducive to test taking, you'll more likely find an uncomfortable chair facing a tiny monitor under a flickering florescent light. Peachy.

One great thing about the AREs is that you can determine the order of your exams for yourself, as well as the speed at which you take them. For me, this meant that I spent an entire year holed up in my apartment studying in order to ensure a pass on each test. But frankly, looking back I'm not sure that I would do it the same way. I know several people who took the exams in much quicker succession, and even with an occasional fail (and the requisite 6 month wait for the retake) managed to finish faster than me. The order for me, was also quite important... I tried to organize the test into pairs of similar tests (because there is a great deal of overlapping information) taking them in the following order:

Pre-Design
Construction Documents

Site Planning
Building Planning
Building Technology

General Structures
Lateral Forces

Mechanical & Electrical Systems
Materials and Methods

This system obviously worked well for me, but I'd certainly recommend reviewing the new changes that will be made to the ARE before scheduling or studying for any tests. The new system will have 7 tests instead of 9, and passes in some early tests will count after the transition (but not all).

Lastly, I'd also recommend taking some of the harder tests earlier. In my opinion I waited until too late in the process to take some of the harder exams, and was extremely stressed out wondering if I'd have to wait another 6 months to retake. While the tests are different for everyone, my personal difficulty rankings are listed below.

Simpler Than Expected
Lateral Forces
Materials and Methods
Building Planning

Fair, But Difficult
Site Planning
Building Technology
Construction Documents

Nearly Impossible
Pre-Design
General Structures
Mechanical & Electrical Building Systems

I plan on writing a summary of each testing experience later, but I hope that this basic overview will help others just starting the tests. As bad as it was, it was definitely worth all the effort!!