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Take Your AREs!

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

NCARB is removing the rolling clock at the end of this month in an effort to make the path of licensure more equitable. This change hopes to encourage a range of people at various points in their journey to keep going with, or return to the test taking process. While the field of architecture has a long way to go before it is emblematic of inclusivity and diversity, this seems to be a step in the right direction to remove some barriers of entry while maintaining the standards and requirements of the field.

I am not an expert on the AREs. I am not licensed. What I am is a not-so recent graduate who is in the process of testing, but yet to complete the journey. My situation does not enable me to provide foolproof advice, or a guarantee of success, what it does is allow me to use my experience so far, and the opinions I have collected, to present a call to action: To pick up or carry on your progress as you move toward a difficult, but exciting achievement.

I have had exhaustive conversations regarding the ARE 5.0 over the last 5 years with anyone willing to entertain my often rambling and unstructured grilling. In these conversations, we discussed the process, structure, barriers, obstacles, and best practices surrounding the exams. While these conversations were full of conflicting information and diverse approaches, they also revealed a few common themes and lessons learned regarding the approachability of the exam, time management, and choosing study material.

It Is Not Easy (It's Not Supposed To Be)

A sentiment shared among the opinions I have gathered is there is very little that is easy about the efforts required to obtain a license. The Registration Exam sets a national standard of information one should know before they can consider themselves an Architect. Reaching that level of knowledge through study, experience, or some combination of both, is not something that happens by accident. Recognizing the test taking process is a challenge will not make the exams or the many obstacles around them easier to overcome, but preparing yourself appropriately can help you persevere despite them.

Making Time

As I continued to speak to emerging professionals, the universal topic that inevitably came up, and the question I found myself asking the most is, "how do you make the time?". To study? To prep? To actually take the exam? This question has been met with a variety of approaches and methods. There is a continuum of approaches that I have been presented with and quite a few strategies I have tried.

Time is a valuable resource and finding enough to spare is a tremendous obstacle to overcome. As I synthesized the advice and tested some approaches, I noticed there were some common themes:

  1. Create a habit and maintain momentum. "It's a marathon, not a sprint". This advice has been echoed across most of my conversations on this topic. Incorporating something into your schedule and keeping it there means you are not trying to fit it in everytime a new test comes up.

  2. Set a goal. Life can get busy, things come up, tests can move, but the act of setting the broad intention makes it easier to take the steps to get there.

  3. Time is valuable, so don't waste it. Shorter more consistent study sessions go further toward establishing information and your recall than long but sporadic sessions.

Study Materials

Whether you are a recent grad looking to start the AREs, or someone with a few tests under their belt looking to finish up this step in their career, there are several resources available to prepare yourself for the test. Talk to anyone taking these exams and you will likely hear the same big names cited as must-have materials:

  • PPI ARE 5.0 Exam Review (AKA Ballast, AKA Kaplan)

  • Black Spectacles

  • Amber Books

Each of these resources offers its educational/study material and comes with a proportional price tag. Regardless of the source of content used, it is important to find the material that best caters to you and your form of learning. Know what format you want and seek out a resource that provides it.

NCARB offers a document* that provides in-depth information regarding the AREs including a breakdown of each exam and its evaluation objectives. Reviewing these as you study for each is a good way of checking your knowledge and identifying what information you should seek out to study deeper. Another resource NCARB provides, that I have found invaluable, is a full length practice test for each of the 6 exams. Use these as a study tool in practice mode, or as a diagnostic test before the real attempt.

Don’t Go Alone The use of a study group, partner, or colleague as a positive peer-pressure was also a common theme discussed. I have been encouraged to reach out to others from my graduating class, friends in the field, colleagues at work, and see who else is in this process. Sharing notes and materials, studying together, or just talking about the process are all ways to help others while pushing yourself forward. Firms or affiliate groups may even have local study groups or discounted study materials depending on your area. Socializing and connecting with others in a similar position can help to demystify some of the unknowns and can turn the traditionally solitary experience of studying into a way to connect with others.

Next Steps

Preparing for a challenge, making time for these exams, and choosing a resource are essential to making progress toward licensure, but at the end of that it is also important to know where you are going. Why do you want a license? What opportunities does it make available to you? What does it mean to you? Holding the reason in your mind makes the effort required easier to put forward. “Take your AREs!” is not a demand, it's a request to join me and many others as we navigate this shared experience and sea of resources and emerge the other side better.

Written by Josh Miller



For more information regarding the transition from the 5-year rolling clock policy see the NCARB blog here:

*The overview of the tests begins on page 68 in the PDF provided in the link below:



Unsplash. “Unsplash - Beautiful Free Images & Pictures.” Unsplash, Accessed 7 Apr. 2023.

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