Failing the Architect Registration Exam

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This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architecture Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way. Click here to see all the posts of my Architecture Registration Exam Series.

Failing the Architect Registration Exam

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So you failed the Architect Registration Exam??!?
What do you mean you failed your exam?!?!?!

After all that studying?!

NOW You’ll NEVER be an Architect!

You will be forever known as the  office Intern.

I bet you didn’t know that NCARB publishes the names of everyone who failed the exam for the world to know… This is what happens to ARE Candidates who fail an ARE test section. Hope you had a second career to fall back on, or maybe we can just call you “The Draftsman with the fancy Architecture degree”.

OK, OK… I’m just kidding.
Calm down. None of this is true.  I’m just teasing. I’m the oldest kid, don’t blame me. I had to do it.

Failing an exam actually isn’t as big of a deal as you may think. Take it from me, I feel sheepish (and probably shouldn’t) to admit this, but I failed the Architect Exam FOUR different times. Yep, one, two, three, four times. And here I am, still hanging around. Eventually I did pass them all and am now a Licensed Architect with my stamp in hand.


Why did you fail?

Failing your ARE could have happened for a number of really good reasons. Here’s a list of reasons that I noticed going on with my own fails and friends’ of mine.

Just Not Having It Together.

Maybe you gave yourself 5 weeks to study when you really needed 8. This is the #1 reason most people fail. Looking back, it’s the best reason to fail the exam.

I failed both Building Systems and Structural Systems because I just didn’t have a complete understanding of the material. I later went back and assassinated those exams.

You were Dead On Arrival

Site Planning and Design was my 3rd test. When I took it, I had a lot of momentum from CDS and PPP, so I studied my buns off. I mastered the vignettes inside and out. I memorized all types of Site planning data and information, and rocked all my practice exams. I felt great walking into that exam and was also proud of how hard I prepared for this test.

When I started the exam, many of the questions weren’t even slightly geared towards Site Planning and Design and if they were, they were outside of what I studied. I had several calculations that I wasn’t prepared for, and as I moved through the multiple choice questions, I was continually tagging them as WTF and to review later.

When I got to vignettes, they were the hardest I had ever seen. I had practiced on every version of the vignettes I could get my hands on and the vignettes on my exam were truly impossible to solve without making a fatal error. I had to choose the lessor of all the errors I was being forced to make. So I killed an extra tree.

When I got my result, I failed the multiple choice and passed the vignettes. UGH….

The second time I took Site Planning was completely opposite, it was a walk in the park. It was the easiest multiple choice I ever answered, in fact, it was so easy I thought it was a joke. The vignette was very close to the NCARB practice and I passed that exam with flying colors.

Nothing I could have done could have prepared me for the first time I took Site Planning and Design.


The Idiot Tax (I didn’t read the fine print)

I failed Building Design and Construction Systems because my test was on a Tuesday and I tried to reschedule on Thursday. The fine print says you cannot reschedule 0-3 days before the exam. I didn’t realize it was BUSINESS DAYS not calendar days. Doh! And for some reason I also thought since you can take a test on a Saturday, maybe that was considered a business day. But it’s not.

I took the test anyway, definitely unprepared. Funny thing is that I actually did wayyy better than I ever thought I would.

This is the dumbest reason ever to fail. Dont be a fool like I was.


The Good News

Honestly, the worst thing that can happen is you will lose your text exam fee and you cannot retake the exam for 6 months. That’s basically the worst of it. Luckily, I have also learned that there are a few positives in failing an exam. Focusing on these will help you for round 2.

You now have feedback from your failed exam

Your test result will tell you what areas of the exam you failed. Take this information really seriously and bone up on that information. Maybe you should add in a specialty book on that subject when you restudy.

When I failed Building Systems, my results said I had minor deficiencies in plumbing. I honestly don’t even remember the plumbing questions, but for round 2 I really focused on the MEEB plumbing chapters and watched several plumbing videos.

Keep the old stuff, but study new materials for round 2

When I failed Structural Systems, I studied Ballast and Kaplan extensively. The second time studying I avoided all study materials that I used from the first time, until I got to the final push. The last 2 weeks I reviewed all of the study materials from the first time around. Having been schooled elsewhere, the old study materials had a whole new meaning and I was able to benefit from them immensely.

Do not get rid of your study materials until you receive the pass letter. After you have passed, then your free to sell everything on Amazon.


You’re not starting from ground zero.

Luckily you have already invested some time in this exam, so getting up to speed shouldn’t take that long.  Accept the fact that your just gonna have to study up more. See it as an opportunity to learn more about that topic instead of a death sentence.


You’re normal.

It’s normal to spend 2-4 years finishing the Architect Registration Exam.

These tests are really tough and it’s normal to not pass all 7 the first time you take them. It’s normal to not be an expert on all 7 exams.

It’s normal to fail an exam.

What isn’t normal is finishing all 7 exams in less than a year. It’s not normal to think “…these tests aren’t a big deal.”  If you need to make a living, have a relationship, or desire living a “normal life”, you probably can’t finish them in such a short period of time.

NCARB does a great job of highlighting people who finished the exams in less than one year. I don’t really know anyone who has done that and only read about them from NCARB’s marketing material. Sure these people exist, but there aren’t as many of them as NCARB wants you to think.

Don’t beat yourself up.

It’s not a big deal. You have done a lot of hard work to get to this point. Many people never do this, and the fact you are studying and taking these tests is commendable.

The true meaning of failure is giving up after you have been handed a setback. Failure isn’t failing a division of the ARE because you screwed up a calculation.

These tests arent easy. If they were easy, everyone who graduated architecture school would have their license and they dont. This is why becoming licensed is a huge accomplishment. If it was easy, everyone would do it.


Keep Moving Forward

You’re almost there. You have worked your butt off to get to this point.

It’s not about how hard you hit, its about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. Thats how winning is done!



Read the full series This post is part of a series on NCARB’s Architect Registration Exam. Having recently completed this long process, the series examines my journey and the various things I learned along the way.Click here to see all the posts of my Architect Registration Exam Series.

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About the author

Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect who lives in beautiful Portland, Oregon, with his Labrador Retriever. He is passionate about helping Young Architects change the world. In his free time, Michael likes to take very long bicycle rides across America. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In.

Enoch Sears - March 7, 2014

Michael – excellent advice and thanks for giving the good example of being transparent about ‘failing’. or in other words, learning to succeed.

Jozie - March 20, 2014

I’m about to start the exams and this is the most reassuring thing I’ve seen so far – thank you for sharing!

    Michael Riscica - April 7, 2014

    Good luck with your exams. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

Maria A Valdes - April 14, 2014

This was amazing! It’s one thing to try and tell yourself everyday that “you’re normal, and failing doesn’t make you a failure” but it’s another to hear it from an outside voice. Very encouraging words – love your blog. Keep up the great work :)

crystal L - September 24, 2014

Thank you for all the work you put into sharing your knowledge with us … I’m grateful. Your blogs have helped so much in such 30 mins into ready the first few articles. Namaste…

Lauren G - December 23, 2014

Thank you for the pep talk!! Truly thankful :)

mt - December 30, 2014


You mentioned that you failed a multiple choice section but passed a vignette section. Where/how did you find this out? I just failed an exam and it simply said “FAIL” without any further explanations.

Also, the waiting period to retake an exam has changed—-it’s 60 days now.

Thanks for all your tips! Cheers!

    Michael Riscica - December 30, 2014

    1. Log into ncarb
    2. Click NCARB Record
    3. Click ARE tab
    4. Click My Examination blue button
    5. Download Score Report.

    There the exam is broken down into several sections. You need to pass the criteria on all of them otherwise you will fail. It should tell you which one of those you failed.

    I only have one to download and mine is my last pass.

    Does this work? Does this help? Should I explain this in a blog post?


      mt - January 30, 2015

      Thanks! Yes, I found it right away.

      I had no idea that I could get this information and I never heard this from anyone else so maybe (just to get the word out to us new kids taking our exams) it might be good to include it in a blog post.

Christine Williams - March 26, 2015

I’ve been taking my exams for almost a year now and only have one pass under my belt this far. I got yet another dreaded fail this morning and I can attest that it does feel a little like your world is crashing down. Desperate for some sort of pick me up I stumbled across your blog and I have to say it does make it easier to cope with a fail when you know it is all part of the process and you are certainly not the only one dealing with it.. I always make myself sign up for the next one before I get the score back. Helps to keep the motivation up!

    Michael Riscica - March 26, 2015

    Not a big deal. Atleast you don’t have to wait 6 months. Keep working at it. You will get past them all. Thanks for the comment

Natasha - April 25, 2015

Thanks for putting this out there, Michael! It’s something that I’ve been trying to tell myself since last November when I recived my first FAIL (don’t you just love how NCARB puts it in all caps and bold?); it’s really nice to see others who have gone through it as well. I was really discouraged for quite some time, but I finally got back to it and took the SPD test yesterday. I’m taking a piece of advice from Christine who posted on this blog, and I’m going to sign up for the next test before getting the results back. My question to you though is would you recommend taking all of the tests once first before retaking any? The one I failed is PPP, and it seems logical to retake after SPD, but perhaps it’s better to just move on and then circle back. Thoughts?

    Michael Riscica - April 25, 2015

    My recommendation would be to retake right away, especially with the change from 6 months to 60 days. Keep the knowledge in your head. With the 6 month rule, I was forced to into taking another exam and it always costed me a some time at the beginning of studying for failed exam to get back up to speed with where i was.
    Good Luck!

Damara - May 15, 2015

Thanks for this great post. Just took my last A.R.E. 3 days ago have been logging into NCARB’s website about 10x a day waiting for my grade. I failed/passed on second try Building Systems and Structures. The latest one I took is Building Design and Construction Systems – I think I did alright, but I always leave the testing center having no idea how I did. I think the waiting is the worst part….

Farah ahmed - October 5, 2016

Love the motivation speech by Mickey himself! I have failed and need some motivation to move on. Thanks for sharing. Not alone in this retakes and frustration. Why can’t they separate the vignettes and multiple choice retakes? that would be wonderful.

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