Study For One Architect Exam at a Time

Are you having trouble getting started or making progress on the Architect Exam?!?? Is the self-guided nature of the ARE not working for you?

Join our virtual study group. The ARE Boot Camp has a syllabus, a schedule with deadlines, people to study with and hold you accountable. The program is organized similar to a "design studio", to help you study for the Architect Exam.

We recently started accepting applications for sessions beginning in April and May 2017  for both ARE 4.0 and 5.0.  It's time to get started with making progress on the Architect Registration Exam. 

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.

Slow Down!

There is a big learning curve involved when someone starts studying for the architect exam. The process of getting up to speed is time consuming. I scratched my head for weeks wondering “What do I need to do?” or “What am I supposed to be studying?” Eventually I figured it out.

If you are new to taking the ARE I would like to encourage you to think really hard before making any large expensive purchases of “ARE study materials for all 7 exams” at one time.

Kaplan and other ARE study material companies are selling video packages and intensive seminars that review all 7 divisions of the exam, at a discounted rate.

Several different people have emailed me asking for my thoughts on the big investment. Here are my thoughts on the topic.


Only worry about one test at a time.

Yes, I can guarantee you that there will be questions more relevant to another division than the one you are taking.

Yes, you are at a disadvantage in your earlier exams with having zero passed exams under your belt.

Yes, I agree that cross training between all the exams is required to finish the process.

Yes, I believe that throwing money at the problem was part of my solution to finishing the ARE.

But, I don’t recommend buying study material packages that include “study material for all 7 divisions of the exam at a discounted price”.

It takes the average person several years to complete the ARE, especially if you need to work full time. A lot of things will happen along the way. Speaking from my own experiences, I can tell you those discounted packages wouldn’t have worked for me.


Information Overload.

I needed ALL my brain cells to focus on the test that was right in front of my face.

One person who emailed me wanted my thoughts about attending an accelerated intensive 1 week seminar on all the divisions which apparently sets people up to take all the tests in a short period of time after the seminar.

I don’t know. This might be great for some people, but I know for me, the hard drive in my brain isn’t large enough for all the minutia needed to memorize for exams. In fact I could imagine that listening to the BS and SS would be extremely painful to sit through when I was still working on the CDS, PPP and SPD trifecta.


You’re not saving any money if you never finish.

I have seen more people not finish the exams, than become licensed. You might not finish the process. Just like architecture school, you and I have seen a lot of people start the process and never make it to completion. This is ok, we all have different paths in life. I even questioned the process after I failed the ARE 4 different times.


Not all resources are good for all the exams.

Kaplan has different authors for every division. Some are better than others. I strongly recommend not using only one study resource every exam. Each one of them has their own strengths and weaknesses. I think Kaplan does a great job with CDS, PPP and SPD but not so much with SS. Check out my epic blog post where I review every book, study guide and anything that helped me study for all 7 test.


The exam is changing in a few years.

The ARE is making a huge change. NCARB reformatting how the test is organized. At this point in time, it hasn’t been thoroughly explained how the old study material will apply to the exam’s new layout. If you’re starting now, you could be affected by this change and I wouldn’t recommend making such a large study material investment at this point in time.


Read Your Ballast Book

Use the Ballast book. I have a love hate relationship with the Ballast book, but I think one of its most redeeming qualities is that it has all 7 divisions under one cover. Ballast in my opinion is the perfect resource for cross training your studying of the different exams. It’s definitely not the only book you will need but its an amazing resource for all exams.


There is no magic bullet

I can only share my personal experiences.  I know there are people out there who spent less time studying than me and completed all 7 exams in the time it took me to complete CDS, PPP and SPD.

I also know that some publishers of ARE study guides may not like this blog post. I know I haven’t made the huge investment in any of these ARE Packages or taken those intensive seminars, so who the hell am I to give this advice. I just want to encourage you to slow down and take one test at a time.


Please share your experiences.

What do you think? Am I missing something? Have you made a large investment in ARE study material in one shot?



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. Also check out his new project Young Architect Gear, designing architecturally themed gifts and products.

roberto - October 31, 2014

Mike, I believe that the one exam at the time is a good and a sound advice for all the recent graduates looking at the complexity or not of the ARE test, but also I do believe that taking the exam and having finished it sooner or later, it will entirely depend on the person abilities in taking exams or tests or not. We both know that there are a lot of individuals, whom are really good in taking exams and also, there are on the opposite side another bunch of others candidates, whom are not. And it is not for lack of knowledge or not, it is simply the war we are all built internally. In conclusion, I will say that I agree w/you but also I do recognize that we cannot measure all candidates with the same rule and factors

    Michael Riscica - October 31, 2014

    Great comment and thanks sharing your thoughts. Your absolutely right. Everyone has the own experience. I can only share my own.
    You bring up a great point that everyone has their own strengths and weakness outside of the content.
    I am working on some content that helps decode the multiple choice questions. I have a few very smart friends who keep failing because english isnt their first language.
    Thanks again!

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