Building Momentum with studying for the Architect Exam

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How I built momentum with my studying for the architecture 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.

Studying for the architect exam isnt easy

On my final push (after a 2 year break), I tested 4 times in less than a year. 3 passes and 1 fail. I got into an aggressive competition with myself trying to get these bastard exams out of my life.

When one test finished, I took about a week and then started working on the next one. At the end of 2013, I had such incredible momentum from those exams I never really stopped working. Except now I was working on what I really wanted to do.

I went on to build this website and started looking for opportunities to use my Architect stamp.

Someone recently asked me how I built such strong momentum. It took me a few minutes to realize it, but this is what I did.


Studying everyday

At one point I decided I needed to study every single day. Easier said than done, but it actually wasn’t that hard. In reality, you actually can’t study every single day, you’ll fry your brain and go insane.

On days when I was mentally exhausted, or when I was first starting out, I would make it super easy and just spend about 20 minutes reading something light, maybe something from a past exam that will be applicable to this one, or even reading the forums. Small baby steps, but lots of them.

On the weekends, I would always make an effort to get a few hours in.

You are better off studying for 20 minutes 3 or 4 days in a row than sitting once every 4 days for 1.5 hours. Building the habit of studying is one of the hardest things with this exam.

Once you have that habit, the material you need to know to pass these exams is actually pretty interesting. I constantly told myself “…studying for these exams is making me a better architect.” And it’s true.

I also told everyone “…I study for the Architects exam every single day.” With a look at me, I am so cool attitude, but by saying it over and over again, it also helped the habit of studying everyday stick.


I reframed failing the exam.

You didn’t fail the exam. You didn’t fail anything. You aren’t a failure.

You didn’t pass because you weren’t ready to. You just need to study up on on a few more areas, no big deal. Each exam has so much material to study it’s impossible to master it all.

When you revisit it later, it won’t take you long to get up to speed and you can now bone up on all the material you just didn’t get to the last time around. Get the books for the exam you haven’t already used.

I convinced myself that I was going to keep taking the exams until I passed them all.  Giving up wasn’t an option. Failing the Architect Registration Exam is completely normal for anyone taking the exam.


I tracked my study time

I tracked all the hours I spent studying, similar to how I track my time on projects in the office or for the Intern Development Program (IDP). I only logged hours I was physically studying. Walking to Starbucks, printing things out, or shopping for materials didn’t count.

Having these numbers really helped me gauge how hard I was studying. When I started studying for an exam, I did about 3-4 hours a week, and towards the end when I was in the final push, I was doing about 10-14 hours a week.

It’s easy to think that you’re studying a lot when in reality you’re not and vice versa. Time is deceiving, especially when you’re doing something you don’t want to do.


I made a lot of sacrifices.

I turned down countless opportunities to do fun things; my friends hardly heard from me, I missed my favorite bands play, I didn’t read the newspaper or look at Facebook, because I didn’t want to know what was going on.

I went into this mode several times for weeks at a time, but if I added up all this time together, it would have amounted to close to 2 years.

This isn’t entirely healthy and I’m not recommending this, but it is what I did. I felt like my entire life was on hold until I finished the ARE.

I used to think about how much time, money and energy I had spent working on the ARE’s to get to this point. If I channeled that many resources and hard work into building a business, I would be in a very interesting place.

I worked out a lot.

I’m into yoga. During that final push, I pretty much went to yoga 4-5 times a week and ate a very clean diet. I got into the best shape of my life. Between working out and studying as hard as I could, I was so exhausted there wasn’t much room for anything else in my life.

I also go to a studio that brings a lot of self-actualization and personal development in their practice. This helped put me in a good mindset for studying. Yoga also allowed me to escape and I didnt think about anything else while I was there.

Sure, I know yoga isn’t for everyone, but working out and moving my body really helped my mind concentrate.


Go to the AIA classes

My AIA offers ARE classes that last about 2 hours and they mostly just review the practice questions from the NCARB study guides. I went to a lot of these and even the classes for exams I had already passed.

It was good to get a refresher about stuff I already studied, because you do see a lot of the same stuff again. Sometimes I could also offer some insight to someone else studying for it.

If you have any other great tips of how you built momentum, please leave me a comment and tell me what you did.


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.

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Jacqui - August 15, 2015

Thanks so much for all the great info! I’ve been reading your Twitter feed, and it’s been a great help to me as I try to finish these once and for all. I’ve taken some legitimate breaks, and some not-so-legitimate breaks, so now I’m ready to knock these suckers out!

I do have a question–just retook the CDS (for like, the fourth time in all) and I feel pretty great about how I did. While I wait–should I just get ready for PPP, or wait to find out if I passed or failed CDS? The 60-day window is so much better than the 180-day, but I don’t want to lose momentum. Any advice?

    Michael Riscica - August 15, 2015

    Yes, keep going!
    Work on PPP until you get your results!
    Keep up the good work! You can do it!

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