Where do you study for the Architect Exam?

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 offers a syllabus, a schedule with deadlines, people to study with, and accountability. To help you study for the Architect Exam, the program is organized similarly to a design studio.

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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.

Studying for the ARE?

I have watched a lot of people start studying for the Architect Registation Exam and never finish the process. One theme that I think many of them have is that they do not have a solid place to get their studying done.

Where do I study?

There is a Starbucks 6 blocks away from my house, located next door to a local health food grocery store. The Starbucks has a big wood table perfect for spreading out all the paper or even reading drawings. It has Wi-Fi, electrical outlets and tons of college students who are also there to study. I recently purchased some nice headphones to help drown out all the terrible music Starbucks plays.

This works for me.  In fact, it is one of my secrets to success.  Part of the reason I became an Architect is because I am hyper-sensitive to my environments. Once I started coming to this specific Starbucks the amount of work I have been able to get done has drastically increased.

In fact, since I finished the test I never stopped showing up to Starbucks regularly, but instead of studying for the exam I am now working on other things.


The problems with studying at home

My home or office are not environments that were designed around studying. They are designed around living and working. Studying for an Architect Registration Exam is neither of those.

There are a million distractions at home and in the office and the only person whom I can really blame is myself. The phone rings, an email comes in, the dog barks at something, a contractor calls and needs an answer because every minute is costing the client money. The task of studying often gets knocked down to the lowest priority. Suddenly cleaning the refrigerator sounds a lot better than reading that chapter about structural diaphragms.

It’s really easy to lose track of time at home. “Oh crap, its 4:00 and I have only completed 1 of the 4 things I needed to get done.”  I say that a lot. I don’t know about you, but when I am at home I feel like time moves at 1.25 the pace it does everywhere else. My weekends fly by. I’m used to it now. But even if I could study at home, since the clock moves faster there I prefer to just not go there.

It’s too personal. I liked to keep my studying out of the house and separate from the rest of my life. I never really mixed business/pleasure with my studying. Studying in the office or at home would have blurred that line. I also used a completely separate book bag for the ARE.  After a while I started thinking about the exam as if it were just another project.


Finding a place to study

It’s not that hard. These are my requirements:

  1. Access to food
  2. A place to spread out all the papers
  3. A bathroom
  4. Access to caffeine
  5. No drama

I live in Portland Oregon and not all coffee shops are the same. The places where the cool kids get their expensive coffee are kind of like bars that serve caffeine instead of booze. These coffee shops are the worst place for me to get anything done. The coffee shop scene here is soooo big that Starbucks is considered kinda lame; there isn’t a lot of socializing and it’s perfect for working.


Advantage of studying outside of work or home

Sometimes the hardest part for me was walking out the front door to make the walk up to Starbucks. I always felt that once I arrived there, got comfortable and ordered some caffeine my brain quickly warmed up and knew what it was supposed to do. My brain subconsciously started getting really productive, just by being there.

It’s easier to say “I’m going to spend 2 hours at Starbucks and do as much as I can” than “I’m going to read these next 2 chapters at home.”  You’ll never get those 2 chapters read. At least I couldn’t. I always measured my studying by time. How many actual hours was I at Starbucks studying for the week? Also the time it took to walk to Starbucks didn’t count.

Being removed from the home or the office makes studying become official. There is nothing going on in Starbucks where I could get distracted for 30 minutes.


The Spirit of the Place

When I was in architecture school and got stuck (with my design) I used to go back to the physical locations of where I sat in my previous design studios, when I was doing really good work. As I sat in the same place, I would think about what was going on back then and right now and try to work out why my design was stuck. Sometimes it was just a change of scenery. Doing this always helped me move through my problem.

I’m sure Steven Pressfield will agree with my theory


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.

Peter - June 18, 2014

Hi Mike,

I didn’t have an option on where I wanted to study. It was home. With a wife and a new born at the time it was a difficult task… however I made it work. I passed all my exams in 1.5 years. It can be done. I understand your ‘not blending the lines’ at home. That is extremely important. However for me the wife needed help at times so I couldn’t abandon her as much as I would have found it easier to study outside the walls of pleasure. I could have done it faster without the wife and kids, but that is life, and it can distract whats important to us professionally. Its all about the perfect balance. Overall I feel I did the right thing. I think what people need when taking these exams is momentum in your studying efforts. Once you establish a groove, you will get it done. I studied anywhere between 1- 2 hours a night. Some nights I took a break, and during the SS exam, I literally fell asleep on my Kaplan book many of times. There were times where it was extremely difficult for me. After I passed SD, and had BDCS, SS, and BS left. I had a hard time getting into the material. I was listening to an inspiration radio show (which was ironic on the timing as it found me, I wasn’t looking for it)… I printed the word ‘FOCUS’ in large bold font and put it underneath my monitor. It was the best thing I did, as every time I found my mind wondering off on trivial things, I would refocus on what was really important. This was honestly the biggest feat I have accomplished, and know I am not the only one. I have plenty of friends that took 1-3 exams, passed them… and just fizzled out on their studies due to life. Do not procrastinate, and find what works for you. Don’t give up, and you will get it done. Best of luck to all.

Gang Chen - June 20, 2014

When I was studying for exams, I found it was best to use a separate room in my home with a window and distant view.

I like to take frequently breaks and walks to keep my mind fresh. A room in my home works well because I do not need to ask people to watch my stuff when I am taking my walks.

Gang Chen, Author, AIA, LEED AP BD+C (http://GeeForums.com/)

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