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The following article is a guest blog post from our friend Hilary Rose, who is an active contributor to the ARE Facebook group. She wrote originally wrote this post for the group, which she let me publish as a guest article. Feel free to send this blog post to your friends and family.
If you have ever had a problem with explaining what the AREs are like to friends and family, here you go. This article articulates what it’s like studying for the ARE, including how it feels to take the test.
The spark of this rant was inspired by my frustration with the 4.0 Structural Systems test.
Somewhere between internally screaming about WTF questions and reviewing the odd assortment of supplemental information provided, I was thinking about how a cucumber wasn’t a good example of a fruit. And that’s generally how I felt about the questions the SS ARE was asking me. Then this analogy was born.
The Fruit Exam
Instead of BS, SS, BDCS, or another test from the ARE acronym salad, say the “topic” you’re studying is fruit.
To prepare for the test, you study about apples, pears, grapes, and various kinds of berries.
You learn about the differences between blackberries, raspberries, and regional berries, such as salmon berries and cultivated marionberries.
Where do you find a bilberry and an elderberry? You find out, then tell your friends at happy hour when they ask you how your studying is going.
You learn what a fruit is, and how it’s different than a vegetable.
You learn about the plants they grow on, what those plants are like, and the need to make large items to sell.
You learn about the process of getting fruit from the field to the supermarket. And you learn about the role of the farmer vs the role of the produce manager.
You learn about the variety of apples, the different types of oranges, and the ways that they’re different than a grapefruit.
Why is a regular watermelon pink, but a yellow watermelon is yellow?
You study how to tell the difference between a bosc pear and a Bartlett pear.
You learn what types of grapes are best for making grape juice, and which ones are best for making red wine and white wine.
You even learn a little bit about how the wine-making process works, because you think it’s interesting. And who knows? It might be on the test.
You learn what the sugar content of various fruits are, the amount of fiber, and the amount of Vitamin C they have.
You learn about how to apply those fruits to different recipes. Why should you use Granny Smith apples for pies, and red delicious apples for lunch boxes?
You learn about the sustainability issues about bananas and the issues with monocultures. What qualifications must the farmer have on the fields, in order for the fruit to be labeled organic?
You tell yourself that when you are done with the Fruit Exam, you will go for your LEED organic associate certificate. What’s one more test in the grand scheme of things?
You start to feel like you have a handle on fruit. You know that there is more information out there, but let’s take a practice exam to see how much you know.
So, you score a 50%…. Uh-oh….. Is that good? …. Or is it bad? You are pretty sure that it’s not a good sign, but since passing the test isn’t a simple percentage, the number is ultimately meaningless.
Back to studying.
You learn about squash, because technically, it is also a fruit. You make it a point to learn about more exotic fruits and the recipes you can put them in. For instance, bulgogi marinade uses Asian pears. Neat! You know what you are going to have for dinner.
You try to brush up on the prices per bushel and the more common fruits. But that information is hard to find while maintaining accuracy—unless you plan on joining the ‘Fruit Sellers Association’ (for the low price of $450 a year).
When you started the process, you hoped that you only needed to buy the one $250 textbook your friends recommended. Now you scour Amazon and the forums for a used copy of practice questions that’s $30.
Thankfully, you kept your Fruit Gardens Illustrated book by Ching and MEEB from your college days, so you don’t have to buy those beasts.
Test day is tomorrow. You hope you pass on the first try. You are sick of learning about fruit, and these fees ($210 per test) are really starting to add up. Five tests passed: So you have this one, and one more to go.
Time to go to Prometric.
You walk into the testing center. They immediately ask you where your phone is. “In the car,” you say. You know better than to bring that thing into the center. You get processed. You sit in their not-horrible chairs, in a slightly-too-cold room.
You study about the best temperatures for a walk-in fridge without shocking the fruit. It feels like you are in one of them now.
You try not to look anywhere but your screen. You hope you don’t have to use the bathroom for the next 2-3 hours.
The screen reminds you that you can’t write anything until the testing begins. No info-dumping for you (at least not outside of testing time). NCARB put a stop to that.
First question: “Is it considered best practices to add flour to an apple pie?”
Hmm… Well, technically, it depends on how you like your apple pie, but NCARB has decided that flour is necessary. You know what they want you to answer.
Next question…. next…. next….. Wait, WHAT?
“How do avocados pollinate?”
Wait? An avocado is a fruit? Ok, yeah, it’s a fruit, but it’s not commonly referred to as one. Plus, it wasn’t mentioned in ANY of the main study books, supplemental information, or practice tests.
Ok, let’s think this question through logically: An avocado is a fruit with a seed on a tree. So it must be pollinated by birds? Bugs? The hell if you know.
Question, question, question…. “What’s the best way to preserve olives?” WHAT? sigh Mark THAT question. No use spending precious time on a topic you didn’t think would show up on the test. You will come back to that one after you’ve gone through all of the other ones.
“How much Vitamin A does a medium fig have?”
SERIOUSLY? Seriously? You studied the IMPORTANT vitamin percentages!!! How were you supposed to know that you needed to know the amount of Vitamin A in various fruits!!!! What are they going to ask you next: how much beta carotene is in a cantaloupe? This is ridiculous.
You are totally going to fail this test. Yep. That’s it. You give up. Your goal now is to make a list of all the horrible questions and topics, so that you know what to focus on during the retake.
Much consternation ensues, which involves completing the multiple choice section and finishing the vignette (about how to best align grape rows for maximum sunlight, in order to mimic the conditions in Champagne, France).
Finally, you hit DONE and flee the Prometric center. But not before signing out, having your finger zapped, and emptying your locker.
3 days to 2 weeks later (depending on your jurisdiction), you receive a pass or a fail. You never know what the result will be until you get the official result. No one you know feels confident leaving the testing center. No one.
Either way, you tell yourself that you hate this process, and the questions have little relevance to your daily job. sigh Onto the next test. This time, it’s all about Bread. Wheat is sort of like a fruit, right? It has seeds, and it’s grown on a farm. So there might be some overlap in the concepts……right?
Back to reality.
Over the course of the AREs, many of my friends and family would ask me how I thought the test went, and if I thought I’d passed. It’s hard to explain the frustration of the AREs to them. People have a conceptual idea of the Bar Exam, and many consultants I’ve encountered understand the PE exam.
But the ARE’s aren’t like them. It’s different—not necessarily easier or harder. But there are seven of them.
In a perfect world, the tests give you insight, and help you become an Architect with a capital A in your daily life. But instead, you get random questions about some minutiae from an area of building construction that you wouldn’t focus on in your daily life.
I do feel like I learned a great deal of information from studying for the AREs. A decent amount of this information has given me insight on things I wouldn’t have normally known. It surprises me when this situation occurs.
Overall, the exams have helped me become better in my field. But that information was learned from studying, and I never felt like the tests were reflective of it. They were never straightforward, and even if you did pass one test, your confidence takes a hit in the process.
I passed my Structural Systems test, by the way. After 6 days of hitting refresh on my NCARB record, I found a shiny blue pass.
Unlike my fruit analogy, Structural Systems was my last ARE. I am done with that process! I have the Architect Law Review Exam for my state left, as well as some paper-pushing.
Then after 16 years from my first architecture class as a freshman in college, I will be able to officially and legally call myself an Architect.
- Hilary Rose, (not quite yet, but soon to be) Registered Architect.