Learning how to study might be one of the most difficult parts of preparing for the ARE.
In my conversations with individuals who read this blog, I get more questions about my ARE study schedule than anything else.
Since I was awesome enough to sit for the exam 11 different times, I've learned my schedule for all of them was almost the same. By the end it was very clear to me what my process was and what worked and didn’t.
I finished the ARE last October. Hypothetically if I was to take another ARE exam (which I hope I never will), below is what my schedule would look like.
Time and Scheduling the Exam
Since I worked a full time job and pay all of my own bills, it took me approximately 90 days to prepare for an exam. On my last 4 exams I kept records of how much time I spent legitimately studying. This came out to approximately 100 hours +/- per exam.
Scheduling the test would always fall around the middle of the process. I would typically study for a period of time until I felt like I had my head around the entire test and then I would schedule the exam and spend as much time sharpening the saw. For the sample schedule below, I schedule the test on day 45 of my 90 day studying fest.
Scheduling the test was always an important milestone for me. The minute I had a test date, my mindset and attitude about the exam would immediately change.
Mindset and Attitude
Before I had a test date, I focused more on showing up and getting through the material. My studying was more relaxed. I wouldn’t worry so much if I didn’t quite get it. My goal was to get a feel for the entire exam and figure out what I already knew and still needed to learn. During this period of time I would typically study 3-6 hours a week.
After I had a test date, I focused all my energy into what I wasn’t good at. I focused on filling in all the gaps. It was more important to me to get the practice questions wrong and then correct. I felt like I was wasting my time reading stuff that I already knew. During this period of time I would typically study 5-14 hours a week.
Sample ARE Studying Schedule
Day 0 – First exam? Just Pick One.
If this is your first exam, just start somewhere. I would recommend printing out all the NCARB Exam Guides and working on all the sample questions to get a taste for what is on each exam. There are all types of theories about testing order, but spending too much time worrying at this is silly because you’ll have to take them all anyway.
If you don’t already own it, I highly recommend you purchase the Architecture Registration Exam Review Manual by David Kent Ballast. Skim through the entire Ballast book and pick a place to start.
Day 1 – Look at a calendar.
Million Dollar ARE Question: Do you even have the time to spend the next 3 months studying your ass off?
What is going on in your life for the next 3 months? …brother’s wedding? …birthday parties? …babies being born? …bachelor parties? …bar mitzvahs? …big vacations? …busy out of town guests? …or even an epic rock concert that will leave you with a 1 week hangover?
What’s going on in the office? …traveling for business? …difficult time consuming clients? …project deadlines? …overtime? …boss is out of town and you have told down the fort?
It’s best to try and attempt to identify these things ahead of time.
I will guarantee you that some unforeseeable situation in your life will present itself to derail your studying.
Now that you know it’s going to happen you can expect and plan for it.
Day 2 – Start gathering studying materials, buy, download and get stuff printed out.
Getting started and building momentum was the hardest part for me. Gathering studying materials and doing basic exam research is pretty easy to do. I used this time to kick-start the process and set myself up for success over the next few weeks.
Figure out what materials you are going to use and buy them.
Download everything from the FTP site, internet and Jenny’s Notes. Print out everything now to avoid having to do it later when you’re busy studying.
March down to the office supply store and buy a brick of index cards so you can make your own flashcards.
Day 2 – Start making a first pass through study material A.
Find a study guide specifically written for the ARE that covers all areas of the exam you are studying for. Maybe its Kaplan, Ballast or Architect Exam Prep. No, Jenny’s notes do not count. They are just notes and do not count as actually reading the book. You will use them later.
Focus on getting through all the content. In the first pass it’s more about getting a feel for the material than having a complete working knowledge of it.
Pay attention to what you enjoy reading about, what you already know, what is painful to read or what you have been trying to avoid. This information is key for figuring out where you will need to supplement and channel more energy later.
Day 3 – Start making flashcards for everything you don’t know.
In the first pass, I made flashcards for all the vocabulary that I did not already know. Make flashcards for any information that you will need to remember. I never used a notebook and simply wrote things on flashcards.
Day 7 – Start the vignette right away.
I always worked on vignettes in the beginning. Some vignettes are harder than others so I wanted to find out ASAP which ones those were.
I did most of the vignette work in the begining. I worked on them until I figured them out to a comfortable level. Then I took a break from and revisited them a few weeks later.
In the beginning I would study the program and then look at the solution trying to draw the solution while looking at it. I would read the forums and look at other people’s solutions. Work the vignettes until you feel about 75% comfortable with them and then come back to them later.
Day 21 – Finish first pass with study material A then start first pass with study material B.
After you finish study material A, find another ARE study guide from a different author or publisher and start making a first pass at study material B.
You always need to cross train with different materials, especially on the topics that you find challenging. They each emphasize different topics and some of the authors will resonate with you more than others.
Day 21 – Start practice exams and don’t stop.
After you finished study material A and had your first taste of the entire exam, you can now start using practice exams to test your ability to recall information. When working on practice exams, work on 3 questions at a time and then go look up the answers. This method makes it easier to make the correction of information in your brain rather than looking at the entire practice test.
Practice exams are also awesome for getting some productive studying done in short increments of time. I used to work on practice exams during my lunch break for 30-45 minutes at a time and it was extremely efficient studying.
Day 44 – Finish study material B.
Now you’ve studied 2 different ARE study materials. See how different they are.
Day 45 – Go back to the calendar.
It’s time to reevaluate. Spend some time thinking about the past and the future:
- How did this first 45 days go?
- Were you able to show up? How’s your momentum? Can you keep showing up?
- What kind of challenges came up during your studying? How did you handle them?
- Do you have an idea of what you need to focus on or where you need to be?
- Does your calendar look any different than it did 45 days ago?
- Are you ready to do this? What needs to happen?
Everything you need to do the work and pass the test is already inside of you. From here on out, it’s more about focusing and showing up.
Day 45 – Schedule the test.
Pick a date and schedule the test. Choose whatever works for you. I tended to prefer morning exams.
Day 46 – Make a plan, change focus and attitude.
Plan out the remaining weeks until the exam.
I made a written plan of what I needed to spend more time working on and what I felt pretty comfortable with. This information would then guide how I channeled my time over the next few weeks.
If showing up to study is no longer the challenge, I recommend slowly starting to ramp up the length of the study sessions.
At this point in the game I would start channeling all my energy into wherever my weaknesses were in the content. From this point on, it’s a waste of valuable time spending time studying stuff you already know, even though it’s easy and strokes your ego for being so smart.
This is actually the opposite thinking from architecture school. During college I typically downplayed (or avoided) things I wasn’t good at and then over compensated with the skills and in areas that I was awesome at. I hated my technical structures classes and loved design class. I was terrible with 3d computer modeling, but very comfortable with hand drafting and real model building. This was evident in all of my work. This approach worked really well for me in college, but it will not help with the ARE.
Don’t get sucked into the trap of only studying material that is easy and makes you feel comfortable. A lot of people make this mistake. I definitely made this mistake in the beginning.
Start getting used to spending time studying stuff that makes you uncomfortable.
Day 46 – Start working with study material C.
Add more supplementary study material in whatever topics you need more help with. This could be articles from the internet, the FTP site or even YouTube videos.
Day 48 – Audit the flashcards. Get rid of the ones you know.
By this point you should have a growing pile of flashcards. Start removing from the deck the cards you feel really comfortable with. Hang on to these for later. Keep adding more cards around the areas you are trying to improve in.
Keep flashcards everywhere and keep using them every day.
Day 60 – Revisit study materials A and B.
A lot has happened since you first reviewed this study material. You’re smarter, in better studying shape and now you’re in the thick of it.
Find everything that didn’t make sense the first time around and spend some time with it.
Day 65 – Find other ARE candidates’ prep notes.
Start using JennyPDX’s notes and find others on the web, FTP site and forums.
Day 70 – Jump back on vignettes. Master them.
It’s now time to hit the vignettes really hard. You should be uploading your practices, working on alternates and commenting on other people’s vignettes. Try to find tricks to help you solve it faster and ways to double check your work. The goal is to have 110% complete understanding on how to solve the vignette.
Day 73 – Make big bold studying moves with greater intensity.
Cancel your life for the next 2 weeks. Coincidently “get sick” because you have been studying too hard and use some office sick time to push your studying farther ahead.
In all my testing experiences, how I used this time was critical in determining my success on the exam.
Day 88 – Stop studying.
To stop studying is much harder than you think. I always pulled the plug 2 days before the exam. I would try to relax and not think about it too much. I often failed at this, but the most I would do is review flashcards.
Day 90 – Testing day.
Congratulations. You made it. You worked your ass off. You put in the time. There’s always more that you could do. Relax. Be Easy. Check out my blogpost with advice for testing day.
After the test, I would sometimes feel great and go back to the office or feel like I just ran a mental marathon and need to sleep for 3 hours. Either way I usually took the day off, in case I needed it.
Day 91 – Wash, rinse and repeat until they are all done.
Repeat this schedule until all tests are done.
I wouldn’t recommend taking too much time off between exams. Building momentum is incredibly hard. The most productive thing you could do is transition from taking one test into studying for the next test by starting this schedule again at day 1.
What does your study schedule look like?
This is approximately the schedule workthat I used for most of my exams. Everyone has their own methodologies. What does your ARE Study Schedule look like?What works for you? Do you take longer or shorter to study for a division?
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.