Finish the ARE – The Only New Year Resolution You Should Have.

Finish The ARE in 2015

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.

Finish the ARE’s this year? 

I decided to wait and publish this blog post on January 7th. I wanted to give everyone a week to finish talking about their new years resolutions and get it out of their systems. Luckily by now that conversation is old news and I don’t know about you but I'm sick of hearing about New Years resolutions. So lets talk about the ARE.

If you are in the middle of taking the architectural exam you should really consider making 2015 the year you put these miserable exams behind you.

It’s time to set yourself up to either finish or make massive progress with the AREs. After right now, the clock is starting to tick. If you’re going to get in and out before the whole ARE 5.0 transition happens, right now is the time to start. If you wait any longer your BSing yourself. You will be rushed and you will lose your passed exams.

It’s a big goal. It’s definately possible depending on how serious you get and how bad you really want it.


2013 was my year

In 2013 I conquered the ARE. It was the most boring year of my entire life. I went to work, worked out and studied, and I studied a lot. Exactly in that order. Not much else happened. It was also the smartest thing I ever did.

It certainly didn’t happen overnight.  I got a running start and began wondering around my birthday (Oct 15, 2012) if I was going to finish my remaining 3 exams (SS, BS, BDCS) or if I was just going to abandon the ARE process altogether and move on with my life. After 2 weeks of deliberating I realized how much the ARE’s were blocking me from enjoying my life and knew I needed to finish what I started.

In early November, I got really committed to finishing the exams and started studying to retake the structures exam. I studied 6-15 hours a week and essentially became a structural engineering expert for a moment in time. I aced the structures exam at the end of January. I had a new found confidence in that topic and was really proud of my accomplishment.

Riding the wave from my structures victory, I gave myself about 8 weeks to study for building systems which wasn’t enough. I ended up legitimately failing it and had to wait 6 months.

After I took BS, I immediately started studying to retake BDCS, literally starting the day I took the BS exam. By the time I got my BS fail letter (in the mail, before the started emailing it) I was already a month into studying for BDCS. I gave myself 9 weeks and aced that exam.

October 3rd 2013 I retook BS and hit the ball out of the park on my very last ARE. But it wasn’t over.

I had to take one last test for the Oregon State Board of Architect Examiners and then visit them for an oral interview. The Oregon test is all about laws, rules and regulations around being an architect in the State of Oregon. It’s an open book exam and I studied pretty hard for it, but it was a walk in the park compared to the ARE’s.

In December of 2013, I had my stamp in hand and used it for the first time 3 weeks later for a residential project that I took on a few weeks prior to finishing my last exam.


Why did I feel like the ARE was blocking my life?

Great question. It was all in my head really.

I had decided a long time ago, that I was going to become a licensed architect, yet I always questioned the process. I questioned architecture school and wondered if I was really good enough. I questioned the profession and said “I can’t see myself sitting at this desk being a CAD Jockey for the next 30 years”. I questioned the licensing and never thought I could pass all those tests.

Even though I constantly questioned architecture, I always arrived at a conclusion that validated where I was and the decisions I’d made up to that point. Sure, architecture sucks sometimes but I truly love it and appreciated where it had gotten me up to halfway through my exams.

I paid for 90% of my architecture education with student loans. I had every intention of becoming a licensed architect when I took those loans.  I could have gotten a much less expensive architecture education if I wasn’t going to get licensed. It really bothered me that every month I give a nice chunk of change away to repay architecture school student loans and I couldn’t even call myself an architect.

I knew very early on that I wanted control of my own income, projects and an empire that I’m currently building as an architect. Closure on this was essential for me.

Getting stuck in the middle of the ARE’s and distracted from finishing them actually caused me a lot of pain. It literally stopped me from doing a lot of things.

I wanted to:

make more money, run my own projects, start my own architecture business, find my own clients and start building my empire.

I also had some personal goals that it was blocking me from like:

Blogging and learning about the internet, taking very long bicycle rides, finish hiking the Appalachian Trail, teaching architecture students, becoming a yoga instructor and I also hadn’t really traveled much since I was in college.

Sure, I could have done those things without an architecture license.


Do you remember in architecture school, that anxious feeling in your stomach when you had a ton of work to do and you weren’t making progress on it, because you were screwing around? Well, I had that with the ARE for a long time.

Sure, having that silly piece of paper didn’t change many things in the moment but, it did take a lot of weight off my shoulders.

I can now see how the license will change the trajectory of my future. It has already started. I used my stamp few times in 2014 and made some money doing small projects, but 2015 is shaping up to look a lot busier.

Is the ARE blocking YOU from enjoying and moving on with your life???


The New Developments

Everything around the ARE is about the change in the transition, but things have already started changing. In the past year, there has been some good developments in the NCARB ARE world.

  • 6 months rule is now a 60 day rule. If you fail an exam under the old rules you had to wait six months to retake the exam.  Guys, this is huge! Waiting 6 months to retake a test is absolute hell. I am grateful that you don’t have to go through what I did
  • Test results are now done through email. It used to take 2-6 weeks to get test results back. NCARB used to mail a letter to your state and then your state then mailed you the test results. My State board is really busy, so sometimes it took awhile. Starting 2 weeks after my exam, I would get really anxious everyday when I got home from work and checked my mailbox. Now the process is significantly faster.
  • NCARB announced June 30, 2018, is the last day you have to take ARE 4.0. If you start now you have time, if you don’t start now you’re going to have to rush it, just like I did in 2013.
  • There are a lot of new study materials and they are getting better.  Architect Exam Prep is the new guy on the block. Gang Chen wasn’t around a few years ago and there are a lot of other new study guides. In my opinion the NCARB recommended reading list is a terrible place to get study recommendations. Here is a list of ARE study material that I compliled.
  • The price of the Ballast book also appears to have dropped significantly on amazon.  I paid about $250 for my copy in 2008. I think they want to get rid of them before the transition. The ARE Review Manual is still going to be an excellent resource after the ARE the transition. The chapters and content will just need to be rearranged.


Some 2015 Tips

If you’re smart and take on this challenge, here are a few tips to consider.

  • Do this holistically. Realize that achieving this goal requires a long sustained effort that branches out into many other areas of your life. Think about the guy that waits until January 2nd to jump off the couch and onto a treadmill for 4 hours, only to never return to the gym again. Don’t be that guy. Slowly and sustainably ease your way into this. Be realistic with yourself and all the other responsibilities you’re juggling in your life.
  • By saying Yes, you’ll need to say No. Saying “No, I need to study…” while life is happening is the hardest part of these exams. Consider eliminating some things from your life, so you can make space for the ARE.
  • Stop Being an Intern. Start thinking about what life would be like after you have your license. Start signing your name with an AIA at the end of it quietly in your notebook without showing it to anyone.  Start saying “Yes Mr. Plans Examiner, I am a licensed Architect…” quietly to yourself, when no one is around. Doing this will feel weird at first, but the sooner you own it the better. You have been architectural intern for a very long time. It’s time for a promotion and it starts inside your head, the license will follow.
  • Make the decision. Decide you are going to do this and stick to it. Remind yourself every single day that you are doing this and get it done! Get excited about the decision. The studying and taking of these tests is a fantastic professional education. It’s like going back to school and getting another degree.
  • Plan, Plan, Plan. Plan in room to fail. Plan in room to rest, relax and enjoy your life. Regularly plan out your schedule and reevaluate where you are in the plan.


You’re the 10%!

90% of people would not do this. Many architecture grads never even bother getting started with this process for a million different reasons, but the number one reason is that it’s just too much work.

If you want to finish the ARE this year, it can be totally within your cards. You just have to really want it and be dedicated to showing up every day.

You have everything you need already inside of you to make this happen. You just have to take action!


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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Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

Hi I’m Michael Riscica.

My goal is to help as many people as I can PASS their exams and succeed in their architecture careers.

This is accomplished with the following offerings:

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