How to Get Paid While Studying for the ARE

ARE Candidate in the maze of the architect registration exam

It’s not an event; it’s a routine.

It currently takes an average of 2.5 years for people to complete the ARE’s. It took me 3 years of actively showing up to study. While I applaud NCARB for the new exam, I personally don’t think that time will be shortened with ARE 5.0.

In The ARE Boot Camp, we talk a lot about how to add an extra 5-15 hours a week of studying—after working 40 hours a week and attending to other life responsibilities.

One of the best ways is to find opportunities to study while putting in 40 hours a week working.

When you can actively incorporate studying into your everyday life (without making it a separate event), the benefits are huge. There are many things you could be doing between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, to help you with your exams while working on real projects with billable hours.

Ground Rules about Studying for the ARE’s at Work.

First things first. I need to set some ground rules. That way, you won’t get your ass in trouble. I accept no responsibility for anyone’s actions. If you lose your job, I accept zero responsibility for your actions.

  • The first rule of this blog post is: you do not talk about this blog post. NEVER mention this blog post to anyone, infact pretend you never read it.
  • Tell as few people as possible at work that you’re taking the ARE’s. When your boss took the exam 25 years ago, life was a lot different. And so was the exam. People don’t get it, so don’t waste your energy. It makes it easier for you, especially if you fail a test.
  • Never tell anyone that you’re studying during business hours, because your not. Your making connections between studying for your exams and the work you do everyday. 
  • ALWAYS, be very thankful and gracious to your employer for providing you an opportunity to have real projects to work on. You need them during this time.

OK, let’s get started. Here’s my list of 25 Ways to Turn Studying for the ARE’s between the hours of 9am and 5pm

1. Use your ARE study materials to look up answers to questions that come up in the office.

The index in the Ballast Book is excellent for this tactic. God bless David Kent Ballast.

2.Delete your current Facebook accounts, and create a new one with ZERO friends.

For years, I deleted my entire internet presence while I was studying. When I saw what everyone else was doing, it constantly brought up my fear of missing out, which made it harder to show up, study, and focus.

Besides, you can’t really delete a social media account. It just disappears until you’re ready to turn it back on again. It will never truly go away.
So create a new account, and only use Facebook for the NCARB ARE Group.

Read the ARE FB Group every day, and contribute to the conversation. The other people in this group are all working toward the same goal as you. Which is why you need to be communicating and supporting them. They’re now your new friends and community. You need them, and they need you.

I am the moderator of that group and If I accidentally deny your request into the group, find me on Facebook, and send me a private message asking to be added. I sometimes mistake the people who send me this request as spammers. Make sure you send me the name of your new account and send another request to join the group. I can't just add people unless the request to join.

3. Read something every single day at work related to the exam, and keep a log of what it was.

For instance, read blog posts related to the ARE, NCARB’s G+ Group, Google searches, Wikipedia, PDFs, and ARE Sketches.

4. Use flashcards all day long.

Use flashcards as you walk across town, commute, and use the bathroom. And use them when no one is watching.

Make your own flashcards. Architect Exam Prep has some great flashcards that you can print out.

Archiflash has an excellent smartphone app, and there are several free apps that have ARE flashcards made by other people. Google “flashcard apps,” and never stop using flashcards.

5. Listen to audio.

Every day, more audio and video content gets released that’s specific to the ARE. Architect Exam Prep offers fantastic MP3’s of their study guide, and people love it. Black Spectacles has an excellent product, and YouTube is a gold mine.

6. Study consultant’s documents from projects you haven’t worked on.

Not familiar with civil, electrical, landscape, or structural drawings?!? Use the office archive of projects to look at those types of drawings and specs (from the many projects you haven’t worked on) with fresh eyes.

See how it was done on another project that was successfully executed.

Yes, reading drawings that you’re not familiar with is studying.

7. Always be on the lookout for resources around the office that’ll better help you prepare for the exam, and use them

For instance, look for as IBC, AHPP, contracts, and reference books.

8. Take advantage of free continuing education.

As you listen, always think about how whatever they are talking about applies to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Care about that more than anything else.  If you can get a product rep to buy you lunch for listening, Double Points!

9. Take your practice questions books out to lunch

Work on 2-3 questions at a time. Look up the answers as you eat lunch. Designer Hacks works extremely well on your smartphone.

10. Journal

Sit down and get organized. Take the time to clear your head and get centered. Write out whatever is bouncing around inside your brain.

After you feel clearer, start getting organized in your personal life, work life, and studying life—by writing the actions you need to get done that day.

11. Call in sick so you can study harder (without being distracted by your annoying day job).

Tell them you have a really bad headache, which is why your phone is on airplane mode all day long. Use all your sick days to study. You’ll figure out what you need to do when you’re actually sick. You need this extra time.

12. Batch together your mindless, repetitive tasks so you can listen to audio about the ARE. 

Do dumb, easy stuff (such as pumping CAD, filing, waiting in line, pocheing, organizing RFI’s or even washing dishes) all at once, so you can free your brain to study while you do it.

13. Find one person in the office to be your secret accountability partner.

Check in with them at the same time each week, and provide them the following information:

  • How many hours you studied
  • What you got done since last week
  • What you need to accomplish this week

The best person might even be someone who knows nothing about architecture or the exams, but understands the importance of it.

14. Always look for opportunities to ask questions about your projects that’re aligned with what you’re studying. 

15. When the bosses aren’t around, use the office printers to get all your notes and documents printed. 

16. Regularly take the time to feel proud of yourself.

Everyday that your study it’s making you a better employee, more valuable and your getting an education that isn’t learned in school and not entirely learned through experience. Not many people who graduate architecture school do this, which is why you should be proud of yourself.

17. Find moments when how it’s done in “the real world” isn’t aligned with how it’s supposed to be done (according to the AIA contracts). Then ask why.

18. Study the general conditions, supplemental conditions, division 1 specs, change-order forms, contracts, and certificates from the projects you’ve worked on (and are familiar with).

Think about what you’re studying, and how it relates to this project.

19. Frequently meditate in a conference room.

Close the door, close your eyes, and breathe. Bring all the attention to your breath. Become an observer of your thoughts.

When your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to focusing on your breath. Feel the sensations inside your body. Become an observer or your thoughts.

Meditation is the act of being with yourself: focusing on nothing at all, and returning to not thinking about anything—without judgement.

There’s no such thing as being bad at meditation. The purpose is to repeatedly come back to center, and stay there as long as you can.

20. Exercise during lunch.

If you’re not studying during lunch, then exercise. Do some cardio, and try to break a sweat.

Make sure you take a lunch every day. This is YOUR time to study for the ARE every day. Don’t let the office take it away from you.

21. Become a cheerleader for everyone else.

When someone passes a test, celebrate with them. Feel just as happy for them as you would if you passed your test.
When someone fails a test, remind them that it happens to everyone (often many times), and a failed exam is sometimes just part of the process.

Encourage them to keep working at it, and remind them that this process is making them a much better architect. If the ARE was easy, everyone would do it. And then this license wouldn’t mean a damn thing.

22. Spend time thinking about the moments when things would be different if you were a licensed architect.

Use missed opportunities, not being taken seriously, and a lack of compensation (or acknowledgement) as inspiration to keep going and work harder.

23. Consider taking the CDT exam while you’re taking the ARE.

The Construction Document Technologist CDT exam is kind of like an associate’s degree for the ARE’s. You’ve already half-studied for this exam. So why not obtain this certification? It’s a widely respected credential.

I watch soo many people become LEED certified because they want a credential and I get it. Unlike LEED, understanding project delivery is far more important and applicable to ALL architecture projects. Obtain your CDT certification before you do LEED.

My problem with the CDT is that its only offered twice a year, so you have to get on their schedule if its something you want to do.

24. Research local organizations that offer ARE lecture series or resources.

NOT ALL (but many) AIA, CSI, and other architecture organizations across America are always looking for ways to support emerging professionals. Helping people prepare for the ARE is a major way they do it.

You can find them. They are out there.

25. Count everything written in this blog post as time spent studied.

Start tracking your time studying the same way you track time on a project. Week to week, compare the data.

Everything listed in this blog post is a baby step toward helping you be better-prepared for your exam. After many weeks of consistently taking constant action at the office (paired with studying outside of the office), you’ll really start to have a powerful impact on helping you be better-prepared to take your exam.

What Am I Forgetting?!????

How do you study during your 9-5? Do you have insight or tricks that the greater good should know about? Please leave me a comment below.

You can use a fake name and email to protect the innocent.  I personally approve all comments before they’re made public.


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:

Free FB group that is 12k+ members strong
Low-cost, high-value upcoming webinar
Affordable and Quality ARE Study materials
Professional Development and Powerful Networking
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